…THUS SHOUTED THE MUSICIAN JAUN FORMELL, leader of the band Van Van, in the Plaza of the Revolution at the culmination of the “Concert for Peace”; one can infer that he did so to please Cuban officialdom.
Now in Miami he says he is willing to share the stage with Gloria Estefan and with the controversial group, Los Aldeanos, though he says he doubts they will agree to it because they play a different kind of music. As if that music was mediocre (the Master has revolutionized music by joining genres and creating new rhythms). We understand that he said it to assure his return to the Island and to keep his protected status. The great musician said, “We speak of social issues, but they (Los Aldeanos), speak of strictly political issues.” That is, they speak of marginalization, hunger, drugs, the persecuted, social stratification, the lack of rights and opportunities, none of which is “social” unlike the themes of: The Dance of the Tired Oxen, Pastorita is Sexy, The One Who Loves You Will Make You Cry, I Am Going To Publish Your Photo in the Press, Marilu, The Black Man is Cooking, Sandunguera Who Goes to a Higher Level, You Wanted to be The Beast, With a Tin and a Stick Dancing Until Another Day, The Black Man Ain’t Got Nothin’ Sir. These lyrics, fatuous and anodyne, are a phenomenon that happens in national music, accompanying the big hits of Formell. To be honest, the lyrics are a device to say nothing. Ask the Master, without belittling him, not to confuse social issues with his popular themes.
The musician Juan Formell, as they say “has never stepped on anybody’s toes,” and like a good merchant, comes to Miami and many other cities in the United States to sing to the “abusers” the same things he shouts from Havana. But now, face to face, he doesn’t reaffirm it as a shout of principle, now it is said like a prayer because what matters is to charge, to line the pockets of the producers and public who, according to officialdom, are those who keep the five spies* prisoners and pay money to end the Castro dictatorship; but ultimately, it seems that money has no ideology, nor does Juan Formell.
But this travesty, this attempt to change his stripes, happened so blatantly last year when another famous orchestra, just to perform in Miami and other cities, agreed to replace certain lyrics of a song to give the opposite meaning, after being promoted with a video clip, to not offend the exiled Cuban community.
One could say “money talks.” Another might answer, “Where there is no shame, neither is there art.” A few, like Pablo Milanés, after so many years of equivocation, want or need to say the truth, although they are convinced of it and only comment among family and friends; it’s the price talented artists pay to live like capitalists in a socialist country. They keep their thousands of dollars, some are millionaires (the greatest bootlickers), with the facade that the only thing that matters is the art. They suppress their feelings and free expression and it terrifies them when another artist speaks freely.
It’s true that for groups like Los Aldeanos or Porno Para Ricardo, among others, it would be an honor to share a stage with Juan Formell, but what is more certain is that if they allowed these young people to sing with them, it would be a way for the great musician to clean his soul and his past history, to come out from under the official shadow.
For now, it’s almost impossible for this to happen because the famed Juan Formell will not go along with it, after all the kicks he has endured in silence throughout his artistic career, for raising his voice against Cuban officialdom.
Anyway, I am sure, that with all due artistic respect for the great musician Juan Formell, if he were to share the stage, he would gain much more than the young musicians would, particularly in the face of the unchanging story, as he looks at us and shouts, always the same thing, without changing reality one iota.
The Five Spies: Five Cubans imprisoned in the U.S. for spying for Cuba and other crimes. In Cuba they are known as “The Five Heroes” and their photos are plastered everywhere along with demands for their release.