If you want to witness real courage by performance artists taking on systemic injustice, look not west to Hollywood but 90 miles to our country’s south, or closer yet at your mobile screen. After more than 60 years of soul-crushing oppression that reduced a vibrant, joyous people to almost the walking dead, the Cuban government is getting rocked by musicians. Several perform in a viral anti-regime video, “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), which has garnered close to five million views in just two months. And the cancel culture that two of them face is a lot more terminal than contractual.
These talented artists, all men of color, include the Miami reggaeton band Gente de Zona (Alexander Delgado, Randy Malcom), Cuban expats Yotuel Romero and Descemer Bueno, and, most daringly, Havana residents Maykel Osorbo and El Funky. Their earthshaking number directly condemns the satanic nightmare the Castro regime has made of Cuba. Too many Americans have no concept of either the human despair wrought by socialism or its capacity to crush all opposition. “Patria y Vida” should jar them like it has the Castroists.
It’s pitiable that Cuban freedom-seekers know better than academia about the father of our country and his importance to their cause.
According to the Miami Herald, the Cuban News Agency called the song “annexation vomit.” It actually fulfills the highest goal of art as poeticized by John Keats in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” “Patria y Vida” is quite beautiful, its truth a beacon in the darkness that enshrouds the once shining Caribbean island. The song’s title alone signals its defiance. “Homeland and Life” invokes and flips Fidel Castro’s infamous battle cry, “Patria o Muerte!” (Homeland or Death). Diminishing Fidel in the police state he created is not a good formula for longevity.
The music video opens with a lovely guitar lament underscored by the image of beloved Cuban independence champion José Martí, who put his life where his poetry (most famously “Guantanamera”) was, taking a fatal Spanish bullet at the Battle of Dos Ríos. The Martí portrait starts to burn, replaced by one of George Washington, the very hero the Left here is trying to purge as a racist devil. It’s pitiable that Cuban freedom-seekers know better than academia about the father of our country and his importance to their cause.
Soon, three singers appear on screen delivering lyrics that are heart-wrenching, especially to Cubans like me. Here’s the English translation (corrections mine): “You are my siren call/ For with your voice my sorrow goes away … You hurt me so much, even though you are far away.”
Then the hip-hop beat starts, with the passionate musicians calling out the Cuban oppressors while crying for their victims: “We are human, even if we don’t think alike/ Let us don’t treat and harm each other like animals … My people cry and I feel their voice … 60 years of dominoes blocked.” Cubans love the game of dominoes, and the specter of a 60-year block preventing players from moving a piece is an all-too-guttural metaphor.
The song continues:
Great fanfare for the 500th [anniversary] of Havana
While in the homes the people no longer have food
What are we celebrating
They hurry to exchange Che Guevara and Martí for money …
Between you and me there is an abyss
Advertising a paradise in Varadero, while mothers cry for their children gone.
Varadero is the gorgeous Caribbean beach where my parents used to take my brother and me. It welcomes international tourists but disallowed Cubans until recently. Although this restriction has been loosened, the hotels are mostly closed to locals, accomplishing the same purpose.
The song’s refrain packs a punch — appropriately delivered by a bare-chested muscular black man resembling a boxer — and is far more powerful in Spanish than in English. “Se acabó!” (“It’s over!”): “It’s over now — your five-nine [1959, the year Castro took power], my double-two (2020)/ It’s over now — 60 years of dominoes blocked.”
A fourth singer joins the group for the next part, where they basically call the regime guard propagandist liars (fact check — true): “We are artists, we are sensibility/ The true story, not the falsely told one/ We are the dignity of an entire people trampled by gunpoint and words that still mean nothing.”
Then they really bring the heat that is making Cuban apparatchiks too long unaccustomed to it sweat:
No more lies! My people demand freedom! No more doctrines! Let us no longer shout “Homeland or Death!” but “Homeland and Life!”
And start building what we dreamed of
What they destroyed with their hands
Stop the blood from running for daring to think differently
Who told you that Cuba belongs to you?
If my Cuba belongs to all my people —
Se acabó! Your time has expired, silence has been broken.
Ya se acabó! The laughter is over and the crying is already flowing.
Ya se acabó! And we’re not afraid, the deceit is over.
Ya se acabó! Sixty-two [years] of doing harm.
The passion rises to a politically unprecedented crescendo: “There we live with the uncertainty of the past, in a hunger strike/ Fifteen friends in place ready to die.” The “15 friends” refers to members of the Movimiento San Isidro, a growing movement of exceptionally brave artists and intellectuals in Havana opposing the ruthless regime. The song continues:
They broke our door, they violated our temple, and the world is aware that the San Isidro Movement is still in position
We are still in the same situation, the Security forces over us
These things outrage me. We’re done with that enigma of your malignant Revolution …
The people are tired of putting up with it
We are all waiting for a new dawn
What will happen now in Cuba is anyone’s guess. What is certain is that an amazing group of artists hit an evil regime harder than anyone else has in 62 years, and the whole world is literally watching. “Patria y Vida” may go down in history as the greatest, most effective protest song of all time.
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