Vulgarity as a Resource (I) / Miriam Celaya

Osmani García, the scapegoat of the day. Photo taken from the Internet

A disproportionate scandal has been unleashed these past few days around a vulgar Cuban video clip officially demonized and quasi-banned by the Culture Minister himself. It is the reggaeton entitled “Chupi Chupi” whose lyrics, in fact, are such a monument to audio-visual vulgarity that it could be considered record-breaking within a genre that is prominent in Cuban music, by its crudeness and by the lack of substance of its lyrics and images, and the obnoxiousness and repetitiveness of its refrain.

It is clear from the preceding paragraph that I detest reggaeton, though I acknowledge and respect the sovereign right of the followers of this (music genre?) to fully enjoy it, provided that, in turn, it does not invade my ears with its aggressive and artless lyrics. However, I am very surprised at the virulence of the official attack on a video clip that basically does not differ too much from others of equally vulgar, pornographic and similar insipid content. And if I understand that the scandal is “disproportionate”, it’s because in a reggaeton and reggaeton performer’s fight against the formidable cultural and official press apparatus, the song Chupi Chupi and its author, Osmani García, will be able to do little to defend themselves.

On the other hand, I cannot understand such last-minute Puritanism in the face of a phenomenon that has ruled over the Cuban music scene, not in “recent years”, as the high ranking Commissioner with a doctorate in Arts and Sciences claims in an article published by the press (Granma, Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011, pages 4-5) — the artistic Commissioner appointed to sanctify censorship to the public — but for at least the last two decades. It could be said that the specialist author of the journalistic diatribe, with the rank of Faculty Professor in the Department of Musicology at the Higher Institute of Art –- such are her very polished and lengthy titles and crests — was locked in her ivory tower, just listening to classic music all this time, therefore she had not heard that, in effect, musical vulgarity has claimed the throne in the taste of a good part of the Cuban people. I wonder how someone could be a specialist in musicology and ignore the process of impoverishment that has been gnawing away at Cuban popular music in its own environment.

I say this because it is impossible to drive through the streets of this city without passing a rickshaw dispensing reggaeton in its path, out loud, polluting the environment with its low-life sounds and the marginalization of its lyrics. Some bus drivers have similar habits and share with passengers in their crammed vehicles what they consider the greatest of musical creations, assuming that they are like-minded and want to share. The same goes for many of the classic old cars that serve as taxis on fixed transportation routes, where passengers that pay their fares have to suffer, whether they like it or not, the dissemination of reggaeton at high decibels … and God help anyone who dares to suggest to the driver to turn down the volume! The driver’s abuse is worse than the very lyrics of the music. If you don’t believe it, just ask Yoani Sánchez, who on one occasion had to get out of the car because of the driver’s anger when she protested discretely. Since that time, she has decided to board protected by headphones that allow her to build a defensive anti-reggaeton barrier, and, at the same time, enjoy her own music without making trouble or bothering anyone.

But specifically against the “El Chupi” onslaught… I started to think about other reggaeton and other lyrics that for several years have occupied the popular taste. Some of these creations are more vulgar and “stupefying” than others, but all are part of a repertoire under whose influence many, who are now in their adolescence and youth, have been brought up. I remember some of those gems, whose lyrics say “suck my sweet sugar cane, Mom …” another cried out in the voice of a cat in heat “Aaaayyy, I like Yumas!*…” Another urged: “Suck, suck, suck lollipops, take them out of your mouth, and put them in your nose….” And so forth, with the same level of excessively rhythmic idiocy.

These freaks have been a constant even at children’s birthday parties, so-called cultural activities in schools at all levels of education, at the feasts of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, in Pioneer camping trips and — believe it or not — even at day care center celebrations, promoted by the organizers of these activities, namely, teachers, educators, school leaders, cultural promoters, trainers, etc. At such times, it often happens that competitions are held, and those children who best mimic the pelvic movements of adults with ease and are able to “get onto the floor,” are the most applauded and encouraged by adults. So, in effect, a taste for reggaeton has become a widespread phenomenon. Not by chance was “El Chupi” nominated by popular vote for the latest and recent Lucas Awards, the annual Cuban video clip contest, from which it was eliminated by the decision of the Minister, against the proposal of his highly cultured people.

Until today, I think that promoting this type of music has spread in Cuba under official protection, aimed at a particular audience: large masses. Disseminating meaningless lyrics, keeping the public in an apathetic and lethargic state before the repetition of such empty refrains, appealing to the exaltation of the sensual and sexual as a way to alleviate the angst of so many hardships, reducing people to a state of idiocy, eroding minds and dehumanizing has been a “cultural” strategy employed by the authorities to channel and control energies, far from claims and reasoning. On the other hand, this type of thing tends to reinforce the image of a sexual paradise that is so appealing for the purposes of encouraging tourism, an economic stake par excellence for the government, only that, apparently, the image of the Cuban culture that was being presented is becoming too obscene and, for some unknown reason, they are putting an end to it.

At any rate, it is known that censure and bans only serve to encourage the consumption of the forbidden. These days, people have not stopped commenting on “the case of El Chupi,” and those who didn’t yet own a copy of the video clip ran to get it, the reverse effect of the reaction that turns subversive, and therefore, attractive, everything that upsets the authorities. Perhaps it is time for media owners to understand that banning is not what it’s about, but diversifying areas and options. It is time to open up true and total artistic and esthetic freedom and to allow all avenues for creativity to flow through. That would make Cubans a more cultured and selective peoples. May reggaeton not continue to be the only popular nor banned music. This could be another of so many beginnings we need.

*Translator’s note: Yumas are people born in the US.

Translator: Norma Whiting

November 28 2011