By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
"Musicians write songs depending on their surroundings," he says. "I can sing, 'Suck cock, Comandante,' all I want, and it's not going to have the same impact here as it would in Cuba."
In September 2009, Gorki set off on a self-proclaimed freedom tour with his travel visa in order to capitalize on the band's new cachet. He stopped in Washington, D.C., and New York City, where people asked for his autograph and paid him compliments. But it was in the Magic City where he received a hero's welcome.
He appeared for a solo promotional performance at the Cubaocho Art and Research Center on Calle Ocho. Inside a wood-paneled library that smelled of cigars and worn leather, Gorki took a makeshift stage in front of his oddest audience yet. Before him was a crowd of comfortable Cuban señoras and grizzled guayabera-clad dinosaurs who looked like his father. He wore an Afro, a nose ring, and a T-shirt that read, "Anarchy."
It was a weird sight in this part of town, where the largest turnouts are for Los Van Van protests. He asked for more amp and then licked the strings to the tune of his first song, "El General." "At last el general became the Comandante/at last the general is number one," he sang, accompanied only by his baby-blue Fender. "His brother's slowly shedding, his beard and his marbles/They say that he's got the cancer, they say he's lost his mind/Raúl! Raúl! You are a charlatan!/Raúl! Raúl! Get out of town!"
The crowd went nuts. That's what they were here for. Cuban exiles saw something in Gorki they'd never seen before. "They responded to the music, but also to someone who was able to say what they hadn't dared to say when they lived here," he says.
He unwittingly became the Jorge Mas Canosa of punk. Gorki had arrived in Miami when Colombian pop star Juanes was preparing for a concert in Havana that had riled up all the viejitos. Throughout Gorki's stay in the city — where he appeared on Mega TV shows and sat before a news conference — he was seen as the pop star's antithesis.
This past March, six months after the Miami stop, Gorki did the unthinkable: He left Mexico, where he had lived for nearly a year, and returned to Cuba. That he did so after well-known political dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo died — unleashing a new intense wave of government repression — only made his decision all the more baffling. Speaking to the press for the first time since he returned, he says he's still ambivalent about the decision. He did so because he feels most useful in Cuba, rather than in South Florida, where he would be just one more exile.
"This is the really shitty question only Cubans have to ask themselves: Defect and never return, or stay and be miserable?" he says. "It's really a question about being Cuban itself.
"The day has 24 hours, and 12 of them are spent thinking about getting out of here," he says. "Then the next 12, you're thinking — despite the repressive economy, all the injustices, with all the shit I don't have — this is still my country."
At el cuartico, an hour after they begin rehearsing, Gil struggles with a song called "Paz Soldier." He can't seem to get the riff right and sing in English at the same time. By now, his Mohawk is crestfallen with sweat. Alberto taps his sticks three times and kicks off a ferocious drum solo, when the two guitars are supposed to join him. Cesar comes in on time, but Gil misses the beat. "I'm not getting it, I'm not getting it," he says in Spanish, frustrated. "You gotta admit it's hard."
"It's not hard, Gilito," Alberto says, wiping the sweat off of his face. The room is boiling, and the drummer, who'd been installing cable TV all day, is beat. They step outside, where Gil lights a joint and passes it around. He's nervous. He's not usually the one who messes up.
The night is cool, most of the neighborhood sleeps, and the bandmates need to keep rehearsing. They've been recording an LP, collectively funded by the group, to send to music scouts and record producers. Since Gorki's solo tour, they've performed at larger venues such as Gil's workplace, the Vagabond, where they opened for a Dutch metal band. They've also been booked on local Spanish-language television.
Still, the gigs are sparse. Gil can't leave his job and work on his music full time as he'd like, and the band is not making enough money to cover expenses. G2 is an investment as much as it is a dream. "If it wasn't for the Vagabond, I wouldn't be getting any checks," he says.
Jorge Graupera, bassist for Latin punk band Guajiro, says musicians such as Gil and Gorki are at a disadvantage in a town with few live music venues. "The language is a factor," he says. "And age matters. After a certain age, people don't think you're cute anymore in punk outfits."