President Obama’s announcement that he planned to “normalize” relationships with Cuba was met with muted response from the Latin music industry.
The demureness could simply be attributed to the season; Christmas is around the corner. But also, many weren’t clear on what normalizing will mean.
Regardless, said Omer Pardillo, manager of the late Celia Cruz and executor and manager of her estate, “I am not willing to take Celia’s memory to a Cuba that isn’t free. As long as there is a dictatorship in Cuba, there is no change for Cubans with dignity.”
Pardillo, however, emphasized that Cubans who have been born into the system are not at fault for the system, and that he would be willing to work with new talent from the island if the right opportunity arose.
“I think the Alan Gross quote of the day says it best, “Even in Cuba, M&M’s melt in your mouth and not in your hands,” said Grammy-winning engineer and mixer Carlos Alvarez, referring to the American contractor that was freed today after spending five years in a Cuban prison. “We are all human beings regardless of geography or politics.”
Alvarez recently worked in the Latin Grammy and Grammy nominated album First Class to Cuba, by singer/songwriter Aymee Nuviola. Born in Cuba, Nuviola has been living in the U.S. for the past 10 years after previously living in Mexico and Costa Rica.
For her, the normalization of relationships has already been going on with artists for the past several years.
“Artists were the first to break out of that,” she said. “We began our resistance by saying we wanted to work together. I titled my album First Class to Havana because I thought, if we can’t travel to the island, at least I will travel in my imagination. So this step ahd already happened with art. Obviously, what’s still lacking is liberty [in Cuba].”
Alvarez says he pleaded with Nuviola to reconsider her album title.
“I told her it was too aspirational,” he says. “Who would understand? She patiently explained to me that it was something she’d dreamt about. And all of a sudden today, a first class ticket to Havana seems possible!”
The change of course, is far from immediate and there’s a lot to clarify and approve.
However, says attorney Pierre Hachar, who represents Cuban duo Gente D’Zona through his Hachar Law Firm in Miami, normalizing relationships and easing the embargo would “totally change everything.”
Currently, Cuban acts who reside in Cuba cannot get paid for performing in the U.S., for example. They can only come here with cultural exchange visas or similar, and they cannot collect fees.
Many artists bypass this issue by going to other countries. But the U.S., of course, remains a key avenue to global success.
“Generally speaking, when it comes to musicians in Cuba, they don’t pay particular attention to the politics, they just want to make music for people,” says Hachar. “But they can’t flourish with a career through your typical platforms of promotion and distribution.”
Ironically, easing or not easing sanctions won’t affect Gente D’Zona. The duo, which has topped the Billboard charts through “Bailando,” the Enrique Iglesias song that features them along with fellow Cuban Descemer Bueno, just obtained approval of their extraordinary talent visa (EB1) that will grant them their U.S. residency.