During my New York Public Radio debate last week with Nick Gillespie on WNYC‘s “Soundcheck Smackdown,” I strongly defended prospective visits from this country to Cuba by both classical (the NY Philharmonic) and pop (Colombian-born Juanes) musicians.
But I kept thinking:
What would Celia say?
The ghost in my apartment, the late Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz, was one of this country’s most celebrated exiles from Castro’s Cuba. Her last months were spent where I now live.
To my complete surprise, you can glimpse my living room, terrace and view of the Hudson River in a 2008 documentary about her life and music that aired this month on WNET, New York City’s public television station. (You can view the whole film here, by clicking on “Celia the Queen,” upper left.) Pedro Knight, her widower (who died in 2007), was interviewed in front of what’s now my (non-working) fireplace and he is also shown gazing out from the terrace.
At the time of Celia’s death in 2003, the NY Times reported:
The Cuban government did not allow her to return in 1962 for the burial of her mother. She never again tried to go back.
Celia didn’t talk politics and rarely spoke English. In the film she declares that she “left because we disagreed with the system,” but also that “all my songs are happy. I never sing about protest.” That’s not entirely true, however: One of her signature songs was the emotional “Cuando Sali de Cuba” (“When I Left Cuba”), in which protest is implied, if not explicitly stated.
I’d like to think that although she herself was permanently estranged from her beloved homeland, she would have been just as tolerant of others’ musicians overtures as is Cuban singer Gloria Estefan, who gave her views about Juanes’ trip shortly before his concert yesterday in Havana.
Damien Cave of the Times reports:
Ms. Estefan has said that she and her husband, Emilio, will not return
to Cuba until it is a democracy, but she rejected the idea that Juanes
should cancel his project. “We’ve learned to live with others’ ideas,”
According to Paul Haven‘s Associated Press report on yesterday’s concert:
Juanes insisted the concert was about music, not politics. “It is one more grain of sand for improving relations through art,” the singer said upon arriving in Havana late Friday.
But before leaving his Key Biscayne home for Havana, the Latino pop star was the object of “death threats, CD smashing protests and boycotts,” Haven reported.
From the AP account, the concert seems to have been a happy lovefest, with an astonishingly huge audience of a million or more Juanes worshippers. Our government gave its permission for the trip and then let the music and musicians weave their magic.
That seems like the right approach to me. Maybe I need to get a Juanes CD. He’s so important that he’s even been a Scholastic student’s workshop project!