By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
"Who was it?/Who was it?/Tell me who was it?" Gil screams into the mike, wildly swinging about in place, like a schizo trying to get out of a straightjacket. "¿Quién fue?/¿Quién fue?/Dímelo quién fue." Alberto, a 43-year-old with rheumy eyes and an ample paunch, bangs the drum set like it's a skanky groupie.
Gorki's rehearsal studio in Havana is larger than Gil's bar-napkin-sized cuartico in Flagami. Spacious enough for the rambunctious foursome to jump around and mime punkish pyrotechnics, it's been sealed off entirely to muffle the noise and ward off nosy neighbors. In the summer, it's a furnace — a loud, reverberating furnace that also functions as a filming site for the band's ersatz music videos.
Upon Gorki's release from prison in 2005, the band finished an album within a year and appropriately called it I Don't Like Politics, But Politics Likes Me. But they've been under heavy surveillance, preventing them from playing even the few reckless gigs they used to pull. So they videotape themselves, and their Mexican manager, Laura García Freyre, a former fan who wrote her university thesis about the band, posts the clips online, gaining Porno its first international fans.
Ciro penned the album's most acidic ditty, "El Comandante," which has become one of the band's best-known songs. When he takes the mike, Gorki doesn't slur through the lyrics. He sings with all the angry bravado of someone passing a kidney stone, but his phrasing is precise, every word clearly enunciated: "El Comandante wants me to work/For next to nothing/El Comandante wants me to applaud his bullshit sermonizing/Oh, Comandante, stop sucking cock, Comandante."
Over the next two years, the band would get more aggressive, producing songs such as "Commie Fatcats" and "Dissident Pioneers." Gorki did call-ins on Mega TV and agreed to interviews in El Nuevo Herald. "Yeah, we were afraid, but we worked with that fear and we overcame it, because if we hadn't, we wouldn't have done anything," he says.
The stakes became dangerously high. I Don't Like Politics was a radical break from the band's earlier output and from Cuba's safe protest music. No one had ever been this explicit.
"This was uncharted territory," Professor Murciano says. "Nobody would have thought to do this 20 years ago because they knew what the repercussions were."
"We all spoke through metaphors, play on words," Gil says. "To sing 'El Comandante' in that country isn't easy. It's suicide."
In 2008, Porno got the reaction it sought. On a scalding August Monday in Havana, Gorki was arrested at his apartment for civil disobedience and "predelinquent dangerousness." Soon enough, Yoani Sánchez, whose Generación Y is read by millions, blogged about the arrest, calling it something out of the sci-fi flick Minority Report. By Friday, international reporters swarmed the anonymous, dilapidated Fifth Police Station at Third and 62nd streets in Playa, where Gorki was being held.
The arrest set off a political stink bomb across the globe, with foreign government and human rights groups appealing for the runty agitator's release. Spanish Rolling Stone, Paris Match, and the New York Times all covered the story. Marc Lacey, The Times' Latin America bureau chief, penned a "Week in Review" about the case. Even a "Free Gorki" Facebook group materialized. From out of nowhere, a punk musician weirdly named for a Russian novelist was the most famous freedom-of-speech icon in the world.
Freyre says the band's 2008 CD, The Red Album, went into a second printing, selling 2,000 internationally, a remarkable number for a Third-World band that was until recently best-known for a song about horny lesbians.
The glare of the media was so intense that the Cuban government ended up fining Gorki only $28. And a year later, they granted him an 11-month visa to travel to Mexico, where his mother and sister lived. The message was implicit: Defect — we don't want the hassle.
Gil was living an alternate reality. He wasn't sitting in a Cuban jail cell or getting beaten by belligerent state police. But he wasn't exactly free either. He was picking up after teen scenesters with asymmetrical, greasy haircuts at downtown's the Vagabond. Just another underpaid immigrant with intimidating expenses and too many obligations. That same year, in 2008, his new wife, an elementary schoolteacher, gave birth to a baby boy, whom he named Gibson. But the boy has a defective heart and demands almost constant attention. Gil is feeling the strain of age. "Every day is a battle, una lucha," he says. "When you come here, you start from scratch. You have to swallow a lot of pride. You have to build everything up again, and you can't let up."
Three years earlier, he had joined G2, which was made up of three other immigrants half his age. Still, he was grateful to be in a band at all. (In 2005, Gil became the leader and recruited the current members.)
His verse book isn't stashed away under his bed anymore and is getting some fresh ink on it. The band has played nonpaying gigs at Little Haiti's Churchill's, the cathedral of South Florida's struggling musicians. They sing in Spanish and cover the same topics they did on la isla, only with the freedom to say whatever they want. But outside Cuba, Gil admits, the lyrics lose their power.