“I will go to Cuba when I can do it as a free citizen”

As a child I knew him in Havana. We lived in the neighborhood of El Pilar, Cerro. We were neighbors; he lived with his mother and brother on the first floor and I lived with my family on the second. Skinny and tall, he spent the day with a guitar, playing songs that he invented. That was in the 70s. Nearly forty years later, thanks to the internet, I was able to interview my childhood friend Jorge Luis Piloto Alsar, today a renowned Cuban-American composer.

Ivan: Jorge, 2010 is the thirtieth anniversary of your arrival in the U.S. by way of the massive exodus from the Port of Mariel in 1980.  Is the Jorge of Miami greatly changed from the Jorge of Havana?

Luis Enrique: These three decades have been fundamental to my life.  I had a son and I managed to make a career, which I could not have done in Cuba, because I would have had to belong to an organization of the Ministry of Culture. And since I am not ‘revolutionary,’ I think it would have been very short or I never would have been able to do it.  As you know, Ivan, in Cuba everything is subject to ‘within the revolution everything, outside the revolution nothing.’ My career would have been nothing”

In essence, I am the same as I was in Havana, but with the experience and influences acquired by living in Miami and being in contact with a world that I had no access to when I lived on the island.  We are all changing, except Cuba.”

Ivan: You finished the year with a Grammy in hand, for the Best Tropical Song, “Yo no sé mañana” [I don’t know tomorrow]. And you started the new year with another trophy, from  the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in recognition of your contribution to Latin music and the 25 years that you have been creating successful hits.

Luis Enrique: Winning those prizes has been a big accomplishment, that I infinitely appreciate and for which I am grateful. It is something that we all dream about, but don’t always achieve. I feel lucky and honored by those awards.”

They also imply a greater responsibility. They have raised the bar and now more people know me and wait for better things. Or maybe no one expects anything else, but I’ll take it as an encouragement to continue making music that can cheer up the people who listen and enjoy.”

Ivan: I remember that despite the difference in our ages, we shared the same passion: baseball and sports in general. So I guess that it made you happy to know that in the XXI Central American and Caribbean Games, which on July 17 to August 1 will be held in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, you will hear a song which you helped to write.

Luis Enrique: I have not forgotten what fans we were for the Industriales, the Havana team. And as a lover of baseball and sports, I’m glad that somehow I’ll be present at these Games, which also will be held in Puerto Rico, a country that I love.

The story of that song is short. While working with Olga Tañón in Orlando, Florida, on the songs for her new CD, she told me that not only was she invited to sing at the Games, but also to write the song. Olga invited me to join her and thus was born  “Llegó la fiesta”

Ivan: By the way, Jorge, do you know that Cuba will not participate in the games in Mayaguez? What do you think of politics in sports?

Luis Enrique: Yes, I know that Cuba will not attend the games in Puerto Rico and I don’t know the reasons. Each person as an individual can choose a sporting event to express a political opinion, as long as it is done in an appropriate way that does not harm others. What is reprehensible is when sports are used as state policy, when the State uses its athletes to send a message of propaganda.

Ivan: And in music? Do you think it is OK for artists like Juanes, Olga herself, and now Calle 13, to come to sing in Havana? If they invite you, would you come?

Luis Enrique: I think everyone should be free to go where he wants. That is a right that not many artists living in Cuba have. Also, many artists who do not support the regime are denied entry to Cuba, because they have a different opinion.

I wonder what I would do if I was invited to go to the land where I was born.  The saddest thing of all is that Cuba’s government assumes the right to invite or not citizens born in Cuba. Who gave them that right? For now, the power of the gun, the power of the prison guard.

I will go to Cuba when I can do it as a free citizen, without asking anyone’s permission. It is my right as the Cuban citizen that I am.

Ivan: In conclusion, could you tell us in advance a little about your upcoming musical projects?

Luis Enrique: Right now I’m finishing up the CD of the Chilean singer Myriam Hernandez, the second one that we are doing together. I’m also doing collaborations with other authors. I will write a song with Amaury Gutierrez, a Cuban with one of the best voices I’ve ever heard in my life. And I’ve heard a few.

Iván García

Translated by ricote