Patriotism and Mediocrity

Screen capture from the video clip of ’La Bayamesa’. (Juan Carlos Borjas / Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eloy M. Viera Moreno, Havana, 13 March 2021 — A few weeks ago a group of Cuban artists composed a song under the suggestive title of Patria y Vida (Homeland and Life) and disseminated it through the networks. The Cuban government gave a meteoric response, and in a matter of a few days it has released three songs, with their corresponding video clips, worthy of that “revolutionary intransigence” ordered by the Communist Party in the 1970s.

Of mediocre workmanship and rather bad taste, these productions aim to associate national symbols with our national traditions, without subtlety and with little aesthetic value. When Cubans sang to their nation, did they do it the same way? Let’s look at examples.

At the beginning of the Ten Years’ War, the love song La Bayamesa, composed more than a decade earlier by three young people, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Francisco Castillo Moreno and José Fornaris, dedicated to the then girlfriend of one of them, was turned into a hymn of praise to our sovereign land in the imagination of our mambises. It was widely performed, both the original and the version with lyrics attributed to José Joaquín Palma and its popularity reached Europe, while inside borders we continue to enjoy it like the first day.

At the end of the 19th century, a white Cuban just 18 years old and his brother, Eduardo and Fernando Sánchez de Fuentes, composed Tú, one of those “round trip songs”, as habaneras — a popular genre of music — were called then. Soon the emigrants supporting independence appropriated its melody and lyrics, feeling in it the description of the dreamed of free Cuba, especially in its final statement: “Cuba is you.” It is a true “tobacco label turned into song”, according to the journalist Orlando González. Of enduring value, today connoisseurs include it among the three best-known habaneras of all time.

A Dutchman, Hubert de Blanck, who settled down with a Cuban woman, improvised on the piano for six minutes , with the best of his virtuosity, a melody by Perucho Figueredo when even that march was only the promise of a national anthem for a long-awaited country. Such is the excellence of this musical composition, which today resonates permanently in the Tomb of the Unknown Mambí of the recently rebuilt National Capitol, reminding us of genuine Cubanness.

Two black musicians, Lico Jiménez and José White, put their lives and heritage at the service of a nation in need of a homeland. The latter composed La bella cubana, a song frequently sung at many independence parties since the mid-nineteenth century. It had such acceptance that authorized voices consider it one of the three most emblematic songs of Cuba and it was used in the past as a musical theme by the CMBF Radio Musical Nacional station, a distinguished promoter of good music in Cuba.

With the above examples still in the ear, it is difficult to judge the texts of the three “response songs” to Patria y Vida. The songs included barricade jargon, their quality diminished by urgency. Appeals to be intolerant of opposing opinions, as if this land does not belong to all of us, are the continuation of the “revolutionary violence” of the last six decades. To promote this intimidation now is to promote once again acts of repudiation and the actions of the notorious “rapid response brigades”, the result of which would no longer be the same as in other times of citizen meekness.

On the other hand, as far as I know, none of the Black Cubans belonging to any of the multiple sides that fought against discrimination, and for the inclusion of blackness ,ever publicly wore expensive African clothes. Without a foothold in Cuban tradition and history, it seems to me that this visual metaphor, so abundant in recent years, responds to commercial interests. Mixing that clothing with the national symbols and selling the multimedia result as a sample of Cubanness is an unforgivable show.

For the discerning, I answer why I do not also judge the piece Patria y Vida. The reason has nothing to do with the music or its aesthetic appreciation. Quite simply, none of the patriotic testimonies of imperishable quality mentioned were made with public money or under the patronage of any government.

On the contrary, in most cases the money of the authors and performers were devoted to a sovereign and dreamed of better homeland. For the time being, consequently, I criticize those songs made with the resources of the State, resources which would have been better invested in solving the many deficiencies in the lives of Cubans today.


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