Category Archives: music

Apropos of “Ideological Deviation”

I will be brief. These terrifying words began many of the interminable speeches of the Mansplainer-in-Chief who, pistol in hand, took control of Cuba 62,000 millennia ago. With this introduction to my new column in 14ymedio, I propose to do exactly the same. (I’m referring to being brief, not to taking over the Island. I hope the results are not so devastating.)

The column will appear weekly under the banner Ideological Deviation, which in addition to being the title of my book of décimas, is a horrible legal concept with which the government frightened me in my childhood and youth in Havana, and for which any Cuban can still be imprisoned in the land I fled. The décima is a style of Spanish poetry created in the XVI century by Vicente Espinel. The format is 10 lines, eight-syllables each. It rhymes ABBAACCDDC. Jorge Drexler did a beautiful TEDx talk about it.

Does this mean that I am going to write an opinion column exclusively to the rhythm of the décima? Well, yes. The reason is simple: the meter and rhyme  —and, hopefully, the content— ​​will render them memorable. This will make it easier for them to be recited in morning assemblies at schools throughout the nation. From preschool to sixth grade! To infinity… and beyond! Pioneers for dropping bars, we will be like Espinel!

My octosyllables will come in a variety of tones and registers —lyrical, nostalgic, satirical, parodic, animal, vegetable, and mineral— which are my ways of thinking and feeling Cuba from a distance. Thinking and feeling are crimes in totalitarianism, and the Cuba that the Castros took for themselves is no exception. (Ah… and I aspired to write a presentation without mentioning that last name that produces gagging, nausea, hives).

I escaped in order to be, an action that in Spanish is split into two verbs: ser and estar. I fled in order to think and to feel. Beyond the seas and decades later, I admire those who are, who think, and who feel in Cuba. I could not imagine my life in my land, but I celebrate that there are those who can do it and do it every day, against the winds and the tides of an implacable regime. These verses, and those to come, are for you.

The People,” “the Cuban Nation”

“The people,” “the Cuban nation”
is not the same as “the State.”
(No need for you to debate.
Go on. Have a revelation.)
The “Revolution,” that station
in Dante’s Hell, is a trap:
the government does kidnap
the Cubans who dare protest;
at Díaz Canel’s request,
they get erased from the map.

***

The photo in this post shows Cuban artist and two-time Latin Grammy-winner rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo, who has been detained at the maximum security Pinar del Río prison since May 2021 for his song “Patria y vida.”

We don’t talk about Castro

We don’t talk about Castro

Music (and original lyrics): Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lyrics: Alexis Romay

We don’t talk about Castro (no, no, no).
We don’t talk about Castro. But…

It’s been six decades.
Sixty-two years of hunger, repression, and fear.
(No one’s allowed to speak).

Castro walked in with a murderous grin.
And he destroyed Cuba’s dreams.

Castro said, “Elections, what for?”
(In 1959.)
In doing so, he ruined us all.
(Abuela, get the boats.)
Let’s go to Miami now… but anyway:

We don’t talk about Castro (no, no, no).
We don’t talk about Castro. But…

Hey! I grew up in fear of his endless stumbling,
he was always on TV, muttering and mumbling.
I associate him with the sound of exile.

It’s a heavy lift, with a pain so numbing.
Abuela stayed in Cuba with the family wondering,
grappling with prophecies they couldn’t understand.
Do you understand?

A greasy beard,
guards along his path.
When he calls your name
it all fades to black.

His spies see your dreams.
They feast on your screams. But:

We don’t talk about Castro (no, no, no).
We don’t talk about Castro.

Havana for Foreign Correspondents & College Professors (a parody)

Havana for Foreign Correspondents & College Professors

(a parody)

Music (and original lyrics): Camila Cabello

Lyrics: Alexis Romay

Havana, ooh, na-na.
There’s a police state in Havana, ooh, na-na,
and throughout Cuba, but Havana, ooh, na-na,
is where the ruling Castro Junta,
the dynasty, keeps dragging
our country through the mud.

Fidel came to power with all his shootin’,
back in the fifties.
He scared the whole nation by executin
his friends and foes.
We knew him forever in a minute.
It’s been six decades.
And fleeing became our national sport.

Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
I knew it when I met him. I hated his repression.
Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
And then I had to tell him, I had to go.
Oh-na-na-na-na-na.

Havana, ooh, na-na.
There’s a police state in Havana, ooh, na-na,
and throughout Cuba, but Havana, ooh, na-na,
is where the ruling Castro Junta,
the dynasty, keeps dragging
our country through the mud.

A dictatorship is ruling the island.
Sixty-two years!
They’re sentencing minors for daring to speak
against the tyrant.
His name’s Díaz Canel, but we call him “Singao.”
He’s just a puppet.
My friends are in prison or they were exiled.

Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
I knew it when I met him. I hated his repression.
Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
And then I had to tell him, I had to go.
Oh-na-na-na-na-na.

Havana, ooh, na-na.
There’s a police state in Havana, ooh, na-na,
and throughout Cuba, but Havana, ooh, na-na,
is where the ruling Castro Junta,
the dynasty, keeps dragging
our country through the mud.

***

Here you can find the Spanish version of this parody.

Cuba for Foreign Correspondents and College Professors (a Hamilton parody and a history lesson)


[Illustration: Garrincha].

In December 2017, inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, I recreated Fidel Castro’s history as narrated by the Cuban people he subjugated for over five decades of dictatorship. (You can listen to that song here; trigger warning: it is in Spanish.)

Last week, using the same song, I wrote “Cuba for Foreign Correspondents and College Professors” to talk to those two demographic groups that, in spite of the overwhelming evidence, continue to give the benefit of the doubt to the Castro regime, which was recently inherited by Miguel Díaz Canel.  

I have a couple of friends who have already included the song in their history unit on Cuba, alongside my articles “Cuba and the Art of Repression” and ”A Tale of Two Cities.” (They teach in middle and high school. So, come to think of it, this is really for educators K-16.) Feel free to include all these materials in your curriculum!

Cuba for Foreign Correspondents and College Professors

Music: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lyrics: Alexis Romay

How does a violent person who came to power

by shooting people, starting in the 50s,

and ruined the hopes of the Cuban nation

somehow manage to gain your admiration?

The Firing Squads he ordered, ala KGB,

became our terror when shown on live TV.

By the early 60s, people were afraid.

Many chose to flee. Many chose to stay.

He called a meeting with Cuban intellectuals.

His gun was in his holster. 

He placed it on the table.

He was a horror show, 

presented as a fable.

He created labor camps 

to “reform homosexuals.”

The camp’s motto was: 

“work will make you men.”

He also was a racist

What don’t you understand?

He wanted to harvest 

ten million tons of sugar cane.

(The effect on the economy 

was worse than a hurricane.)

He brought the world to the brink 

of nuclear annihilation,

but the will of the Cuban people 

wasn’t on the equation.

In fact, the will of the people 

has never been considered.

Castro’s dynasty bloomed, 

while the country withered.

Cuba IS a dictatorship.

Cuba HAS BEEN a dictatorship.

There’s only one legal party in the land.

Would you please take a stand?

Castro turned milk into powder, 

dreams into nightmares.

He forced Cubans to march 

in the streets and in the squares.

He invented these horrible 

“acts of repudiation.”

[Sotto voce] They are pogroms. 

They are an abomination.

He ruled with an iron fist. 

Raúl was by his side.

He made some strange bedfellows 

while looking far and wide.

Now that the documents 

have been declassified:  

He and Videla 

let their mutual crimes slide.

He loved sending Cuban troops 

to wars around the world.

He didn’t discriminate, 

he sent the young and the old.

Since he wanted to look 

like he was doing them a favor,

he also sent Cuban doctors 

to work as indentured labor.

He executed his generals

the ones who had done his bidding.

He terrorized our whole nation. 

I wish this was just me kidding.

He colonized Venezuela 

under Chávez and Maduro.

To the hunger in the present, 

he responded: “El futuro.”

On 2016, he showed 

that he was just a mere mortal,

and, for Thanksgiving that year, 

he crossed the final portal.

In Dante’s circle of Hell 

where the violent lament,

he’ll hear for eternity 

the Cuban discontent.

Oh, Fidel Hipólito. 

(Yes, that was his given name.)

We are so glad that you are not around.

Yet the repression is just the same.

Oh, Fidel Hipólito. 

History won’t be kind to you.

It will note that you used your henchmen

to impose your point of view.

History will not absolve you. 

You schmuck!

Cubans are in the streets

chanting “liberation,”

while the police enforce

their tactics of persuasion.

The New York Times applauded you

(didn’t call you a dictator).

Che killed for you.

(Did you kill him?)

Allende trusted you.

What about him?

And Díaz Canel…

is the idiot who quotes you.

Feel free to fact-check this song.

And retweet!

What was this about?

It was Fidel Hipólito.

Cuba: To travel or not to travel… is that the question?

This morning, alongside Ted Henken and Kim Osorio, I was at WNYW’s “Good Day, NY,” hosted by Rosanna Scotto and Greg Kelly. We talked about Cuba. The excuse: the recent trip that Jay-Z and Beyonce took on their wedding aniversary.

Here’s the clip.

“Cecilio Valdes, King of Havana” goes to Philadelphia

I am thrilled to introduce four songs from Paquito D’Rivera’s zarzuela, entitled Cecilio Valdés, King of Havana, an opera in the Spanish style with libretto by Enrique del Risco, and lyrics by Enrique del Risco and Alexis Romay.

The story of Cecilio… is loosely based on Cecilia Valdés —Cuba’s most famous opera, from the early XX Century— it takes place in contemporary Cuba, and it adds a racial undertone to the theme of impossible love inherited from Montescos and Capuletos.

The songs were performed, in the order in which they appear in the opera, in Philadelphia, at the Lenfest Hall at Curtis Institute of Music, on June 13, 2012, during the New Works Forum of the annual conference organized by Opera America.

In “Don’t Tell Me You Don’t Know,” Cecilio’s wife explains to a foreign tourist the state of Cuban affairs.

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: Alexis Romay
Mezzo-soprano: Katy Pracht
Piano: Jerome Tan

“Patricia’s Song,” is sung by the female lead as she refuses an advance from a suitor and demands to be respected according to her high social status.

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: Alexis Romay and Enrique del Risco
Soprano: Evelyn Santiago
Piano: Jerome Tan

In “Nothing Lasts Forever,” Patricia’s father, fearing that he is falling from grace with the government, commands his daughter to marry the nephew of his Spanish business partner.

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: Enrique del Risco
Soprano: Evelyn Santiago
Baritone: Eric Dubin
Piano: Jerome Tan

“Betrayal,” features Patricia’s father and Cecilio’s mother as they admonish their respective children for engaging in an interracial romance.

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: Alexis Romay
Soprano: Evelyn Santiago
Baritone: Eric Dubin
Piano: Jerome Tan

Enjoy the drama!

Just a Minute, by Paquito D’Rivera

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Just a Minute!

When the organizers of the Transient Glory Symposium asked me to write a one-minute long piece for the wonderful Young People’s Chorus of New York City, I thought they were pulling my leg. But then I remembered Chopin’s famous “One Minute Waltz” (that very few players finish on time), called my poet friend Alexis Romay for some help with the lyrics, and got down to work.

First thing I did was to set a page with 30 bars and the metronome mark of 120 quarter notes a minute on it. Then I accommodated a simple rhythmic melody to the Spanish and English words I’d written already with the ones Alexis sent me; so starting with the phrase: Un minuto, tengo solo un minuto para cantar esta canción. All I’ve got is a minute to sing this song, I little by little built a bilingual, sort of humoristic song that lasted exactly that. Just a minute!

Paquito D’Rivera
February 2012

***

Un minuto

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: P. D’Rivera & Alexis Romay

Un minuto, un minuto.
No preguntes cómo o cuándo,
el tiempo pasa volando.
Tengo solo un minuto
para cantar esta canción.

All I’ve got is a minute
To sing this song.

Just a minute?
Do you mean it?

Hurry up, please it’s time!
Don’t you see, time is gold?

Un minuto diminuto,
¡y no tengo sustituto!

Just one minute,
Only a minute, got a minute.
Solo tengo un minuto.
Un minuto diminuto.
Solo un minuto.
Un minuto.

Hurry up, time flies!
All I’ve got is one minute.
Y el tiempo pasa volando.
Se acabó el minuto.

Ssshhhh!!!