The manager of a Castro-friendly Cuban band reportedly condemned the government in a Facebook post on Sunday, claiming that the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television had banned a recent hit song whose video has 5.9 million views on Cuban social media.
Billboard, which featured the song in December, wrote at the time that the video had four million views on Facebook.
The song—”Música Vital” by the group Buena Fe featuring reggaetón stars Yomil y el Dany and the legendary Buena Vista Social Club crooner Omara Portuondo—debuted in December as a celebration of Cuba. While the video features iconic Cuban locations and the song celebrates the “passion to live” of the Cuban people, it does not feature any political lyrics or obscenity. Even more baffling, the Cuban government site Juventud Rebelde (“Rebel Youth”) featured the song and its lyrics in December, and the post remains visible online.
Javier Otero, manager of the group Buena Fe, posted on Facebook that an unnamed programming director told his band, “We received an order not to play that song anymore, that is all I can say.”
Otero and his band did not receive any explanation. Otero blamed the situation in his post on “some commissar in a guayabera with a binder who fears losing his ‘power’ and makes it count, using censorship in an inquisition way and takes these embarrassing actions.”
“It is shameful that these embarrassing practices exist, which sully institutions and do so much damage to the country,” he lamented.
Diario de Cuba, a Madrid-based publication that found Otero’s Facebook rant, noted that the Cuban government also recently censored the mention of a program called Ex-Change about U.S.-Cuba relations. Juan Carlos Travieso, a producer who remarked on the documentary on state television, complained on social media that any mention of the program was cut out of broadcasts on television.
The Cuban communist regime has a long and sordid history of censoring music. Fidel Castro founded torture and labor camps known as UMAPs (Military Units to Aid Production) for the mass murder and “re-education” of both Christians and “hippies,” or anyone caught listening to American music or wearing long hair. Popular English-language music was universally banned from the island for promoting delinquency. In a famous speech following his seizure of Havana, Castro warned against “those lazy hipster sons of the bourgeoisie, who go around with too-tight pants, some of them with a little guitar with an Elvis Presley attitude, taking their libertinism to the extreme of wanting to use public locations to organize their effeminate shows freely.”
“A socialist society cannot permit this degeneracy,” Castro concluded.
In the 21st century, this anti-music attitude has largely translated into broad censorship of reggaetón, a genre originating in Panama and Puerto Rico that has become extremely popular in Cuba. The genre is typically apolitical and features hyper-sexualized lyrics, therefore the Cuban government has deemed it a threat to the less popular music promoted by the Castro regime.
In 2012, after the explosive success of the song “Chupi Chupi” by Osmani García, the Cuban Institute of Music announced that it would ban all reggaetón from Cuban airwaves. The president of the institute, Orlando Vistel, announced in an interview with the Communist Party newspaper Granma that “vulgar, banal and mediocre expressions” in “foreign trends that violate the most fundamental ethical principles” would be banned from the island, citing reggaetón as “more notorious” than other genres for challenging the ethics of the murderous Castro regime. The ban affected broadcasts as well as the ability of artists to organize concerts and book venues.
In the interview, Vistel implied that the problem with reggaetón was that the Castro regime did not control it, and it was more popular than the music it did. “Son and salsa, jazz and rumba … receive great international recognition. That is the reality of Cuban music and Cuban musicians,” he asserted.
Only one sector of the population has escaped the government crackdown on reggaetón: members of the Castro family. Dictator Raúl Castro’s grandson Raúl Guillermo “The Crab” Rodríguez Castro, in particular, has become a reviled social media personality after his appearance on stage at a concert by Cuban reggaetón stars Gente de Zona. The city of Miami revoked the key to the city presented to the internationally-acclaimed group following their tolerance of the presence of a Castro at their concert.
Three years after banning everyone but the Castro family from listening to reggaetón, in a panel discussion covered in Granma, government officials lamented that censorship had failed. “Who is paying attention to traditional groups, so little reflected in our media?” one official argued. “Anybody would think that our national dance is reggaetón.”
The censorship failed because, much like in North Korea, Cubans use USB flash drives (known in Cuba as “paquetes,” or packages) to share cultural material the government banned. “As a form of civilian insurgency, portable speakers and other electronics flood the streets, [supermarket] lines, farmer’s markets, businesses … and public transport,” Cubanet explains in an article published Tuesday. Most are blasting reggaetón.
Yomil y el Dany, featured on the banned song “Música Vital,” became famous after their singles became a staple on the most popular “paquetes” on the streets on Havana. They have nonetheless faced continued censorship.
“I have had conversations to defend us and defend the genre with the president of the Music Institute, I have gone to the Ministry of Culture thousands of times to ask for an interview, and for someone to give me a logical explanation,” a frustrated Yomil told an interviewer in December.
While the reggaetón group has faced government repression, the banning of “Música Vital” is particularly baffling because of the presence of Portuondo, precisely the sort of musician Havana imposes on the general population. Portuondo made her name as a vocalist in Buena Vista Social Club, a Cuban musical ensemble made up of older communists famous for, among other things, songs about the greatness of mass murderer Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Portuondo has not commented publicly on the ban.
Buena Fe, the other musical act on the song, has also praised the Castro regime. Following his death, a member of the group issued a statement on social media reading, “Eternal glory to Fidel! Open the doors of history! They could not stop him when he was flesh and bone, now he is invincible.”
The Cuban government has not officially remarked on the ban either, or provided a public explanation. Officials have also not denied that the song will no longer play on state television and radio, the only legal media in the country.