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Articles Illustration: Laura Llópiz. Illustration: Laura Llópiz.

The 2021 of Cuban music in ten milestones

2021 began with one certainty: this would not be the best year of our lives. The process of economic reordering that the government began thus announced it; However, along the way, mass vaccinations arrived on the Island, we began to feel that returning to the stage and to concert halls was possible, that we could meet up with friends and that life was returning, somehow.

In this context, all kinds of events took place that raised Cuban music; in the same way that others put us in mourning or reminded us how much we still have to change as a society and as a music industry. Thus, before the Earth completed its orbit around the Sun, our editors made their selection of those moments that defined the last 12 months, those that for better or for worse will be marked by fire in our collective memory.

launch of the single Homeland and Life 

Perhaps the most controversial release of the year was the premiere of the video clip homeland and life, directed by the director Asiel Babastro and which brought together several musicians from the national scene —such as Yotuel, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Osorbo and El Funky— in an unequivocal declaration of their rejection of the current Cuban State. Subsequently, the song, which became an anthem during the July 11 protests on the Island, would reach notable international resonance by accumulating more than 9 million views on YouTube, receiving two Latin Grammy (Song of the Year and Best Urban Song), and to be among the singles favorites of the year of the former president of the United States, Barack Obama. 

Sandunga is born, the first national platform for streaming of music 

Sandunga is a national platform for streaming —joint project of Artex SA and the export agency Soy Cubano—, which exclusively contains Cuban music; the first of its kind in Cuba that has been commercially launched. Although such a service promises new paths for the consumption and monetization of the island's sounds, at the moment it only hosts content produced by state labels and institutions, and does not allow independent artists or labels to include their music. This and other aspects related to the user experience are some of the obstacles that must be overcome to become a truly attractive option. 

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The entire musical work of Pablo Milanés arrives on digital distribution platforms 

The availability of the work of Pablo Milanes This year it acquired a new dimension by publishing its entire catalog on digital platforms. Nearly six decades of creation, with a freshness that makes him a timeless musician, the singer-songwriter's music is now open to generations of admirers who will be able to parade through the trova of all time, the filin, and through the many other genres in which that Paul has mastered. We are talking about what is possibly the most complete voice of Cuban popular music of all time and, as Fito Páez once said in his exaggerated sanity, about one of the best singers in the world.

Cuban music returns to tours and stages

Since the summer some Cuban artists discreetly resumed their international tours; such is the case of Cimafunk, The committee and Havana D'Primera. After the opening of the country in November, local live performances also began little by little. It has been very gratifying to enjoy live music again. The bars are packed at night with the proposals brought by the artists from the patio; cultural centers such as the Casas de la Música, El Sauce, and the Bertolt Brecht also opened their doors. The year is closing with many options, a blessing, both for the musicians and for the public. Let's hope that Ómicron doesn't force us to stop again. 

Death of Adalberto Alvarez and Vicente Feliú 

That these years will remain as the saddest of our lives, we already knew. The forced confinement and the absence of live music were enough. On top of that, as if that were not enough, we have had to mourn the premature death of valuable artists in full creative effervescence. In 2021, we are left without Adalberto Alvarez, sonero mayor, composer, arranger and leader of more than one legendary orchestra; and Vicente Feliú, inspired singer-songwriter, founder of the Nueva Trova Movement and teacher of generations of bards. Both, from different corners of creation, were decisive actors in defining the contours of Cuban song in the second half of the 20th century. We also regret this year the physical departures of the dean of Cuban musicology, Ma. Teresa Linares, the relevant composer Alfredo Diez Nieto, the singer Ela Calvo and the outstanding instrumentalists Sixto Llorente. The Indian and Jose Manuel Crego El Greco.

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Special editions for the 25 years of the Buena Vista Social Club project

In 1996 a Cuban album sold eight million copies and won a Grammy, taking traditional Cuban music to another dimension. This is the debut album by the (today) legendary Buena Vista Social Club orchestra, which reached its quarter century this year. As part of the celebrations, the British label World Circuit published several products that reminded us of the extraordinary nature of that project; including a double CD and vinyl, and a deluxe album—containing two CDs, two vinyls, and a booklet with record notes, mini-biographies of the 12 musicians who participated in the original recording, the history of the club (as told by Rosa Marquetti), a brief note from the American musician and producer Ry Cooder, and the lyrics of the songs—. Undoubtedly, a valuable tribute to those legends of the Cuban guaracha, bolero and son. 

Massive concert in Los Jardines de La Tropical provokes sanctions

Anxiety, euphoria and irresponsibility went hand in hand on November 6 at a massive concert in Los Jardines de La Tropical, when without proper authorization, and violating health regulations, nearly eight thousand people gathered for the a Diván concert and the Sarao project. Three directors of this center ended up separated from their positions, along with two other defendants from the Recreatur company, for exceeding the authorized capacity figure by more than four times. 

The food, by Cimafunk, appears on several lists of the best of Latin music in 2021 

We were all anxiously awaiting the second album of Cimafunk, because according to tradition in the music industry, after a good debut album, it is the next one that decides whether or not the artist can handle the load of expectations and has enough to transcend the first creative impulse. In this case, after a few singles that rather seemed like delaying maneuvers, Cimafunk and his team did it. They got that The food (Terapia Productions, 2021), with its luxury “cooking”, put the specialized press to “eat in your hand”, which —like us— has included it in several lists of the best of the year.  

Celeste sings at the Martí Theater 

At the beginning of 2021, all of us in Cuba dreamed of the return of live concerts and with the public. The reality was much sadder. Months passed before life began to “normalize”, and the year will end with a few events. That is why the presentation of Celeste in Havana's Teatro Martí, as part of the activities of the British Culture Week in Cuba. It is not usual for figures from the mainstream at the peak of its popularity. We are doubly grateful, then, for this rare opportunity that we viewers had to peek into one of the most exciting epicenters of contemporary music, such as London today. Within so much uncertainty, an era that arcs from Tank and The Bangas to Celeste feels like a beautiful omen.

Several women publicly accuse troubadour Fernando Bécquer of sexual violence

On December 8, the magazine The sneeze published a report that collects the complaints of five women to the troubadour Fernando Bécquer, accusing him of having committed sexual violence towards them, in a period that covers almost 20 years. Although it is not the first known case of gender-based violence against a public figure, it is the one that has had the greatest impact. Immediately an intense discussion was generated that shook the country's musical community, and that led to other complaints against the musician, as well as reflections on the role played by educational, judicial and police institutions in the fight against gender violence. It is still too early to know if we are (finally) before the start of #MeToo in Cuba, but something definitely changed that day.

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