Revolution is Art. Art is Revolution.

Che Cup

Photo by Dave Levy — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Our blogger from Cuba, Harald Himsel, continues his series on creating a documentary film about Silvio Rodríguez and his influence on music and politics. (See our other Cuban posts.) Rodríguez, one of the founders of Nueva Trova Cubana, is a Latin American icon. Himsel is a German documentary filmmaker, and also the managing director of a consultancy firm that works in developing countries.

Silvio Rodriguez is presenting his newest CD, Segunda Cita. It is a big press conference which is more of a ceremony than anything else. There are more than 300 journalists in the room, and questions are flying in from all corners of the world, as well as via email and SMS. Silvio answers them all, with a certain kind of grandezza, a sovereignty of an artist that the western world would call “superstar”. Throughout the meeting, one thing is obvious: Silvio dedicates his art, his music, to the Cuban Revolution.

Roughly fifty years ago, Fidel Castro discovered the art and the importance of a media strategy. Fidel had invited the US-American journalist Herbert Matthews to his hideaway in the Sierra Maestra. At that time, the guerrilleros around Fidel were only a few with a handful of old guns. Castro knew that not only did he have to fight the Batista regime, but he also had to keep other revolutionary group such the Grupo 13 Marzo and the Socialist People’s Party at arm’s length. Even then, Fidel was very well aware of the power of the media, and he knew very well how to play it. Fidel let his men parade in front of Matthews in different formations and in different uniforms making Matthews believe that he had assembled quite a large force to be reckoned with. Whether Matthews really believed him is not known. None the less, Matthews’ article in the New York Times catapulted the M-26-7 movement (so named after the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks) into the world’s political limelight. Capitalism was to be fought on all fronts. From that moment on, the Cuban Revolution not only had a political dimension, but also a cultural one.

In his song Por Quien Merece Amor, Silvio Rodriguez addresses the US asking ‘Te molesta mi amor’ — is my love getting to you? — ‘mi amor de humanidad’ – my love for humanity? The lyrics and melody of this song remind one more of a love song than a political manifesto, which it is without question. In Cancion Urgente Para Nicaragua, Silvio sides with the fight of the Sandinistas. In the last verse he sings: ‘Te lo dice un hermano que ha sangrado contigo, te lo dice un cubano, te lo dice un amigo.’ - That’s what a brother tells you, a brother who bled with you; that’s what a Cuban tells you, that’s what a friend tells you.’

When we came back from Silvio’s press conference, we noticed that obviously there hadn’t been any power for several hours. We returned from revolutionary fervor to the real life of daily struggle in Cuba. Power shortages are frequent nowadays. The Cuban economy is dwindling. The country needs foreign exchange badly to pay for all the imports. The blockade does its harm, and it’s not only the US, it’s also Europe despite some lip service to the contrary.

We took a coffee on the rooftop of our house. Later in the evening long after dark, I am sitting in front of an elderly lady of eighty something. She once worked very closely with Che Guevara during and after the revolution. Numerous questions come to my mind, trying to get beyond the dreaming romanticizing beret-wearing face that looks at us from all those t-shirts, cups and plastic bags. Questions that nobody but she would be able to answer. But it would be futile to ask her. She suffers from dementia. She does not remember anything. All about the Revolution is lost for her. All is forgotten.

Some time ago, Fidel said: In real life we are far behind our own utopia; In our arts we have surpassed it since long.

Is this the remaining truth of the revolution?

- Harald Himsel

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