Wednesday, March 22, 2017

'When I'm 64': Beatlemania blooms belatedly in Cuba

'When I'm 64': Beatlemania blooms belatedly in Cuba
AFP March 22, 2017

Havana (AFP) - While their American and European peers twisted and
shouted to The Beatles in the 1960s, in Cuba childhood sweethearts
Gisela and Hector kept their Beatlemania a naughty secret.

Now, still Beatles-crazy after all these years, but with the communist
island's Cold War-era censorship of rock music a thing of the past, they
are making up for lost time.

"We are very happy that Cuba is becoming reconciled to the Beatles,"
says Gisela, 64.

She and Hector, 65, have decorated their home with pictures, posters and
souvenirs dedicated to the British band.

Whenever they can, they join crowds of fellow Cubans in their 60s and
70s, singing and dancing at the Yellow Submarine bar -- El Submarino
Amarillo -- in downtown Havana.

"This is not nostalgia," says the artistic director of the club,
journalist Guillermo Vilar, 65.

"This is about them claiming their right to experience what they could
not experience before because of all the contradictions of the time."

- You Can't Do That -

Fidel Castro's revolutionary regime banned songs in English, the
language of its enemy the United States, for fear such music would spawn
ideological deviance.

Gisela Moreno and Hector Ruiz would listen to The Beatles on US radio
stations they captured on short-wave radios.

Records lent by the occasional returning traveler were copied in state
recording studios, with the complicity of staff, onto low-quality metal

"You put it on the record players we had back then and you just heard
noise with the music in the background," Ruiz recalls.

"It was terrible, but hey, at least it was The Beatles."

At their high school, skinny-leg trousers, miniskirts and long hair were
also banned.

But times have changed. The Yellow Submarine, opened in 2011, is one of
at least six Beatles tribute bars across the island -- all of them run
by the culture ministry.

One of them, in the eastern city of Holguin, is said to be an initiative
of ruling party leader Miguel Diaz-Canel -- widely touted as the
country's possible next president.

- I Should Have Known Better -

On a bench near the Yellow Submarine sits a bronze statue of late Beatle
John Lennon.

Fidel Castro himself inaugurated the statue in 2000. In footage of the
ceremony, the late leader can be heard bewailing the former censorship
of Beatles songs.

"I greatly regret not having met you sooner," Castro told the statue.

The censorship was not his idea, Castro went on: he delegated cultural
policy to underlings while he was busy leading Cuba through the Cold War.

Fidel Castro's death last November marked the end of an era in Cuba. His
brother Raul, in charge now for more than a decade, has been gradually
opening up the economy and foreign relations.

The bronze Lennon has become an attraction for locals and the growing
number of foreign tourists visiting the island.

The statue's spectacles have been stolen several times and a guard has
been appointed to take care of them, getting them out for passers-by
when they want to take photos.

- From Me To You -

Fans trace the rise of Beatlemania in Cuba to 1990, when Vilar organized
a tribute concert to mark the 10th anniversary of Lennon's murder.

For many Cubans, that marked the belated birth of rock on the island --
for the old generation and the new.

At the Yellow Submarine, gentlemen's bellies bulge under black Beatles
t-shirts and grey ponytails, while the ladies show off their miniskirts
and long boots.

On stage, Cuba's top Beatles tribute singer Eddy Escobar, 46, plays the
band's hits for scores of ageing revelers.

This ponytailed rocker was not yet born when The Beatles lit up the
counter-culture movement before they broke up in 1970.

But he discovered the music, like younger Cubans are doing now.

"Good music will always last as long there is someone who somehow
appreciates it, right?" says Escobar.

"The Beatles are here to stay," he says. "I give the bug to anyone I can."

Source: 'When I'm 64': Beatlemania blooms belatedly in Cuba -

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