Illustration: Mayo Bous.
Illustration: Mayo Bous.

SMEs in Cuban music… are they coming?

9 minutos / Darsi Fernández

17.07.2020 / Articles

Why if our civil legislation recognizes the Foundation as a legal figure, in Cuba there are hardly any foundations in the cultural sector (where they tend to be abundant in other countries) and the few that exist were all established in the 1990s of the last century?

Why does none have music as the center? The only case of a Foundation in music during the last 50 years was the Pablo Milanés Foundation, which succumbed just two years after its creation. Could not, for example, the Mozartian Lyceum, hopefully Productions and Editions, and the Leo Brouwer Office, be supported by this legal formula?

Why, if the Cuban legislation admits since 2013 the existence of non-agricultural cooperatives, in the music sector there is none? Some musical projects, with a marked social vocation and concerns for the common good and a work based on collective management exercises, could be managed following the rules of cooperativism. Our magazine is an example, but it occurs to me that Guámpara Music and perhaps BandEra Studio would also be interested in this formula of joint ownership, so expensive to socialism. Another group that could also adopt this formula are the groups of luthiers who make musical instruments by hand. 

What real advantages did the creation of Cuban rock or rap agencies bring over a hypothetical and legally possible authorization, under Cuban law, to establish a Cuban Rockers Association or an Association for the Defense of Hip Hop Culture, for Give only two examples? Would not this have been a more natural and less forced path in which both movements — at their own pace, with their efforts and the aid that the State wanted to provide them — would have emerged strengthened instead of being practically disjointed?

Aren't the provider of equipment and technical services to PMM shows, the event producer Four Wives, or La Rueda Producciones - halfway between two lines of work mentioned above - companies with all the characteristics of small business ( by macroeconomic standards), which a bureaucratic straitjacket has turned into "projects" or "production units" within state institutions?

Could not the Cuban Art Factory, largely self-managed by X Alfonso, his family and friends, become an experimental Cultural Center of public-private mixed property, revealing some of its processes that are today under the shadow of suspicion?

These questions did not just come to mind, nor are they things I have happily decided to improvise about. They owe quite a bit to a kind of obsession that has been "eating the coconut" for more than a decade and that has given rise, to mention only part of the consequences, to three years (2010-2012) of workshops in Casa de las Américas with panels, debates and exchange of Latin American experiences on new ways of producing and communicating culture; to the Fabricar Arte en Cuba workshop (FAC, 2014) with more than 30 invited organizations; to four sessions (one per year, from 2015 to 2018) of project pitching within the AM-PM event "America for its Music" and to numerous talks and discussions, always passionate and fruitful, in other places and contexts such as Scientific Days of Isa , the Juan Marinello Center or Latin American music fairs and markets. A theoretical summary of these efforts can be found in the publication of the article New Models of Cultural Management in Cuba, which appeared in no. 72 from Songs magazine.

Nobody in their right mind will dare deny that the musical production in Cuba is enormous compared to its size, population and other demographic data. Something similar happens with Puerto Rico. In the case of our Island, a strong musical tradition that became visible from the second half of the 19th century had a special breeding ground for idiosyncratic, geographic and geopolitical elements. Cuba has always produced music, in some times better or more commercial in scope than others, and was at the forefront of what is now known as the music industry on several occasions: with the proliferation of avant-garde music magazines and musicians throughout the first mid-20th century, with the early appearance of radio in the late 1920s and the pioneering inauguration of television in Latin America in 1950, with the abundance of small record labels in the 1940s and 1950s of that same century and the comprehensive music education system with first-rate academic instruction that was structured since 1962 and continues to this day, just to name a few milestones.

From all this it is fair to add, from the '70s, an institutional system and public infrastructures for the protection of both the process of musical creation and consumption that, although someone might doubt it, I know that they cause the healthy envy of many musicians from the region, above all of the independents, which logically constitute a majority. 

But, unlike the small sister island of the Caribbean, Cuban music does not achieve for the majority of its actors and protagonists the economic profitability that, everything seems to indicate, could generate, and it has been many years without occupying relevant spaces in the context not only international, but also regional. I would also dare to affirm - blindly, given the absence of reliable statistics - that in the face of the domestic market, informal or non-institutionalized spaces and platforms for the production, distribution and consumption of Cuban music are much more dynamic and profitable than institutionalized ones. and formalized and, all this, without properly paying the Onat.

Nothing of what has been said here should be understood as a call to the abandonment by the Cuban State and government of their cultural policies, nor to the lack of protection of those genres of unprofitable or patrimonial nature, much less aim to leave the free will of the offer and the demand for cultural consumption prices. 

But in my modest opinion, it is urgent both the adaptation, the re-dimensioning and the redefinition of the actors that make up the network of relationships in which Cuban music is produced, promoted, commercialized and consumed, as well as its functions and objectives. 

For these times, we have too many public (state) institutions and structures that carry much more than they can and know how to do with controlled costs and efficiency. This ecosystem cries out for the incorporation, in a natural, coherent and regulated way, of smaller and more spontaneous, more dynamic and committed organizations, and above all less bureaucratic and heavy for the State such as Cooperatives, Cultural Associations, Foundations and Small Private Companies in the music sector. 

Now that the study derived from the Mincult-Onudi-Koica project: "Strengthening the competitiveness, organizational performance and export capacity of the Cuban music industry" has been completed, we should not wait too long to fearlessly undertake the changes that are required. There may be strategic lines for the export of our music, but they will be of no use if they continue to try to make them state-run dinosaurs - in size and in mobility - with inflated catalogs of "professional" artists of which the minority are really exportable. In the world, regardless of the color of the flag or the prevailing socioeconomic system, the artist management and booking sector is characterized by generally tiny “offices” - they can even be a mobile phone -, very dynamic, with a manager and two good salesmen working for an average of five to ten artists. I'm not obviously talking about Live Nation but about those that we could start emulating and for which there is talent in Cuba, almost always outside the institutional sector or working directly with artists.

Our legislation does not yet allow Private Small Business, instead there is the figure of the so-called self-employed worker, in whose express nomenclature three have recently been incorporated that finally point to the fact that there are, among decision-makers, those who think that mediation activity Cultural has a future in the non-state sector: operator and / or lessor of equipment for artistic production; artistic production assistant; and casting agents.

Cuban music, as we have always thought and all analyzes seem to prove, is exportable, but in this process all parties must be able to earn the same amount of investment effort, talent and useful time that they make. And, if it is profitable, you should be able to contribute income through taxes, especially to common social projects. Why not give space to other forms of property provided in our guidelines and laws, define their tax treatment, and regulate the internal relations of the entire system, without disproportionate fears? 

There is so much music available in the world, the possibility of access —internet via— to most of them is so enormous that we can affirm that what is not heard does not exist. Cuban music hardly exists today for the world. And music lovers resist such waste.

Darsi Fernández

Abogada. Hipervinculadora. Madre de un violinista. Organizadora nata. Mala memoria solo para lo que le conviene. Sueña con jubilarse a leer.

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