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Is rock losing its breath in Cuba?

Since the 1990s, the growth of Cuban rock record production has been linked to the promotion of "national rock," a term to designate bands that have their own repertoire, no matter in the language in which they sing. The reason is obvious. Groups whose repertoires are made up of covers covers or versions do not have a powerful motivation to invest money in producing a record of successes that we all know and made others famous, and similar reasons attend record companies. As a result, very few of these bands have more than models with few themes (the exception is the Rock Club CD Rock Club of the Vertical Dimension group, a 2005 album under the Presto label, and composed of fourteen original cuts from bands like Toto, Tito Puentes, Credence Clearwater Revival, Kansas, and Free, among others, the album was not included in the Cubadisco International Fair because it was not considered national rock, its members told me). .
Now, as the nineties progressed, a new generation joined the scene, rock and trova found an increasingly frequent melting point in which “a profusion of styles was cultivated (progressive rock , jazz rock, pop rock, grunge, acoustic rock) ” as a resource to differentiate loudly in the national context, explains journalist and researcher Humberto Manduley in his book Hierba Mala. A history of rock in Cuba (La Luz, 2015). Manduley himself adds that in those years the number of recordings increased and "just then began to gain strength 'the demo' as a finished product", a phenomenon marked by the intention to perpetuate the personal work, and facilitated by economic and technical aspects that lowered the recording costs.

During those years many Cuban albums were presented with independent and official labels in cassette and CD format. Most are included in this list that illustrates the variety of national rock and the interest of various labels, some foreigners, in that decade: Acorralada, Tanya (Egrem); Sin azúcar and Al duro y sin guante, Garage H (Esan Ozenki); Habana Abierta and 24 horas, Habana Abierta (BMG Ariola); Ssaliendo a flote,Varias agrupaciones (Compilation. Egrem); Verde melón,, Superávit (Bis Music); Hijos de San Lázaro, Zeus (Tercer Milenio); Sin mirar atrás, Elévense (Egrem); Pollos de granja and the snail monologue, Women's Perfume (Black Moon); Seventh sky, Athanai (Nomorediscs); When Havana sleeps and very careful, Hard Coin (Egrem); Lonely, Strange Heart (Egrem); claim, Nelson and the Gamma Camera (Egrem), The strange man, On the edge of the neighborhood, and Orishas, Síntesis (with different labels).

We could add to the previous list some troubadour records with rock sound, especially those of Carlos Varela and Santiago Feliú, who received in 2000 the Cubadisco prize in the Rock category for the immediate future (Bis Music).

We can also review the production of fanzines - which began to appear on the Cuban scene from 1992 - to assess the state of national rock. Between 1996 and 1998 they grew vertiginously and after a fall towards 1999, in the following decade they appeared again with the recognition of the Association Saíz Brothers, which organized some events for the exchange of specialists, promoters and publishers. The main ones: Tinplate, in Sancti Spíritus - whose second edition dismissed this initiative in a blunt and inelegant way in 2004 - and the Rock of the Hill that emerged in Bayamo in 2003, according to data shared by the editor Jorge Luis Hoyos in an interview. The editors of fanzines contributed a critical journalism, and contributed to the collective motivation for their own creation.

However, the fanzines could not sustain themselves for more than ten years due to lack of raw materials, and because their commercial management was illegal and their publishers found it increasingly difficult to recover the investment from the circulation. Rock de la Loma still exists - this year it celebrated its fifteenth edition - but it has never exceeded its first expectations, and this has to do with the context offered by current rock. The disappearance of the fanzine marked a turning point in the criticism of national rock, and also some demotivation, because despite having limited circulation, it filled a void in the dissemination of the works of these bands.

In the history of Cuban rock, each decade has had its own charm and each generation its best party for frugal it has been. There are not enough grounds to state that the arrival of the new millennium has marked the beginning of the most important decade of national rock, despite the fact that in some research it has been raised.

In 2005, 47 of the 104 active groups in our archipelago resided in Havana. Most of them ventured into different variants of the metal, and had a majority public support. This is a period of overwhelming boom of this subgenre, which does not usually abuse coverscovers, encourages its own creation and, therefore, the production of models and disks, due to the connotation that it grants to instrumental performance and auto speech -reaffirmation.

To the extent that the number of independent recordings increased, the number of bands that wrote their texts in Spanish also increased - I clarify that it is a practice that has been present in the history of Cuban rock although it has not been as usual as trend. Unfortunately, many musicians have been swept away by the myth that rock is a genre that due to its melodic structures must be sung in English, and if you want to access an international market you have to meet this requirement.

In the article El rock, el español, el mito y el Tabú, published in the digital magazine of the International Film School of San Antonio de los Baños more than a decade ago, the myth was denied: “The experiences in the Sabarock program , of the Cadena Habana station, indicate that during the years 2001 and 2002 the most requested songs were Violent Metrobús and La tumba que tumba, of the Zeus y Tendencia groupings ”.

A year later, Confesa,of Zeus, and Fula, of Tribal, were the most favored, which once again evidenced the interest of an audience that identified with the texts in Spanish.

In the last ten years the rock scene has given a drastic change in the world, it has lost vitality in the absence of new movements, injection of generational vigor and authenticity of its young farmers. As fashion is not the market, and as a proposal seems to pale in the eyes of the youngest who are inclined to electronic trends, hip hop and reggaeton. Our scene has its peculiarities, among which the prevalence in the last decade of the number of rock bands with a repertoire based primarily on covers, over metal bands.

Here a decisive element of the market influences. Local rock groups need to have extensive cover repertoires covers and invest considerable time in arrangements and rehearsals, to satisfy different audiences and thus secure a “box office” that generates economic income. Not to mention that some clubs require this type of repertoire as a requirement for hiring.

In August I wrote a short text about this problem on my Facebook page that aroused interest for days. I will share some criteria as a complement since "the debate allows us to think collectively."

I agree with Chris Erland, however crude it may seem, when he states: “We have a colony mentality, we validate the external a lot and sometimes we forget to validate and develop our own. The need to live on coversthe covers, to play covers covers also arises from the little need to listen to Cuban rock. ”

It is true that there are few spaces to show own repertoires; Hendrix Cruz cites the case of “… bands like Collector, Bonus, Luces verdes, Miel con Limón, Divergentes, Bandera en Blnaco y Tesis de Menta among others, they also have their own repertoires that are not shown as they should on TV or radio… "

I understand that it is not attractive to a radio or television program to dedicate a space to this theme if the cliché is applied that is not the interest of the audience. Juan Manuel Camacho adds, based on his own experiences in the Disco City program:

“The delicate issue is also that there is a huge sector of national public that is not interested in what is being done in Cuba (…). I know people who, when I put Cuban artists and their works, change the station to wait for that segment to end… ”

The Yellow Submarine has fulfilled the purpose for which it was created in 2011, offering excellent service, despite the fact that with its hiring policy (the bands must essentially touch foreign issues from the sixties to the eighties),it puts a gag on the creation of our bands. I agree with singer-songwriter Osamu Menéndez when he commented that “… a place like the Submarine [with that kind of programming] must exist in any city. It is not necessary to undress a saint to dress another. We must work well the musicians, the composers and the managers of the places; With good offers and good working conditions. Radio and TV supporting bands and places with the promotion. ”

There are other spaces in the capital to enhance these creation niches, and at this point you have to turn your face towards Maxim Rock that, despite having more resources, has failed to socialize its proposal as did the Patio de María since 1987 until October 2003. Its marketing management has not been successful among other aspects because it has not had an effective orientation to catch a heterogeneous youth sector, its scope has been reduced to a small regular audience, denoting total lack of ambition as a company.

We are a nation with a strong musical root - despite foreign influences - our rhythms are authentic, powerful and at the same time cadencious; aspects that have made them famous in the world. Some specialists point to this aspect as a barrier to the penetration of rock in Cuban music, as has happened in many other countries including Latin America. It could be thought that unlike the behavior of rock audiences in these countries, the Cuban is made up of a minority, and it is true, but it is about “significant minorities” that deserve space and respect. 

I write about various musical scenes constantly, but none generates debates as hot, massive and extensive as the rocker. This indicates that there is an audience, perhaps hidden, but obviously throbbing and ready to jump if the spring is found. Not everything is lost, although in appearance, reversing the process that Cuban rock is going through today is a chimera. David Viera, leader of the Camaguey band Ántagon expresses with grief:

“It is our sad reality and I do not see much way out when we do not have any protection that encourages us to be able to live on our own works, which one would most like, but here the market rules also govern (…), in our case we try to keep our creation but We had to do as four repertoires, according to the needs, because if the band is not disarmed, because everyone has to eat. It is the way I find to retain my musicians to do what we really want, and thus be able to sustain the authentic project with material and human resources, however, it becomes increasingly difficult for us, time is shortened and succumbing to needs… an eminent danger. ”

I think, like David, that the picture is bleak. Audience behaviors do not favor short-term changes. This year, when I went to deliver my vote in the Cubadisco awards, I was asked about the decision to cancel the rock category due to the small number of works presented, a phenomenon that had not happened before. On August 19, in a filming of the Cuerda Viva program, its director Ana Rabasa also mentioned this issue alarmed me considering the preparation of the next Festival. 

In the last decade used to release on the radio, between albums and demos, a material per month, which over time adds a collection of more than 288 folders of recordings of Cuban bands. Unfortunately, very few of these folders have a recent date. 

I only have the recourse to remember that until yesterday there was an audience and applause every time the national rock needed a second air.

Carlos Fornés Graduated in History from the University of Havana. Since 1991 he has been director of programs at the Cadena Habana radio station, and in 2008 he joined the music department of Radio Habana Cuba. Director of several musical programs. Collaborator of the Cuerda Viva program and its annual awards. More posts

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  1. When we refer to lack of support, we should see it better as a lack of opportunities on the part of the government by creating that barrier imposed between the amateur and professional artist defined by a few papers and the approval of a few that many times do not even have to do with your music…what a meter we have! That is what has really blocked the development of "alternative" genres, it is not because any institution does not support us, the bands in the rest of the world have to make their way by their own means and believe me that it is not easy at all, because We live in a Latin country, is there a preference for other genres? True but not defining either, how do you explain the scenes of Colombia, Panama or Puerto Rico? Very close to our latitudes, with other prevailing genres and with very strong rock scenes…where does the big difference lie then? The subject is complex and there is a lot to cut through, from the prohibition of rock n roll when it was at its height for being considered "music of the enemy" and necessarily wanting to enclose ourselves in a bubble in the face of demonized transculturation... when the rest of the world and countries in the area were "infested" with these sonorities... that meant that we were frozen in time for a long time, that a guitar with distortion was frowned upon, that common people did not accustom their ears to a strident sound... On the other hand, the impossibility of marketing yourself freely, the chain of prohibitions to private clubs for many years and lack of initiative, flexibility and autonomy in state establishments... (and many still persist), have also obstructed the creation of a scene that could be maintained financially, it is an immense chain and a problem not only economic but also social and even worse generational, we are years behind in the perspective of the area ity and it is not enough that a few are beginning to gain awareness... I could continue talking and I am sure you are too... Nothing, to invent, and survive, but above all not to hang up the gloves. Cheer up! 🤟🤟🤟

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