Miami Musicians on U.S.-Cuba, From "It's a Castro Bailout" to "Free Travel Is a Dream"
Inside Pizza Cubana in Westchester.
Photo by Jacob Katel
Is this the end of the Cuban embargo, or just another imperialist conspiracy to infect the world with capitalism?
The masses are fervently anticipating what Obama's new deal with the Castro regime really means. So before you go popping bottles of Havana Club and lighting up Cohibas, stop and think about it.
We caught up with a wide range of Miami artists, nightlifers, DJs, producers, and musicians. Here's what they had to say.
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Frankie "DJ Woozles" Guzman
"I think it's horrible. I think it's terrible. I don't think it's good at all. We're pretty much bailing out the Castros. I'm not about it at all. People might see this as progress and a way to implement political change, but I disagree. The amount of money that tourism and new businesses will bring will now be able to sustain this failing communist regime. My good friend and politician Daniel Diaz Balart made a great point after the news was announced yesterday: 'Release an unjustly imprisoned U.S. citizen after five years and it's a humanitarian gesture. In exchange, receive three convicted spies and a slew of diplomatic gestures suggesting to the world that the Cuban regime has finally changed, when nothing can be further from the truth. The victims of these misguided concessions are the freedom-seeking Cuban people. My heart breaks for them.' This move has me a bit frightened for the future of human rights, not just theirs, but ours as well. President Obama, Fidel Pinga-Less Castro, and Pope Francis can all go fuck themselves with their bullshit propaganda! History repeats itself and many of us are smart enough to know exactly what's going on."
Melina Almodovar, La Muñeca de la Salsa, Singer/Bandleader
"I come from a different viewpoint because I'm Puerto Rican. I don't know the exact politics. But as a musician, I feel it could only be a good thing. I'm not a big Obama supporter and I never have been, but I saw his speech on TV and I'm happy to see this happen in my lifetime. Cuban music and culture have influenced me greatly. One of my idols is Celia Cruz and unfortunately she died before she ever got to go back to her country. That was one thing she wanted more than anything, to go back and sing on her island. Right now, we don't know what's going to happen, but if there's hope of musicians being able to go there from here, and come here from there, I think that's amazing, and that's something from which the people are gonna benefit. If you only think of the Fidel Castro regime and how it helps them, you're not really thinking of the country. You have to put the people first."
Cuci Amador, Singer/Songwriter, Afrobeta
"I was at Walgreens and this old guy was watching President Obama give his speech through his phone, and I was like, 'What is happening?' He was watching so intently in the middle of the day that it surprised me. I didn't know what was going on. Part of me feels like it's a step in the right direction. If you can compare massive nations to two friends who are in argument, give each other the cold shoulder, and never talk again, that's what it's been like. Now it's like the beginning of a relationship. There was hope for a long time that if we squeezed Cuba of resources, the government would crumble, but that's not happening, and it hasn't been for a long time. Meanwhile, the people in power eat well every day and the U.S. is looked at as an evil infiltrator. And there's a lot of people who think Cuba is very pure because it's been isolated and has all these old cars from the '50s and no Starbucks, and tourists think it's cute. But to what end? They have no free press. They're not allowed to make their own money. They get rations from the government. So people making money here and taking it back with them to Cuba is not a bad thing at all. Don't you do it? Why shouldn't everybody else be able to do it?"
Photo by Pamela Wasabi
Sexton Garcia, Sagol Records CEO
"I was just on the line with my wife fuckin' bitching about this. Now we're gonna trade with Communists? We shouldn't even be in fuckin' Afghanistan. We should be 90 miles from Miami on an island where the people are oppressed. I'm very against this. I have family that was killed for being anti-Castro. On top of that, the U.S. didn't give air support in the Bay of Pigs. And now we're friends with these people in this government? The people are not gonna reap any benefits from this. What we need to do is help bring freedom to Cuba. Bring the people what they deserve. Then we can trade. We have to bring down the regime, and we need to support the Cuban people and supply them for an overthrow that comes from the interior. I don't trust the Cuban government. All I know is that we as America should not do business with a Communist nation."
Michael Mut, Bass Player, Electric Piquete
"Technically, the embargo hasn't ended. The Helms-Burton law is still on the books as federal law. But this is a long overdue move by the U.S. and we will only achieve success or change in Cuba by starting a dialogue. Whatever we have been doing for the last 50 or so years hasn't worked. The only people who have suffered from the embargo are Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits. All of the suddenly opinionated state representatives and senators are pandering to the Cuban-American community and clearly jockeying for position in the 2016 elections. They don't really get what's going on. They haven't suffered or had to deal with the reality of what the Cuban community is facing. I applaud President Obama for this important first step. I think it's too early to tell what it will mean, but the influence of Western society, improved Internet access, and everything that comes with it will help Cuba pick up where it left off in the 1950s. Very Americanized. For my newly deceased mom who never got to go back, and for my grandpa who was part of the Bay Of Pigs invasion and who was incarcerated in a Cuban prison, free travel is a dream come true. Dialogue is good. Statesmanship is good. This is long overdue. This embargo is a relic of the Cold War. However, I do feel for the families of the Brothers to the Rescue whose planes were shot down. This is not meant to be insensitive to their loss, but I think this can be a very positive thing if we all give it a chance."
Andrew Yeomanson, "DJ Le Spam," Spam Allstars
"My take on it is that it was gonna happen some time. And we'll just have to see where we end up because of it. I'm not a political analyst or a sociologist, but the situation for the past 50 years had to evolve into something else. As far as the music goes, Cuba's always produced a really high level of musicianship, so all I can say is I hope that continues. I think the freedom to be able to go back and forth, and have and share experiences, and meet talent over there is all good stuff. I went once in 2000, right before Bush got in office. I went over with the people from Miami Light Project and Sammy Figueroa. We met a few musicians like (famous musician) Carlos Averhoff's son, Carlos Jr. I was like, "Wow, this guy is a really fuckin' incredible sax player." He ended up in Miami before he went up to study music at Berklee and that's the natural way that musicians interact. Talent is our currency. That's the way I think about it. I try not to get stuck on politics. This was inevitable and we'll see what changes as a result."
Charlie Rodriguez, Miami Disco Fever
"You will be seeing Miami Disco Fever in Havana. I know they want it. I know they want to see all these artists from the '70s and '80s in person. I know from people who have been there that on the island, their only exposure to Western civilization was through music. So for them to see the artists that they love, I would love to go ahead and bring them over there. That would be a wonderful thing. On the flip side, I feel bad for the people who were affected and lost family members all these years. For them, this is gut wrenching. If you live in whatever city in the U.S. and have no ties to the Cuban people, it's just an opportunity to travel somewhere new, but for the people who are directly affected by it, this is an another level of gut-wrenching torment. I've been in Dade since 1971, so I know how the Cuban people feel. And because of that, I also feel bad."
Yes Julz, Nightlife Entrepreneur
"I think it's amazing. It's great. There's definitely a heavy presence of Cubans in our city, and I have many Cuban friends who haven't been able to go back and visit their family. I know that people want to make a life for themselves wherever they are. And I think this is a positive step. It's never good to have bad blood between countries. The more friends we make, the more relationships we can build. I would love to do a party in Havana, and I would love to do business with talent from over there to bring them to Miami. If the talent is there, I will do business with them."
Freddy Cricien, Singer and Songwriter, Madball
"Oh, man, I think it's great. I was actually proud of Obama for stepping up. That's a great thing. I'm American, but my mom is from Cuba. This is a big deal for a lot of Cuban Americans. And I look forward to seeing how far they go with it. My brother was talking to some people about Agnostic Front playing out there. But for whatever reason, it didn't manifest. Now, I don't see why not. For us, it would be a big accomplishment. Madball is gonna have to play La Habana, where my mom is from, and I have a lot of family still there. That's a must. But shit, man, we'll play anywhere they'll have us. I'd love to get to know the island as much as possible. I grew up on Cuban food and music, and I'm honestly sort of ashamed that I travel the world playing music for a living, but I have yet to go to Cuba, which is right there. For all Cubans who want to travel to work and take money back, I definitely think they should be entitled to do so. These Republicans in their fancy houses smoking cigars and drinking rum are hypocrites. I've met Cuban kids in Canada and other places, and they do say there is some sort of hardcore music scene out there. I don't know how big it is, but there's something there. People can relate to hardcore, they relate to the struggle and opression and all sorts of things in our music."
Mario Obregon, MC, Problem Kids
"It's some bullshit is what it is. Hopefully, it helps the Cuban people more than the Cuban government. I just feel that the money is going to help the government. It may seem like it's something good, and it is my hope that it is a benefit to the poeple. I would only go there to play a show if none of the money went to the government. If they allowed musicians from there to come here, make money, and go back, I think they would demand something more and the money funnels back to them and gives them more power than they already have. Fuckin' Obama. I don't trust politics or politicians. The people are not gonna have the freedoms we have here, and money spent there is going to end up in the hands of the wrong people. People are going to continue being persecuted and held without freedom and not allowed to travel."
Bert Casanova, Sax and Keyboard Player, Problem Kids
"For one thing, I think the Castros are running out of money. And the Venezuelans aren't supporting like they used to either. And I don't think it was right to trade someone found doing espionage for a peace worker. But there is a silver lining to all this. Cuba spent many years saying the West and the U.S. is the enemy. That's a major point of the revolution and the system that they built. And if the embargo comes down and the countries open up relations, the misery of the Cuban people can no longer be blamed on the United States. That's an old system that the Castros adopted from the Soviet Union. This could potentially change the brainwashing in Cuba. But I personally wouldn't go there now and play a show. It's not as bad as North Korea, but the population is being starved and seriously oppressed and we're gonna go out there and contribute to the system? No. I'm not against other people doing it, but as a Cuban, I wouldn't be able to do it. For me to go against everything my parents have taught me, that's a tought thing. We grew up being taught that you don't go back there, you don't contribute to the Castros bottom line. You don't put money in their pocket. But any change that brings freedom to any nation under an oppressive regime is a move toward the positive. And for the entire system to change toward a capitalistic society would be heaven-sent.
Oba Frank Lords, Producer/Vocalist/Percussionsist
"Being that I am a Cuban born on the island and had to leave in exile, I have kind of a different opinion than most people. I understand that the country is still Communist, being run the wrong way, and the the human rights of my people are still being squashed, but I'm from the mentality that if you show people what tastes good, they will soon enough learn what tastes bad. For instance, if you give a newborn baby shit as food, the baby is going to acquire a taste for that shit and continue to eat shit until you give him chocolate. Then he's gonna say, 'That other stuff tasted like shit, I'm never eating it again!' My people have been fed a shit government, and they don't know any different than to ride bikes, walk, or drive old cars from the '50s. But the minute they see a Lambo, they're not gonna wanna drive a '57 Chevy anymore. When they start getting good sneakers, good food, they're gonna say, 'We don't want this government. We want to be like the U.S.' Let's open it up, let the families be reunited, and let those people start living better. Fidel is on the way out. Raul is an old man too. So a changing of the guard is coming, and hopefully, a more positive mentality will take control of that country."
Los, Guitar Player, Die Trying
"I'm skeptical. I don't know what's gonna happen. But I'm ready to drink that Havana Club rum. I'm Cuban. I've been to Cuba before, and I will definitely go again. I know there's a shit ton of black metal and death metal bands in Cuba. But there's not many punk rockers. Too political. I know there's no money over there, but there should be. I just hope they build a 90-mile bridge between there and Miami. Just take the SunPass toll to Cuba. And I hope Fidel dies soon."
Sofy Encanto y Elastic Bond
Sofy Encanto, Singer/Songwriter Elastic Bond
When a nation doesn't have peace, it causes damage to everybody involved. If you can't sleep at night, then what is life worth. Peace is what need. And this is some sort of peace treaty. Let's leave the bullshit behind and just be friends. It's like if you have kids and get divorced, but what, you gonna be enemies? The only people that get hurt is the kids. You have to put that shit behind and move forward. Forget about the old news. If we are driven by those thoughts and ideals of the past, we're stuck and we're being driven by the negativity in our mind. I'm from Honduras, but if you ask me about people, I care about people. And the people of Cuba have gone through a lot. It's not about where you're from or where you have family. We're all family. There's no separation. You don't know how long you're gonna be here or if someone's gonna save your life. That person could be Cuban or from Afghanistan. There's no barriers of countries or races. There shouldn't be. That shouldn't even be a question. We need to put that in the past and become one world. It's not just hippie talk, it's the truth.
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