08/19/13 - ABC News - Meet Hipnosis, the First Cuban Metal Band to Defect to the US
This past July 22, Giovany Milhet and Fanny Tachín, leaders of the
six-piece metal act Hipnosis, launched what's guaranteed to be the longest,
strangest trip of their band's life to date.
Along with their four bandmates, Milhet and Tachín headed from their Havana
homebase to a supposed gig in Oakland, California -- with a layover in
Miami. As you might guess, they never made it to Oakland, becoming
arguably the first full hard-rock act to defect at once from Cuba to Miami.
And last Sunday, the group played its first real U.S. rock and roll show at
the very smoky and punk Churchill's Pub in Miami's Little Haiti
Who are Hipnosis and why do they matter in the overall scheme of Cuban
Hipnosis was, up to now, probably the biggest hard-rock act in Cuba.
Though the metal field isn't too crowded on an island still obsessed with
tropical music and Latin urban sounds, the group still stood out for a
The first is that rather than trying to put a "Cuban"-type spin on metal,
founder Milhet wanted to perform largely in English. Second, his other
concept was to feature women prominently in the band. The lineup has
shifted over the years, but it's always featured two or three women as
guitarists, bassists, singers, and/or keyboard players.
The group first found real fame a little over a decade ago, when it
appeared on a Cuban reality talent show called Cuerda Viva. Since then,
it's gained a following around the island but has never been able to leave
to perform elsewhere.
Because the band lived walled away from the rest of the heavy metal world
at large, its look -- kinda goth and theatrical -- lags a few years behind
current trends. But its blend of thrash, symphonic, doom, and various other
strains of metal spews out tightly and forcefully.
Did the band perform in Cuba with the approval of the Cuban government?
Yes. Though the Cuban government regularly censors performers and casts a
side-eye at youth culture, Hipnosis, at least on the surface, was generally
allowed to do its thing. The group was "signed" to the Agencia Cubana de
Rock, an organization that functions sort of like the official ministry of
rock and booking agency. (To legally make any money off performances, bands
must sign to the agency to be deemed "professional" musicians.)
The Cuban press regularly previewed the band's gigs. In fact, Suffering
Tool, a side project of erstwhile Hipnosis singer Ramiro Pupo, enjoyed a
glowing profile just this past April in no less than Granma, the
official Communist party newspaper.
What kinds of gigs did they get to play in Cuba?
The group was a regular headliner at Havana's official club, Maxim Rock.
In fact, they were such regular headliners that it caused reported scene
grumblings that they played there a little too often, according to the
Cuban communist party web site CubaDebate. They also appeared regularly at
the government-organized Caiman Rock festival series.
More interestingly, side project Suffering Tool also played at the
August 2011 edition of Brutal Fest, the closest thing the island has to a
fully independent, heavy-music festival. It's organized by French national
David Chapet, the head of Brutal Beatdown Records, a label dedicated to
sharing heavy music in and from Cuba.
"I was about 27 when I came to live in Cuba, and when I got there, I got
interested in the little local [metal] scene. I discovered an underground
movement that was pretty important," Chapet wrote by e-mail in French.
"But there was no real support for them from the national institutions or
record labels. So I decided to create Brutal Beatdown Records."
If Hipnosis was doing okay on the island for so long, why did they finally
decide to leave and plead asylum in the U.S.?
It's unclear whether or not the band had been planning an escape for
several years. The night after the group arrived in Miami, I found Archie
Pantelmann, a Canadian listed as Hipnosis' North American contact on an
English-language web site for the group.
In an interview for WLRN, the Miami public-radio NPR affiliate, Pantelmann
told me he had originally tried to organize a Canadian tour for
Hipnosis in 2011. He said he got the sense that if the group were to make
it to North America, they would not be returning to the island. He also
said he felt that Cuban government officials got the same sense, and
refused to grant the band's travel visa.
Meanwhile, though Hipnosis played with official approval, more or less, and
played all the available metal clubs and gigs on the island, the market for
heavy music there is still limited, to say the least. And the government,
too, has been increasingly cracking down on musical expression.
In 2011, the government pulled the plug on the Rotilla Festival, the
island's largest multi-genre music festival, fearing its
20,000-audience-member-strong power as a temporary autonomous zone. This
past December, Fusion's Manuel Rueda reported on a government crackdown
on reggaeton lyrics.
How did they manage to finally make it to the U.S.?
That first attempt at traveling to Canada to tour got foiled, but in
ensuing years, travel restrictions from the island have lifted somewhat.
As the band told *Cafe Fuerte's Cancio Isla, they managed to score a gig in
Oakland for July 27. The government allowed Hipnosis to travel, but
required that a culture ministry official chaperone the group.
As Hipnosis members told it -- at least to the press -- their
government-appointed chaperone essentially annoyed them into defecting at
the Miami airport. "This lady started to give us rules about what we could
and couldn't do on the trip," Giovany Milhet, the group's guitarist, told
Wilfredo Cancio Isla of the independent news site Café Fuerte. "With all of
her pressures, we think she really helped us to escalate things."
Still, the Oakland gig may have been a big, clever cover-up. Back in July,
couldn't find any proof that any such performance was ever scheduled
for the city. And though Hipnosis arrived in time to travel to Oakland,
they never did, and instead billed the pair of Miami shows this past
weekend as their first in the U.S.
The details behind the supposed gig and the band's escape from the island
may forever remain shrouded. In late July I contacted Maylin Ruiz, a former
frontwoman for the band who managed to get to Spain a couple years prior,
to ask about the Oakland gig. But she declined to comment.
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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