Another day, another diss


Later this month, Miami’s Arsht Performing Arts Center is hosting a concert by a singer from Cuba who has long been supportive of and supported by the totalitarian Castro regime, meaning she qualifies as an official figure of the Castro entertainment world. One should note such affiliation is absolutely de rigueur to be any kind of star in Cuba, regardless of talent. There is no such thing as an apolitical (let alone oppositional) VIP on that island in any field; the system simply does not allow it. In order to play in the big leagues, such as they are, one must “compromise” one’s self with the so-called revolution. However, there can be some variation in the degree of compromise.

In 2003, in the immediate aftermath of the summary executions of three young Cuban men of color for hijacking a ferry boat (without harming anyone) to escape from Massah Castro’s plantation, the dictatorship was taken aback by the unexpectedly negative response from the international community, particularly from sources normally sympathetic to it. In an attempt at damage control, a public letter quickly went out supporting the actions of the Castro government, which was portrayed as having been forced to take drastic measures to forestall supposed US military aggression (as if). The document was signed by 27 prominent official figures of the arts and letters, including the dominatrix of Cuban ballet, Alicia Alonso; the “historian” (without a degree) Eusebio Leal, the singer (without a voice) Silvio Rodríguez, the jazz musician Chucho Valdés (whose father Bebo, a great jazz man, got the Celia Cruz treatment for going into exile in 1960), and the woman scheduled to sing at the Arsht Center in a couple of weeks.

As a side note, there were also some white Cubans involved in the same escape attempt treated as a capital crime, but they got jail sentences, not the death penalty. Massah Castro hates all rogue slaves, but especially black ones–black Cubans are expected to kiss the ground Massah walks on, since the “revolution” supposedly made human beings out of them, because they were presumably mere animals before 1959 (even though the mulatto Batista had far more power as early as the 1930s than any person of color has ever had under Castro, Inc.). Both Chucho Valdés and the singer slated for the Arsht Center are of color, and, as it happens, both have played Obama’s White House. However, another “official” Cuban singer of color, Pablo Milanés, did not sign that infamous public letter.

I will not enter into a discussion here concerning the musical merit of the singer in question, which is beside the point. Nobody denies, for example, that Alicia Alonso was a great ballerina, but that is quite separate from what she is as a person and as a Cuban. The point here is that the Arsht Center, which I understand receives public funding from Miami-Dade County, has chosen to engage and promote a performer who (barring blithering idiocy) the Arsht people must know is deeply offensive to many members of the local Cuban-American community, whose tax dollars are supporting the Arsht Center. Thus, it appears the Arsht Center gets their money and they get essentially spit upon. One assumes county mayor Carlos Giménez could have had a say in the matter, but apparently that was not a factor (which is not exactly a shocker).

Alas, this is all an old story and part of a much wider phenomenon. Would the Arsht Center ever have booked an entertainer identified with and an apologist for South Africa’s apartheid regime, for instance, especially one who could be said to have blood on his hands? Heaven forbid (though to paraphrase Mae West, Heaven has nothing to do with it, I expect). I suppose it might be easier and more convenient for “those people” to know their place and learn to accept insults and disrespect as par for the course. Certainly, they’ve had exhaustive practice by now, and there’s always more where that came from. Still, some of them will refuse to set foot on the Arsht Center again or support it in any way, if only for the sake of dignity. Well, you know how they are.

5 thoughts on “Another day, another diss”

  1. These are the signers of the 2003 public letter (those in parentheses are now dead):

    Alicia Alonso
    Miguel Barnet
    Leo Brouwer
    (Octavio Cortázar)
    (Abelardo Estorino)
    Roberto Fabelo
    Pablo Armando Fernández
    Roberto Fernández Retamar
    (Julio García Espinosa)
    Fina García Marruz
    (Harold Gramatges)
    (Alfredo Guevara)
    Eusebio Leal
    José Loyola
    Carlos Martí
    Nancy Morejón
    Senel Paz
    Amaury Pérez
    Graziella Pogolotti
    (César Portillo de la Luz)
    Omara Portuondo
    (Raquel Revuelta)
    Silvio Rodríguez
    (Humberto Solás)
    Marta Valdés
    Chucho Valdés
    (Cintio Vitier)

  2. Portuondo turns 86 this year, an age at which even the greatest singers would not impose upon a paying public with what could be their dying breaths. However, if enough people are willing to buy tickets, that’s not her fault or her problem, and presumably the Arsht Center didn’t book her to lose money.

    I assume that since she now claims to be apolitical, she will stick to standard love songs and such, and will not regale her audience with some of her former “hits” like Siempre es 26 (It’s always the 26th), referring to July 26th (one of the “high holy days” of the Castro religion), or Hasta siempre, Comandante, a paean to Che Guevara.

    But don’t get me wrong: I’m not surprised or upset she’d want to sing in Miami, because she is what she is. My problem is with the Arsht Center, the Miami-Dade County government, and anybody, particularly any Cuban, who’d pay to hear her or simply honor her with attending her concert. Just imagine what someone would have to do, or to have done, to get Cuba’s dictator to kiss her hand in public.

  3. It turns out that there was a concert by the “Buena Vista Social Club,” including Omara Portuondo, last October at the Arsht Center in Miami. It got a pretty negative review in the Miami Herald, but it was apparently sold out, which no doubt has something to do with why the Arsht Center would bring back the alarmingly geriatric “diva” this year. Here’s the 2015 Herald review (be sure to read its description of Portuondo, who is bound to be even more enclenque a year later):

    Presumably, much if not most of the 2015 audience consisted of people of Cuban extraction, or so the review implies. No wonder nobody respects us or takes us seriously. Lord have mercy.

  4. The Arsht Center is a not-for-profit organization, so all it really has to do is run in the black, and it’s reportedly done so for nine years now. According to Arsht Center management, its annual operating budget is $38 million, 25% of which ($9.5 million) comes from public funding, almost all of that from Miami-Dade County. Public funding also provided the seed money for initially building the facility.

    So, I expect that, from the center’s standpoint, it feels it’s doing just fine, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This brings me back to last year’s sold-out Arsht Center concert by the “Buena Vista” outfit, including Portuondo. Assuming that a significant proportion (and quite possibly most) of the ticket buyers were Cuban-Americans (and tickets were $45 to $125 as per the Miami Herald), what was the Arsht Center most likely to make of that? You get the picture, I’m sure. Hence, the Portuondo concert scheduled for later this month, despite the fact the woman will turn 86 a few days after the event.

    Alas, too many Cubans keep doing this sort of thing, as they have for far too long, which obviously makes them part of the problem–and the game is already rigged against us to begin with. When I think of the dignity or decoro with which José Martí operated, I am simply ashamed. Like the Castro people say in Cuba, vamos bien.

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