Those Silences Brought These Noises

By Giordan Rodríguez Milanés

‘Join us in this song which we may consider Cuba’s second national anthem’, singer-songwriter Adrían Berazaín asks the audience. Right at the chord where the string harmony flourishes, he intones with Mauricio Figueiral: ‘No te acuerdas, gentil Bayamesa / que tú fuiste mi sol refulgente…’ It’s the morning of April 10, 2019 at the Altar of the Motherland… ‘Y risueño, en tu lánguida frente, / blando beso imprimí con ardor…’ As part of a tour by Project Lucas, the singers look deeply moved, flanked by the bell and the fig tree, and with the Cuban flags majestically flapping in the wind: ‘Let’s all sing together…’

It’s La Demajagua, the place where the liberating Revolution began: ‘No recuerdas que un tiempo dichoso / me extasié con tu pura belleza…’ And the ‘Lucas’ people did very well to choose this place to start their national tour.

Perhaps César Martín, the affable historian of the site, only mutters the lyrics because his modesty won’t allow him to sing out loud: ‘Ven y asoma a tu reja sonriendo, / ven y escucha amorosa mi canto…’ Pablo Nogueras, the director of the Julio Antonio Mella high school in Manzanillo, timidly joins in: ‘Ven no duermas, acude a mi llanto / Pon alivio a mi negro dolor…’

The rest of the audience stays silent. Students from the high schools, the polytechnics, the medical school and the Manzanillo music school cannot sing along. Political and government officials can’t either. They obviously don’t know the lyrics. They most likely will answer promptly if you ask them about the latest hit by El Chacal or Maluma featuring Marc Anthony. Each one of them has recognized Cimafunk’s declaration of ‘Me voooooy, pa mi casa’, but they can’t sing what Adrián Berazaín wisely considers ‘our second national anthem’.

When the singers conclude their performance, one of the students whispers: ‘That’s the song from the movie Inocencia’, and it’s true. Caro, my daughter, comes home with her friends. She tells me the story. I ask for details: ‘I didn’t know the lyrics either, dad’, she says looking ashamed. I acknowledge my own shortcoming as a parent while I look on Facebook at flyer announcing a reggaeton singer’s concert, in combination with another singer, where the name of our city, Manzanillo, is spelled with an ‘S’. It seems obvious that our generation has been unable to captivate them with the significance that one of the song’s authors is Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the Father of the Nation; that the lyrics were written by poet José Fornaris and that, in time, in the middle of the redeeming wilderness, those verses would become a symbol of Cuban defiance.

And there you have Atilio Borón and Ignacio Ramonet in the Mesa Redonda program. They warn us about Google, Facebook and social media. They say that they appropriate our private information, that they study our cultural preferences. They say that the imperialists have a huge database which classifies our ideological and political stances. They say that they interfere in our intimacy. That’s all true; Gerhard Maletzke, Yuri Lotman, Teodoro Adorno and Noam Chomsky had already anticipated that. In any case, long before Google existed, the surveillance person in my CDR (the Cuban revolutionary neighborhood watch) was already reporting what time I got home, what books I read sitting in my balcony, how many shirts my mother hang out to dry in the sun, or the looks of any girlfriend or friend who came to visit me.

The problem of the former watchers is that, with the new technologies, they can’t help themselves being watched, and studied. Similarly, for those of us who used to decide which music young people could listen to and which they couldn’t, the dilemma is that we didn’t anticipate the day in which every young person would walk around with their own musical platform in the form of portable speakers or headphones, and with a smartphone to download what they wanted, according to their mood and their references, with nothing or nobody being able to help it. And since we didn’t educate them in diversity, now they’re easy prey for the algorithms Borón and Ramonet mention. While our media continued to try to impose the music they considered ‘correct’ or ‘harmless’ in terms of political criticism —thus the proliferation of reggaeton in Cuba right after political chants like ‘if you don’t jump you’re Yankee’—, social and media communication scholars, social psychologists and mathematicians paid by the Empire were creating algorithms to understand cultural preferences, classify them, customize them and subtly and effectively manipulate them. And so we remained immovable in Ortega y Gasset’s concept of the mass; inert in our desire to censor or standardize non-criticism. And so they learned to explore and know our individuality to use it in their favor; allowing anyone, from Calle 13 to Bad Bunny to say what they like. They’d figure out how to take advantage of that to inoculate their lifestyle.

And now it turns out our ‘mass’ can only clumsily connect, as if culturally colonized, with the most authentic values of Cuban music. They don’t know that without the son there’d be no salsa; that without rumba there’d be no reggaeton. They don’t know that the new folk song, in fact, was —is— rebellious and non-conformist. When they hear ‘Contigo en la distancia’ sung by Christina Aguilera, they mistakenly believe it’s a Mexican song.

That’s why, on April 10, 2019, when I learned that my daughter didn’t know the lyrics or the symbolic significance of ‘La Bayamesa’, I rushed out to the Etecsa connection point to download folk songs I consider emblematic and that were once even banned by revolutionary broadcasting. I begin with ‘Resumen de noticias’ by Silvio, and end up with ‘El loco del tranvía’ by William Vivanco, ‘Lucha tu yuca, taíno’ by Ray Fernández and ‘Extremistas nobles’ by Buena Fe and Frank Delgado, which were never officially forbidden, but every time I broadcast them I had to go to a small board meeting at Radio Granma to explain why I included them in my musical production. I remember the fateful afternoon in which, because of a debate on the web between Silvio and Pablo, the director of Radio Granma informed me about a certain mysterious communication, which banned the songs by Pablo Milanés! That was followed by my ‘You’ll have to fire me’ and his ‘Well, then I’ll fire you’. Fortunately, a ‘rectification’ arrived later in an email sent by UNEAC, which clarified that Pablo Milanés had not been banned. I could swear that the director scowled at me, I remember as I say to myself: ‘It’s never too late to begin’, and I hum: ‘y doblemos los dos la cabeza / moribundos de dicha y amor’.

(Translated from the original)

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