The protests of recent days in Cuba remind us that the ideological combat is also fought in music, with songs tightly aligned on both sides. We go through ten compositions that over time have praised Fidel Castro and the revolutionary cause, or rather the opposite.
‘And that’s where Fidel arrived’, Carlos Puebla (1969)
The troubadour Carlos Puebla (1917-89), ‘the singer of the Revolution’, was one of the first to praise Castro’s achievements in song form from his socialist point of view, making use of the tradition of folklore. This lively guaracha tells how, after the period of Fulgencio Batista, “the fun is over / the commander arrived and ordered to stop”, leaving behind “the custom of crime” and the inclination to “make a gambling den of Cuba”.
‘The Moncada program’, Sara González (1975)
The assault on the Moncada barracks, on July 26, 1953, a prelude to the revolution, inspires this piece with quotes from Fidel Castro’s self-defense plea, known under the title of ‘History will absolve me’ (that is why the commander is listed as co-author of the song).
It was recorded by Sara González with the prestigious Sound Experimentation Group of the ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry), directed by Leo Brouwer, from which the main talents of Nueva Trova came out.
‘Un son para Cuba’, Quilapayún (1976)
The Chileans of Quilapayún, who when Pinochet gave the coup in 1973 were performing in France and stayed there, sang for the revolutionary cause from exile. In this song they adapted a text by Pablo Neruda that dressed the commander’s entrance on stage in the history of the island as epic.
“Fidel Castro, with fifteen of his own / and with freedom, went down to the sand,” celebrates the chorus with their recognizable firm voices and their Andean stringed instruments.
‘The fool’, Silvio Rodríguez (1992)
The naked voice of this Nueva Trova totem, accompanied little by little by a guitar that is curling up, reaffirms the old convictions at a critical moment, after the collapse of the USSR and the socialist camp. “They say they will drag me over the rocks / when the Revolution collapses,” he meditates, conveying his willingness to die assuming, with all the consequences, “the folly of living without price.”
‘La jinetera’, Willy Chirino (1995)
This Cuban settled in the United States in the 70s, linked to the ‘Miami sound’ of the diaspora and author of hits like ‘Escándalo’ (Raphael), has several songs that attack Castroism.
If in ‘Nuestro día (it’s coming)’ he remembered and remembered how he fled from “the sickle and the verdulino / running from that absurd ideology”, in ‘La jinetera’ he describes the street prostitution that flourished in the 90s and sighs because “A new day, free and sovereign Cuba.”
‘Just in case I don’t come back’, Celia Cruz (2001)
The ‘queen of salsa’ recorded this song with an air of farewell two years before she died, signed by Emilio Estefan and Angie Chirino (Willy’s daughter), where she remembers her departure from the island after the revolution. Surrounding Latin rhythm wrapping lyrics bathed in melancholy and with a political background. “Just in case I don’t return / I take your flag / regretting that my eyes / liberated didn’t see you.”
‘Communist sneak’, from Porno para Ricardo (2010)
Author of several anti-Castro landmarks, such as ‘El comandante’ (or “el coma-andante”), this shameless punk-rock band from Havana dedicated this song to the informers who alerted the authorities of their clandestine concerts.
And specifically, to Alpidio Alonso Grau, president of the Hermanos Saíz Association, a cultural organization for young people up to 35 years old, whose name pays tribute to two students who died fighting Batista.
‘Letter to the President’, Al2 El Aldeano (2018)
Aldo Roberto Rodríguez Baquero was a member of the Cuban rap duo Los Aldeanos, which already in 2003 pointed to the limits of freedom of expression in the foul album ‘Censurados’. The group had a strong international impact, touring Europe and the Americas and ended up settling in Miami.
From there, Al2 wanted to dedicate a song to the new president Díaz-Canel: “Tell me, President, from the throne where you sit, is it possible to see the increasingly violent youth?”
‘Homeland and life’, Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona and others (2021)
This song that melds rap and they are Cuban, headed by Yotuel (from Orishas), is the symbol of the latest protests. “Let us no longer shout homeland or death, but homeland and life,” says the letter, which appeals to the dissident Movimiento San Isidro.
“It’s over and we’re not afraid / The deception is over, it’s been sixty-two years doing damage.” The theme was published in February and already then President Díaz-Canel, replied on Twitter, citing a verse by Silvio Rodríguez (“I live in a free country …”), from the theme ‘Small daytime serenade’.
‘Homeland or death for life’, Raúl Torres and others (2021)
The answer to ‘Patria y vida’ is this song with a hectic Afro-Latin rhythm. “If they pay you to say our time is up / don’t forget that whoever pays feels contempt for the traitor,” says the song, which accuses critics of moving for foreign interests. Torres and company predict a long future for the socialist cause: “I hope you have funds / to mortgage your time / The revolution has more than 62,000 millennia left”.