Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pablo (not so) Loved in Miami / Ernesto Morales Licea

Pablo (not so) Loved in Miami / Ernesto Morales Licea
Ernesto Morales Licea, Translator: Angelica Morales

On August 27th, Pablo Milanes will sing in Miami. According to the
billboard ads, it will be a historic concert. Of course it will: for his
followers as well as for the Vigilia Mambisa. Some will lose their
voices for singing along to his songs; others, outside American Airlines
Arena, will lose theirs screaming out "communist" at him.

Without a doubt: a historic concert.

No wonder. Pablo is not just another Cuban troubadour. Pablo has been
unhappily confused with Paulo FG (some protests that can already be seen
in Miami exhibit banners that say: "Out Paulito Milanes"), but unlike
the salsa singer, Pablo is unique, and is the other component of the
most representative binomial of Cuban music during the
post-revolutionary era. Silvio and Pablo: the sharp duet.

If I am tied to Silvio Rodriguez by the admiration for the sublime
poetry of some of his best songs, and the absolute rejection he inspires
me as a man of ideas, and further more, as a human being, with Pablito I
invert those factors a bit: I fancy him more honest and worthy than the
singer of the Unicorn, but his music is not as appealing to my ears. I
respect it, but I don't love it.

When I speak about inverting the factors just a bit, I am exact: Pablito
Milanés, born in the same city as I, erected lately as a media critic of
the Cuban Revolution, doesn't offer me any confidence or attention as a
committed artist. What's more: I fancy him lightly opportunistic.

(One point to be clear about: to evaluate him politically is fair
because he doesn't skimp in talking about politics. José Ángel Buesa was
asked in Santo Domingo about the nascent Cuban Revolution, after he
traveled outside of Cuba in 1959, and he answered: "Did you ask
Fulgensio Batista about poetry when he passed by here a week ago? Don't
ask me about politics." One cannot evaluate José Ángel Buesa with a
political standard. Pablo Milanés sometimes talks about his music with
the foreign press.)

Why an opportunist, Dear Pablo? Simple: because screaming when they
stomp on our toes is very easy. To scream without the stomp, is very
different. And I don't think I am revealing a secret when I say that the
divorce between the great troubadour and Cuban officialdom has a date
and almost a time: at exactly the instant when his plans for the Pablo
Milanés Foundation were thwarted.

Since then, put a camera in front of him, he'll say his thing. With
success great or small, but he'll say it. It is possible that all of a
sudden he'll throw out ideas like the Revolution will continue after the
death of Fidel and Raul Castro, something he thinks is great; it is
possible for him to affirm that Raul and Fidel truly want to repair the
country they have mistreated; but he'll also criticize the gerontocracy
that governs the destinies of the country, he'll support harsh
declarations from Yoani Sanchez, and defend the talent and pose of the
censured rappers, Los Aldeanos. Good for Pablo.

However, it is still a suspicious and questionable attitude for an
artist to pose as politically committed to the democratization of the
island, just so long as he is outside it.

Has somebody heard Pablo Milanés in Cuba confronting the regime in Cuba
loud and clear, saying uncompromisingly that which he declares to the
Spanish or South American media? Where was the Pablo who repeatedly
gives controversial interviews in foreign countries, when 75 people were
imprisoned for writing against what they saw all around them, or when
three Cubans died before a firing squad for wanting to escape the
country? Could it be that then he wasn't outside Cuba and therefore, the
lock on his throat did not disappear?

I adored the Pablo who invited Los Aldeanos to sing at the Havana
Protestrodome itself, sticking out his tongue to the censorship that
falls over this rap duo. But it seems too little to admire him like others.

So then Pablo comes to sing in Miami: I'm so glad that's the way it is.
I applaud the happiness of those who will enjoy him this coming August
27th. However, what is he doing, what has he done, and what will our
Dear Pablo do to unlock a cultural exchange which he now favors, but
which is a one-way exchange?

I am not talking about words in front of the amateur camera of a young
filmmaker who interviews him in Havana. No. I am talking about real
efforts. I am talking about demanding and fighting for the rights that
his compatriots in exile possess, his co-artists, of singing in the
country that watched their birth and of which they have been stripped by
the grace of an exclusionary ideology. I am talking about declaring
himself inside, of utilizing his concerts, of demanding in writing
before all the Ministries, with a signature that it is not from just any
other Cuban: it is the signature of Pablo Milanés.

Did Pablo ever defend the right of Celia Cruz to sing her songs at a
plaza in Havana just as he is coming to do at the Miami Arena? Would he
publicly invite Willy Chirino to collaborate with him on the Island,
knowing that Willy would give a piece of his life to be able to sing in
his homeland? Again and again: No.

That is why I, who defend tooth and nail the right to freedom, and
therefore the right of an artist to show his work at any stage on the
planet, I don't promulgate but I do understand the claims of those who,
from this side of the ocean, feel incited and indignant by the presence
of Pablo Milanés, and even more: by the presence of the avalanche of
Cuban artists who step on American soil today. (Of course: to then say,
as does a certain character whose name I've always tried to forget, that
Pablito is not a musician but an agent sent by Castro, goes a long way
toward separating the wise from the intellectual orphans.)

Miami, let's stop the false statements, is not just any city. Miami has
been, for half a century , the oasis of victims, of the pursued, the
imprisoned, the exiled from Cuba, and that cannot be disregarded when it
comes time to put the circumstances in perspective. A portrait of Josef
Mengele is not the same on a New York corner as it is in Jerusalem.

Personally, I will not carry any signs nor will I raise a hand to
condemn the presence of my fellow countryman in this symbolic city, but
the reasoning of those who will, does not seem illogical to me.

The subject is one of a tremendous moral-ethical complexity.

If it was only Pablo, the excessive emotion would all blow over a day or
two after the 27th. But the reality is much more serious: turning on the
TV in Miami, switching to on any Hispanic channel, has made me ask
myself where I am: do I, or do I not live in Cuba?

If Ulises Toirac works at MegaTV before returning in a few months to the
ICRT; if Nelson Gudín appears at the same time on the show in America
Tevé before returning to Cuban Television; if Osdalgia closes,
repeatedly, with her music on Alexis Valdés' show, and Gente de Zona
announces their concerts at The Place and in Las Vegas; if Alain Daniel
— and this is the last straw! never before seen! — admits that this time
he hasn't come to offer any concerts, he is just going to spend a week
in Miami recording and mastering his new CD; if such a notorious
apologist for Fidel Castro as Cándido Fabré splutters with his
phantasmagorical voice that he feels happy to be in this city; if all
singers, humorists, painters or journalists who I saw in Cuba 7 months
ago are the same people I see before the cameras of this country, it
becomes difficult for me to situate myself in time and space.

But most of all, I find it hard to swallow that this reality is just and
acceptable. I find it hard to applaud the dual speech of musicians such
as La Charanga Habanera, when they sing inside of Cuba "You're crying in
Miami, and I'm partying in Havana", and as soon as they step foot at
Miami International Airport they despicably vary the chorus to please
who will fill their pockets: "You party in Miami, and I party in
Havana". I find it hard to accept that those same salseros (salsa
singers) and regueatoneros (reggeaton singers) who today do extremely
well for themselves thanks to Miami and its audience, thanks to
capitalism, to the market economy, to the country of bars and stars, are
the ones who, when they return to the Island, sing at celebrations for
the 26th of July and celebrate anniversaries of the same Revolution that
denies the entry to so many residents of Miami. And let no one come to
me with stories: my memory is only 27 years long, with 7 months of exile.

So then, what is the benefit to the exiled community from this
euphemistic cultural exchange? None at all. How what does it benefit it
economically? As little as possible. The beneficiaries, the only ones
who profit out of the bridge that Manolín asked for in his song that in
some ways now exist, are those same artists who play a dual role, an
embarrassing role as cultural political supporters of the Cuban
establishment, while they go to the abode of the enemy to fill their

It is not the same thing to have Frank Delgado in Miami, as Cándido
Fabré. It is not the same to have Los Aldeanos, as Gente de Zona. It is
not the same to have Pedro Luis Ferrer, as Pablo Milanés. The outcast
among the unjust is not the same as the accomplice and the ones that
were integrated into the unjust.

Morality must be very fucked up in a country that screams out slogans to
the enemy, and later looks for, in silence, the enemy's gold. My best
wish for the great Pablito, the icon of the Nueva Trova, an illustrious
Bayamés (someone born in Bayamo), is that he enjoy his stay in Miami,
and hopefully the whispers of pain and nostalgia from the million and a
half emigrants that wander about on this land, won't overshadow his
magnificent voice during his concert.

Translated by: Angelica Morales

August 1 2011

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