Organizers say independent music fest is being taken over by government
By Juan O. Tamayo
Organizers of an outdoor music festival in Cuba that drew 15,000 youths
last year and has been called "a beachhead for unimaginable freedom" say
the government is "kidnapping" the annual event, set for next month.
"One thing is the traditional censure, and something entirely different
is the theft, plagiarism and kidnapping of a work," said the organizers
of the Rotilla Festival, a three-day "rave" held each summer on Jibacoa
beach 35 miles east of Havana.
Festival founder and executive director Michel Matos told reporters in
Havana Wednesday that his group, Matraka Productions, was cancelling the
free, non-profit and independently run event in protest, but the
government is going ahead with it Aug. 6-8.
Sometimes described as Cuba's Woodstock, Rotilla was featured in a
recent Cuban documentary film titled Aire Libre, Spanish for both
"outdoor" and "free air." Blogger Orlando Luis Pardo once called it "a
beachhead for unimaginable freedom in Cuba."
Last year's festival drew 15,000 youths to hear a string of
"alternative" music groups and DJs. Photos of the event showed youths
dancing in their bathing suits, and there were some reports that alcohol
and recreational drugs were available.
Although the festival was started in 1998 as a small beach party for
fans of electronic music, it now includes many kinds of "alternative"
music and its Web site notes that it has embraced "social campaigns" in
ecology and health.
Since 2006 the Cuban government has helped with issues such as sanitary
facilities, drinking water, transportation and security, and the
festival now receives support from the Spanish and Dutch embassies and
EXIT, a music festival held in Serbia.
The statement by Matraka Promotions' board of directors noted that in
previous years Cuban authorities "pushed so that some group would not
play" at the festival "and in exchange they cooperated." It added: "It
was never easy to tell an artist that he could not play because the
Culture Ministry rejected him."
"But on this occasion they have gone too far," it added, complaining
that Matraka had been "informally" told that the Culture Ministry and
the government-run Music Institute was sidelining Matraka and taking
over the event and its name, place, dates and logo.
Government officials also plan to feature bands "that modify the format"
of the festival, the statement added. It gave no further details, but
last year's gathering featured Los Aldeanos, a rap duo that often scolds
Cuba's communist system.
Matos alleged that some bands are being offered up to $1,000 — a small
fortune in Cuba — to play at the festival next month in an apparent
attempt to overcome the musicians' loyalty to Matraka.
Cuba's government and its official newspapers have not commented on the
Rotilla case. The festival's Web page, RotillaFestival.com, contained no
mention of the dispute as of Thursday evening, although the Matraka
statement was posted in several blogs.
"The team that organizes the Rotilla Festival wants to make it clear and
categorical that the festival this year, 2011, is cancelled because of
the ethical violence displayed by the maximum authorities of Cuban
culture," the statement declared.
Matraka also alleged its members are being "watched," presumably by
state security agents, and have received "subtle or direct threats." It
vowed to file a lawsuit to reclaim its control of the festival, and
seemed to hint at possible troubles ahead.
"We want to warn our leaders that these types of action undermine the
very basis of the social contract that exists in Cuban society," it
noted. "They attack the respect that a people should have for its
government … and leave the sons of Cuba without guidance and without hope."