Sounds of Freedom

Listening to Cuban music, we can hear an example of how we in the United States are being deprived by the embargo of the island—not to mention how the people of Cuba are being deprived by both the embargo and the obstinate politics of Fidel Castro. Doomed by the Cold War-era rhetoric of Castro, Jesse Helms, and other political ax-grinders on each side of the Florida Straits, the people of both countries continue to be impoverished by our forced estrangement.

Even without solutions to our political enmity, cracks are appearing in the wall that divides us, and, as always, the cultural lights are shining through first. As well-known Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés said in a recent edition of Pulse!, "Culture and politics are two different things. Culture is not confined by laws." Because the spread of culture, like that of disease, refuses to recognize borders, the current wave of cultural interaction taking place between Cuba and the United States could challenge the state of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

This new wave of cultural connection got a jump-start when tough, new laws (such as the Helms-Burton sanctions) included loopholes for informational exchanges. Influential Cuban groups—such as Irakere, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Los Van Van, NG La Banda, and others—have made educational appearances in the United States, whetting the appetite of Americans for more music from the island. But the political rub burns both ways, as many of these groups bypass Miami altogether because of anti-Castro protests at their concerts by Cuban exiles. Once again, culture loses to the politicos.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1997
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