As we wait for the Obama administration to loosen U.S. travel rules for cultural pursuits in Cuba, it looks like the Cuban government may be loosening things on its end as well. El Nuevo Herald in Miami reports that some unlikely Cuban artists will make their way to perform in Miami this fall: Cuban underground rappers Los Aldeanos ("the Villagers"), and Silvito el Libre ("Silvito the Free," son of famed Cuban troubadour Silvio Rodriguez, who played Carnegie Hall early this summer but skipped Miami) will give a concert Nov. 13 at the Miami Dade Auditorium.
Cuban filmmaker Alejandro Moya "Iskander," who's in Miami this summer editing a documentary about Los Aldeanos, points out that even though you won't hear the duo on Cuban radio or find their CDs in stores, their underground rap is nonetheless very popular in Havana. Ever Chavez, director of FundArte, who, together with Charity Unlimited, is organizing the Miami show, describes their lyrics as "honest" and "angry," which he says "reflects their situation. They've been censured, and have seen their shows shut down in their country." Los Aldeanos' lyrics are explicit, and critical of the Cuban government and Cuban reality.
Gisela Hidalgo, from Charity Unlimited, tells El Nuevo Herald, "It's a step forward in the cultural exchange that should exist between the two cities [Miami and Havana], and people-to-people. Five years ago, a grupo like Los Aldeanos wouldn't have been allowed to leave Cuba." Hidalgo says they've tried before.
Hidalgo sees a door opening to bring more artists and for exchanges in both directions.
Over the last year, a surprising number of artists have crisscrossed the Florida straits. Cuban performers like Buena Fe, Orquesta Aragon, Carlos Varela and Silvio Rodriguez (whose last trip to the United States was thirty years ago) have come over. And, nearly a year ago, the Miami-based pop star Juanes organized a huge "Peace Without Borders" concert in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion, which he couldn't have done without the cooperation of Washington and Havana. By some accounts, it wasn't exactly smooth sailing in Havana. Though a small, loud group of Cuban exiles in Miami protested the Juanes undertaking, younger Cubans also filled the streets, outnumbering the protesters, in support. Others actually traveled to Havana for the concert, thanks to President Obama's new travel rules for Cuban-American family visits.
Whether you're a fan of Los Aldeanos or Silvito el Libre or not (and I have to admit that Cuban crooner duo Buena Fe are more my speed), this is good news indeed, and it should make it easier for the Obama administration to lift travel controls of its own, particularly when what we're really talking about is for Obama to embrace policies pursued more than 10 years ago by the Clinton administration.
Letting these Cuban underground rappers perform in Miami shows Havana being pragmatic or fair, or both, and it's just one more indication that we're no longer dealing with Fidel Castro's Cuba. It's time for our policy to reflect that fact, by reaching out to Cubans in and out of government, to build the kind of trust and understanding -- including honest disagreement -- that we've been missing for decades.