09/05/13 - Havana Times - Cuba's Independent Producers: "Change Depends on Us"
Concert in the garage.
HAVANA TIMES - Being an independent producer in Cuba means having to
negotiate at least three main obstacles: the State's monopoly over
institutional spaces, the ever-present and surreptitious threat of
censorship and the general lack of faith in the viability of
Adolfo Cabrera (Fito), a project coordinator at Garaje 19, and Mirian Real
Arcia (Mirita), a producer at Miscelaneo, an independent audiovisual
production house - who I had already interviewed once for Havana times -
have taken on the difficult challenge of producing concerts on the island
The venue for their first concerts was the locale which lent its name to
one of the projects: a garage in Alamar's Zone 19. Many of us more than
welcomed having a gallery and theatre, an alternative cultural space this
side of Havana's tunnel (the umbilical cord that connects us to the rest of
the world), in a dormant part of the city that has been stagnating
culturally for over two decades.
Our happiness was, however, short-lived. Soon, someone would take it upon
themselves to remind the project organizers that this locale was destined
to housing cars, not hosting concerts. You just can't do as you wish with a
garage built through your own means in a common residential area, with no
property title, see.
Estudiantes sin semilla
Mirita: When we were under fire and everyone turned their backs on us,
Xiomara, the director of the Cuban Rap Agency, signed some letters for us,
supporting the venue as an alternative cultural project and explaining that
the artists who were performing in the locale belonged to the agency. But
that didn't accomplish anything.
HT: How many concerts were you able to hold in the garage?
Mirita: Three: David d'Omni, El Poeta Lírkico ("The Lyrikal Poet") and
Estudiante sin Semilla ("Seedless Student"). After this last concert, they
started with that same old story, that we were hosting concerts by people
who sang things against the government. We had to hold the last concert, by
Maikel Extremo and La Alianza, in the house of David and Ivia, whose
project, Omnibus Producciones, is part of the team that organizes our
concerts. For us, it is essential for the artist to feel free to sing his
or her numbers, no matter what their contents. We do not accept censorship
for ourselves, much less for the artists with whom we work, out of respect
towards them and towards ourselves.
HT: Who told you, specifically, that you couldn't organize these concerts
Mirita: A number of people from the neighborhood first approached us,
saying we should be careful with the lyrics of the songs, that we could get
ourselves into trouble, a kind of "paternal" gesture, you know. Then Fito
got a summons from the police. There, a police major named Pablo told him
that garages were for housing cars, not holding concerts, and that, if we
continued doing this, they would take legal action against the project and
El Poeta Líriko
HT: How did you secure your present venue, in the Rio Alemendares complex?
Mirita: We had to knock on a lot of doors. Even at State institutions you
come across receptive people. That's how we ended up there. Generally
speaking, the place doesn't suit our needs, physically and logistically.
Our goal is to promote all kinds of alternative art without excluding
anyone, no matter what their political or social ideology. The core of the
project is the hip hop genre, but we want to throw in folk music, fusion,
jazz, a bit of tasteful raeggeton, like the one Danger, a young singer who
is producing. For now, we're only organizing concerts, but the idea is to
enrich the shows with dance and theatre numbers, perhaps something from the
visual arts, like body art.
HT: How do you get the word out there?
Mirita: We have an SMS service. We send out about two thousand messages two
days before the concert. Before that, we go out to the street to distribute
flyers. We announce the concert on the Internet at least a week in advance.
Garaje 19 also has a YouTube channel.
HT: How do you manage to produce a concert without institutional support?
Mirita: We have friends who're always willing to help us, in Cuba and
abroad. This is a fact and there's no reason to keep it a secret. The
lights, some of the cameras and audio equipment are ours, and that's a good
starting point for independent projects. Often, depending on the magnitude
of the show or the event we are organizing or shooting, we have to rent out
equipment. The ultimate goal, of course, is for the artist to be able to
take in some money, something everyone wants to do and isn't a crime.
HT: Do you consider yourself a production company?
Fito: That's the aim. I could also call it a "business". I have no problem
with this word, though I know it can be taboo here in Cuba. We think of the
artist as a kind of businessperson, someone who is moving an idea around
and making a living from it, as is their right. We want to do things with
as much rigor and professionalism as possible. A number of artists have
approached us, of their own will.
We work something like a workshop. We put the artist to work with a poet,
for instance, if they need it to clean up their lyrics, and work to improve
their promotional strategies. We do premieres, album launches. We hand out
copies of the artist's work at concerts and put together a music video with
a song of their choosing, which is later uploaded to the Internet.
HT: My readers would be upset if I didn't ask you this: What do you get out
of all of this?
Fito: The ultimate goal would be for everyone, the artists, the
cameraperson, the editor, the producer, for all of us to earn something.
It's not just a question of breaking even. We want to make a profit and
that's what we're working towards, organizing financially viable shows.
Mirita: We also have a lot of non-profit projects. That is to say, we
promote the work of a given artist or project, free of charge. Many people
find it difficult to understand what we do, because they're used to the
institutional policy of wearing people down and opening things up only in
theory, and when you try and organize something at an alternative space
they almost always put obstacles in your way. We don't do what we do out of
pure altruism, it's not simply for music's sake. Our aim is to tear down
barriers to gain more and more ground, because there's a need to express
ourselves, to show people different kinds of art, without excluding people.
Cuban society is slowly tearing down its barriers. They
can continue to say "no" to me, I will keep going anyways, struggling for a
"yes." Los Aldeanos [an anti-establishment rap duo] should be permitted to
sing where official bands like Los Van Van and Danden play. So should
Charlie Mucha Rima, Albany, why not, they're also artists and they're also
Cuban. Institutions try and wear you down. What we can't afford to do is
Fito: Personally, I don't even believe censorship can do anything anymore.
Like Mirita said, you find people willing to stick their necks out for you
in State institutions themselves. I think something more complicated is
going on right now. We have to make a huge effort to remain positive, to
react against the negativity that's so deeply rooted in Cuban society.
People have simply come to believe that they can't do anything. They don't
even question this belief.
We have to start exercising our freedom within ourselves. If we don't, our
surroundings will not regenerate themselves. I don't believe any government
is an omnipresent, omnipotent establishment. No one has absolute power.
People await change as though it can come about externally, but change
ultimately depends on us.
Original Source / Fuente Original: http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=98574
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