Longing for US-Cuba Cultural Ties

Granma interview with Louis Head, one of the US promoters of a cultural exchange initiative between the United States and Cuba

When George W. Bush won the presidency in an electoral coup in 2000, Louis Head sensed that civic traditions in the US were in for hard times, but perhaps he couldn’t calculate then to what extent that would be the case after the government’s manipulation of the events of 9/11.

"The hostility towards Cuba is a living example of this political reaction. In the 1990s, despite Clinton signing the Helms-Burton Act and receiving the weight of the Torricelli Act from Bush Sr., exchanges with Cuban artists and scholars in my country were possible and many had a big impact. With Bush Jr., things have gone from bad to worse," Louis Head told Granma.

Head lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he is a radio producer at KUNM and a cultural promoter. He’s one of the most well known US experts on popular Cuban music.

"The denial of visas to Cubans living on the island and nominated to the Grammys was a very clear signal of the hardening of an aggressive policy," said Head. "Bill Martinez, a lawyer with a lot of experience in processing permits and visas for Cuban artists in the US and I spoke on the matter and we realized that the situation hit rock bottom after the performance of the group Audioslave in Havana. We are sure that the successful DVD of the concert at the Jose Marti Anti-imperialist Plaza upset some authorities. They closed the doors to all music coming from Cuba. And they shut the doors to us."

So concerned about the matter he decided, along with Bill and other friends, to promote starting in 2004 an initiative called the US-Cuba Cultural Exchange.

"One of the most exciting moments for us occurred last year when we received a message from the great dancer Alicia Alonso in which she urged her colleagues and other US scholars to make a pubic statement in favor of cultural ties between our two countries and to contribute to bringing an end to the restrictive White House policy. You know that we drafted an open letter to Bush, backed by thousands of signatures, many from prominent figures of the cultural industry. It was no small feat to have the support of people such as musicians Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt, actors like Sean Penn and Peter Coyote and top business people in the music and movie world," he said.

Head sees two things happening in the movement generated by US-Cuba Cultural Exchange: "On the one hand it’s interesting to see Cuban born artists and intellectuals radically distancing themselves from the anti-Cuban aggressiveness of the most rightwing circles in the south of Florida, identified with the hostility of our government. On the other, I see how this struggle to restore the freedom of exchange in art between Cuban and the US has gone beyond that objective to propose the total and unconditional elimination of the blockade and recovery of the civil rights severed by the current administration."

Personally, Louis would like to see Cuban artists such as Pancho Amat and Muñequitos de Matanzas come and play live in his state as soon as possible. "When last December Afropop asked me to list the ten best discs of dance music by Latin artists in 2007, I included Tambor de fuego, by the Muñequitos de Matanzas, produced by an intelligent musicologist and friend, Cary Diez, for Bis Music, and Llegó el tresero, which Pancho Amat recorded for EGREM. On the list were the albums The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, the Melao group with its Panamanian singer Camilo Azuquita and Calle 13, a duo that plays a different type of Reggaeton. Could you imagine a concert of such a high level of talent?"

Louis knows that for now that’s a dream, although he also knows that when struggle is tireless dreams can become reality: "Looking in depth how the politics are going in my country, no one can predict a short term change in relations with Cuba. But we can’t cross our arms. We are a network and someday we’ll be a tide and they’ll have to concede we were right."

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