Cuba Lifts Radio Ban on its Greatest Musicians: It's About Time

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Music is dangerous…….and in extreme cases, history has shown us that totalitarian dictatorships don’t tolerate musicians well–to put it mildy– especially those who sing about freedom.   Even a succession of popes condemned rhythm, the waltz, tango and other forms (see my post The Vatican and Tango:  Anything with rhythm that might make the hips move (Gregorian Chant was okay).  Other  Examples include:  Stalin condemned jazz and people like the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich when he stepped out of line.  The great Russian trumpeter Eddie Rosner–the Russian Louis Armstrong— got sent to the gulag.  The Nazis condemned both jazz and gypsies.  The theocracy in Iran censors music (Ayatollah Khomeini called music opium, a poison that should be eliminated).  The Taliban forbade music. Chilean nueva canción artist Victor Jara was murdered by Pinochet’s henchmen.  The great Argentine singer, Mercedes Sosa, was threatened with death and forced into exile.   So were Brazilian superstars Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.   Iranian superstar Fereydoun Farrokhzad was murdered while in exile in Germany…….the sad list goes on and on.

The Cuban example is less horrible;   if you speak out against Castro’s government and the revolution, your music is banned from Cuban airwaves.   Cubans don’t get to hear some of their favorite musicians, and there are so many great musicians there.   That, however,  seems to be changing.

After 50 years of being banned on Cuban radio, dj’s there are finally able to play La Reina de la Música Cubana, the great Celia Cruz, so reports the BBC.  Though not an officially announced policy reversion—-Cuba rarely does that—it seems like dj’s will no longer get in trouble for playing the forbidden music of Celia Cruz, Bebo Valdes, or Gloria Estefan, Manolín, or  crooner Issac Delgado.

Cuban policy also prevents young students in music schools from learning jazz, the music of freedom and therefore the enemy.  Orlando “Maraca” Valle, the great flutist, told me that.   You learn Bach in school.    You learn jazz secretly, or while touring,  away from La Isla.

“The artists were banned because they were making statements against Cuba,” journalist Reny Martinez told the BBC. “Things have changed. Something has changed in the Party. I think there’s new flexibility with culture.”

For me it’s a reminder how much musical freedom we have here.  Not everybody has been so fortunate.

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postscript 8/31/12:    apparently this was too good to be true. Celia Cruz has once again been banned on Cuban airwaves.