Friday, December 18, 2009

The Inter-American Dialogue and The New America Foundation: El Yuma y Carlos Varela

I spent a busy but rich and productive day in Washington, D.C. today before the impending blizzard that is set to hit the city tonight. I was invited down from New York by Paul Wander and Dan Erikson at The Inter-American Dialogue together with Uva de Aragon of FIU's Cuban Research Institute to participate in a brief presentation on my favorite topic, La blogosfera cubana, in an event entitled, "Cuba and New Technologies."

While I will revisit that topic again many times in the future at El Yuma, here are a few links to the event.

The Inter-American Dialogue site has a pre-meeting summary here. And better yet, C-SPAN showed up and filmed the entire gig. You can stream the entire 1 hour, 21 minute video of the event here (my comments start at 7:40 and go thru 34:25; the Q & A starts at 57:35).

While in D.C., Anya Landau French invited me over to her office at The New America Foundation a few blocks away for a real treat (by the way see her excellent report, "Options for Engagement: A Resource Guide for Reforming U.S. Policy toward Cuba").

Carlos Varela (pictured to the right > in a rough photo I took with my Blackberry), in the country on a 21-day artist visa, gave a mini-concert and engaged us an a quick, stimulating Q & A on music, culture, and U.S.-Cuban Relations. While I will have more to say on this topic and especially about his somewhat dismissive comments of Yoani Sanchez in a Q & A after one of his previous mini-concerts two weeks ago here in D.C. at American University (saying something like, "el que vende mas discos no es siempre lo mejor" - just because you sell a lot of disks doesn't make you the best artist), I was impressed with his heart-felt comments and even more heart-felt songs at this event. In the end, the great and sometimes frustrating thing about musicians and artists is that they are good at suggesting and implying a lot, without being forced to choose sides. Though it is indeed hard for Cuban artists to walk that tight rope. (Landau French has her own incisive and deeply felt post on the concert here).

During the Q & A, I grabbed the mic and asked the first question. I reminded him that his friend Juanes had mentioned the the underground Cuban hip-hop group Los Aldeanos (Aldo and Bian are pictured to the left) during the Concierto por La Paz in Havana back in September and asked his opinion of them and their music (see Sanchez's profile of them on her blog here). He said he admired them and the socially critical edge in their music. He also said he hoped perform live together with them in Cuba someday. He also indirectly criticized the Cuban official media for not allowing their songs to be played on the radio, but assured the audience that despite this official media blackout, their music is well-known and much admired among many Cuban youths.
I can attest to this since the three albums I have of Aldeanos' music, I actually downloaded onto my laptop from a flash-drive I got from a dreadlocked hip-hop aficionado Cuban friend of mine on one of my last trips to the island. Varela was also critical of the Cuban government's policy of not allowing underground groups like theirs who express deep social criticism in their songs to travel abroad.
Links to video of the entire 1 hour and 15 minute mini-concert are available at The New America Foundation website here and on YouTube here. Enjoy!


  1. I liked your comment about Sanchez and her awards and prizes being a sort of protection and shield as well as recognition.

  2. Fantastic blog!
    We'll link to it also. The Cuban people do love Americans. Our cultural influences are endless...


  3. How come i can't play the video directly off ur blog? Anyway,this is great...i showed this to my coworkers!