Sugarrrr! / Yoani Sánchez

Celia Cruz about the time she left Cuba / Video is from a TV show of the time

The first time I heard Celia Cruz I was 16. A friend took me to her house and — with the windows closed — began to play a song on the record player from the Queen of Son. That smiling and powerful voice shocked me, I could not believe that for so long I had been denied that mastery of interpreting salsa, bolero, rumba. After her exile on July 15, 1960, the most famous Cuban singer was erased from television and radio programming. It was forbidden to broadcast her music and generations grew up without that cry of Azucarrr! echoing in our ears.

For decades on Cuban television and radio there was a “black list” of banned musicians. It included Paquito d ‘Rivera, Bebo Valdes, Olga Guillot and many others, as many as fifty. The reason for exclusion was primarily political, as most of these figures lived in exile in the United States and had made statements critical of the government in Havana. As a result, the national culture was divided between “trusted artists” and the “unreliables”, which brought a clear impoverishment to music programming. All this happened in a country with deep musical and danceable roots.

Last week the “black list” that so mutilated our national culture was finally removed. Although its existence was never made public, all those who worked in radio and television had to abide by what it said. Now it not longer exists, and although none of those once-banned voices have begun to be played on our national media, there is hope that this will happen soon. But nobody is going to give us back the years and years without all these musicians, without the cry of Sugarrr! reverberating in our teenage ears.

15 August 2012