Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Notes from Cuba

Playing Castro's Tune - Steven Evans. I missed this on Radio 4 at lunchtime, but caught it later on iPlayer, 'making the unmissable, unmissable' (and the missable too):

The programme set out to convince listeners that the evolution of Cuban music has stalled as a result of State support and its popularity with tourists. Although it's one of the island's most successful exports and attractions, Evans is unimpressed, maintaining that State sponsored music and art academies don't produce progressive, contemporary work. He contends that when the 'Special Period' came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba made a 'pact with the devil' in embracing tourism as its main source of income, producing 'nostalgic music that toes the line', at least in the view of those who see Cuban musicians as Government employees charming Canadian dollars, euros and pounds from tourists nostalgic for the 'nice old music' of the 'nice old boys' in the Buena Vista Social Club. While it's admirable that musicians can be a superstars at 80 or 90, Evans hears a dead music, celebrated only by tourists who 'romanticise poverty and a regime that they wouldn't dream of living in themselves', drip-feeding them the 'Buena Vista Social Club on a loop'.

As one of the drip-fed tourists, I loved the good old boys and their good old music. How uplifting to see the elderly taking centre stage, energetic, spirited, making an invaluable contribution to the economy of their country, not hidden away or invisible, neither state burden, nor shameful duty. The exchange is made eyes wide open: we want it, they give it; they want it, we give it - musicians and the cigar-smoking relics practising as photo opportunities on every corner. Would you expect cutting edge performance art in Covent Garden Piazza from the street entertainers? Or avant garde music from the buskers at Leicester Square Tube Station? Are the male voice choirs of Evans' native Wales breaking new boundaries? Chill out. Smile. Enjoy the spectacle. You were paid to go out there!

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