Building a cultural bridge between US and Cuba, one brick at a time. Cultural Exchanges & Cuban Musings

“When the elephants battle, the grass suffers”. How does this African proverb apply to Cuba today? Ted Henken (CUNY Professor, and author of Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape) speaks on the shift between Cuba/US relations, and his thoughts on how to proceed moving forward.

This is the first in a series of videos filmed at The New Cuba Conference, directed by Juan Carlos Saizarbitoria. The meeting of the minds took place on June 17, 2015 at The Standard, High Line with the intention of sharing more collaboration with creatives on the island today.

Stay tuned to meet our other speakers…

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The New York Times visited Cuba to follow an interesting angle on the blogger scene — that is, the “moderate” bloggers. Cuba is a country where independent journalism is mostly dangerous when criticizing the State (note: the blog 14yMedio is one of the most respected Independent platforms, guided by activist Yoany). The only other forms of information on the internet-challenged island are National newspapers, generally considered propaganda of the State.

So who are these moderate bloggers who exist in the middle? NY Times’ Ernesto Londoño finds some new names and faces on the island who are dancing on the lines of this new definition of what is “acceptable”. The conversation seems like an acrobatic walk through semantics.

Carlos Alberto Perez, a blogger for La Chiringa de Cuba, claims he is criticizing from inside the Revolution [not outside the Revolution]…a famous phrase Fidel Castro once said when announcing what opinion would be tolerated in Cuba.

“Im not going to tell you that fear doesn’t exist”, he adds, “that when you have that button there, when you’re on to of the publish button, you think about it. You think, what comes afterward could be dangerous, right?”

At the end of the day, its refreshing to meet new voices getting up online, regardless of whether they are hardcore dissidents or just local voices sharing insider narratives. As long as they are dissecting, exposing, and sharing inner thoughts on the “real cuba”, then it’s a step in the right direction. What’s important is that a new subculture of bloggers is arising, differentiating themselves as different than the activists, but eager to tell their stories.

Another blogger, Harold Cardenas Lema (for La Joven Cuba) says that “We are moving forward the line of what is politically correct here”, attempting to break down the journalistic moving target. Expect this line to move more every day, despite the State’s control.

Read the full story in The New York Times.

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The LGBT community stands strong in Cuba today. One of the recent films to come out is La Partida (The Last Match) by Director Antonio Hens, a Spain co-production with Cuba. Released in 2013, the story is about two [originally] hetero Cuban boys on the edge of marginality, discovering their place in the world, as well as their own sexuality. The film touches upon all the modern day issues resident teenagers face — the tourism industry, the sex trade, the black market, and the lure of traveling abroad and fulfilling ones dreams (through a soccer career in this case). In one scene, we even see a Molly-type type drug consumed. Above that, the movie is a refreshing introduction to fresh Cuban talent in the independent film scene. Both leads are striking young men, and the supporting cast is compelling in the most authentic Cuban ways.

La Partida is the story of an intense love affair, and a coming of age tale in the unique circumstances of Cuba today. “I’ve always been interested in teenage characters” says Director Antonio Hens, “that critical moment in life when we are about to become adults. I am interested in its contradictions, its illusions and the strength of our first loves, which are always the most intense, the most passionate and, in a sense, the most authentic. Later, we become adults and arm ourselves with protective shields”.

(Film is available for purchase here too)


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(Duke Reilly, Ice Rink Installation)

The New York Times writer Holland Cotter visits Havana for the 2015 Biennial and shares his insights of the heavily attended art gathering. His words ring strong yet true. I somewhat expected usual mainstream press to simply glorify all the fabulous events (which made for a hell of a sexy week), but to my surprise, Cotter truly dug beyond the surface. I am not somebody to vilify the enjoyable experience, on the contrary, I DJ’d the opening of the ice-skating rink pictured above, and confess, it was an incredible evening full of joy, curiosity, and the warmth from the Cuban people. As a Cuban-American, this increasingly warp speed opening of Cuba is a complex journey for our souls to process.

Pointing out the comparisons that this could be the next Venice Biennial, Cotter shares:“The [Havana] biennial was not originally created with that crowd in mind. Founded in 1984, it was devoted to artists who found no welcome in heavily subsidized European extravaganzas like the Venice Biennale and Documenta. In those pre-globalist days, the Havana show provided a platform not only to artists from Cuba but also from Asia, Africa and South America. Working with a minute budget, it was conceived as a kind of anti-spectacle, with a vision of art as a loose and elusive social experiment, not a brand to sell.”

He then goes on to mention the white elephant in the room, the unheard Cuban voices. “As if applying a reality check to the biennial’s pose of cosmopolitan openness, last weekend the government’s censoring forces swung onto action. Their target was the itinerant Cuban-born performance artist Tania Bruguera, who has not been allowed to leave Havana for the past six months on charges of disturbing the public order”.

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(Lidzie Alvisa at the Cabana)

He then goes on to describe one of the main venues showing art, a place called “Zona Franca” (Free Zone) which converted an 18th Century Fortress and all its little bricked out caverns into a myriad of installation rooms. Cotter writes that Zona Franco also takes you “physically inside a piece of history, namely a 500-year-old chunk of Old World colonial architecture designed by men who wanted to keep the New World both under their thumb and at a distance”. Strong words, but an astute observation. Once again, I walked all along the fortress rooms myself because I had to see for myself, and carefully absorbed all the works that Cuba’s artists had to share, many of them loaded with messages in this era of rapid change. The art seems to speak more than the journalism does in this country, so right now, it is my only vein to the people.

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(Roberto Fabelo at the Cabana)

Upon finishing the article, I noticed one of the readers commented additionally on the artists left out of these exhibitions. Louis Never writes, “Most marginal, if not absent, from this Biennial, such as: Lino Vizcaino, Carlos del Toro, Rubén Rodríguez, Lizardo Chijona, Enrique Giovanni Miralles Tartabull, Poder, Norberto Marrero, Arien Guerra Porto, Eduardo Hernandez Santos, and Alejandro Montesino”. She then goes on to say, “The political parameters that define, if not straightjacket, this event are unfortunate, but I’m confident that good, solid work will transcend what is fleeting, such as politics”. Amen Louise. Let’s hope the independents, and less privileged art voices in Cuba begin to show their works more freely by the next Biennial.

Read the whole NYT article, The Havana Biennial is Running at Full Throttle.

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(Meditation on Memory by Victor Ekpuk, Nigeria at the Wilfredo Lam Center)

All Photos by Lisette Poole for The New York Times

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Questlove was the first person to reach me after President Obama’s announcement to normalize relations with Cuba on December 17, 2014 and ask to visit Cuba. His heart and soul has been invested in the island nation since their Havana performance in 2002, always dreaming of the day he’d go back. Enter April 2015, there was finally a hole in his exhaustive schedule, including Late Night with Jimmmy Fallon, tucked just after Coachella 2014. Cuba, here we come. It was a hell of a memory.

In addition to two nights of DJing, Questlove made good use of his time in Havana, engaging in extensive cultural research both by digging up some classic Cuban-made vinyl and by visiting the legendary EGREM studios, where most–if not all–of those classic sessions were recorded. Upon reading some of the comments on YouTube under this video, I noticed a random viewer nodding at the mini-doc while mentioning the other American rapper, Jay Z, and his visit. “Hova didn’t do shit but photo op in Cuba” wrote Ricardo Herrera. Harsh words, but penetratingly honest. It’s going to be the responsibility of each powerful US artist to truly look beyond the veil when visiting the island.

It seems the only action that Jay took was returning home and penning an “open letter” song to the US Administration. I cannot comment on any deep “conversations-on-the-ground” that Jay had in Cuba (maybe he did, maybe he didn’t), but nonetheless, it would have been informative to get a more robust report of his activities with the Cuban youth and personal insights he gained of their struggles today, beyond the cigars, 1950’s cars, and fluffy State tour. I’m not dissing on Jay because I am aware of his philanthropic efforts in other areas, however, my plea to Hova is, “Don’t sleep on Cuba”. Visiting is not good enough. Go deeper. Especially the marginalized [and sometimes censored] hip hop scene, who need your guidance more than ever to speak their truths.

I’d like to thank the whole team who helped put this trip and video together. Let’s keep doing this!


Directors: Jauretsi & Daniel Petruzzi
Cinematographer: Hector David Rosales
Sound Technician: Adrian Garcia
Editor: Jake Remingon
Executive Producer: Daniel Petruzzi for Okayplayer
Produced by: Edgar Productor n Jefe, Okayplayer, You and Me Inc.
Sugar Barons.
All Music Courtesy of: Edgaro Productor n Jefe & Maria Bacardi, MB Records

“Me Queda Voz (Instrumental)
Produced by Edgaro Productor n Jefe

“Cojimar” (Instrumental)
Produced by Edgaro Productor n Jefe

“Nunca Vida Mia”
Produced by Edgaro Productor n Jefe

“Nosotros” (Maria Bacardi Version)
Produced by Edgaro Productor n Jefe

Special Thanks to: EGREM, Fabrica de Arte Cubano, X Alfonso, Josue Garcia, La Rueda Producciones, Jorge Rodriguez, Joyce Alvarez aka Bjoyce, Tania Canet Iglesias, Cultural Island Travel

(A Man whose “Soul is Fed”, Ahmir backstage after his DJ Performance at La Fabrica)

All photos: Jauretsi

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This month, the May 2015 issue of Architectural Digest seems to be celebrating one of Cuba’s biggest treasures, its architecture. I purchased the seductive issue (seen above) only to be completely confused when I opened the magazine to read the actual story. AD’s Mitchell Owens, who seems like a wise and elegant man, visited Havana for a week on a pre-baked architectural travel tour so it was a quick “drive-by” trip with limited time to go off the beaten path (The US Embargo rules may have limited him here, although he does have the right to book a longer trip that is more tailored to the needs of truly researching deeper stories through the “Journalism” license). 

Did I mention this cover is a total fake-out? The perception is that Architectural Digest shot an interiors story, right? Wrong. This cover photo of a Pistachio-colored bedroom (a staple shade in Cuba) is actually from another spread of a home in Morocco. Notice the cover claims “Inspiring Style” with a another headline “Plus the Allure of Cuba”. Not cool. I worked in the magazine business for years, and I can just sniff the editorial meeting agenda here — “make it look like a Cuba cover story” yet cover your tracks so it’s not officially a lie.

The real Cuban article inside reads more like a guide to Cuba from the pages of Lonely Planet, with the generic references of Hotel Saratoga and Nacional Hotel seen through stock photos, or some pastel exterior buildings through Mitchell’s point-and-shoot camera.

Tsk Tsk AD. What a tease. Mitchell, please return to Cuba and research some homes with original content. And if you have questions with legally curating a deeper tour of architecture, give us a ring here.

To the rest of AD readers, if you’ve been to Cuba before, skip the print article and just watch the video for architectural insights. Why do so many of Havana’s building have large arcs and what is the thought behind the enormous gated windows?

See the video for that and more.
To read the whole story, visit Architectural Digest

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