Karl Marx Theater - Entertainment in Havana
Posted: 18 July 2012 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Karl Marx’s theater rocked to a Latin beat. Staring up at the back-lit name of the world’s most famous socialist, glowing bronze against a dark unusually chilled Havana sky, it struck me…this is different.

Rain accompanying an early cold front pushed through Cuba, soaking the streets but not dampening the spirits of the young, “dressed to the nines” fans gathered for the Lucas music video awards.  Clad in latest European and Latin fashions, the Habaneras (Havana women) shivered rather than don coat or sweater. Their tight, skimpy outfits were to be seen at any cost.

This hip crowd raised no printed signs…”homeland or death.” Nor did they chant in unison…”viva Fidel and Raul.” Their mantra was music, salsa, reggeton and hip-hop.

Three white-masked stilted clowns towered above a troop from Havana’s school of dance, entertaining the want-to-be’s whose odds of gaining entry into the auditorium matched their chances of boarding a plane to the States.

Their glimpse of the stars was to be limited to Leo, a rock idol clad in sexy pink. In the glare of T.V. lights, he stood behind a barrier of plate glass.
Inside, grandchildren of Cuba’s most privileged and powerful filled every seat…. so much for the manifesto of Marxism in Cuba.

Generation Y, the writings of internationally acclaimed blogger Yoani Sanchez enticed me to the 2011 Lucas Award show. The prize is presented annually to Cuba’s best music video. Her comments about the controversial song El Chupi Chupi piqued my interest. I was back in Cuba after a nine year Bush imposed hiatus to write about the island’s fishing, not music. In the vernacular of Cuba, “I know as much about music videos as a pig knows about Christmas.” 

Chupi, means candy or more precise lollipop…… in slang sucker. “The song is not about sweets.” I was informed by a Cuban-American friend before my short flight from Tampa to Jose Marti airport.

In Sanchez’s award winning blog she described the government’s dissatisfaction over the songs steamy lyrics, and in an attempt to quell enthusiasm for the Lucas frontrunner, pulled it from the state controlled radio stations.

According to Sanchez, the popular reggaeton tune received a strong critique from Abel Prieto, the Minister of Culture on national television. She quotes a television reporter, the governments unofficial…. official stand. Half joking, half serious he said, “There will be no candy or caramel on the stage this weekend, because they are bad for your teeth.”

Upon learning of my intentions, my landlords of the casa particular - private house - assured me entry into the awards was not possible.” Only the rich or the offspring of the powerful can get tickets.” They said. But another popular Cuban saying goes, ”With money the monkey dances.” So armed with a pocket full of Cuban convertible Pesos, I hailed a cab and headed for Marimar on the outskirts of the glowing capital city.

As foretold by my new friends, I was rejected at the door, tickets they said, sold out. But American audacity can be an advantage in Cuba. Camera snapping in my best impersonation of a photo-journalist, I tried to slip into a side door past a skinny security guard.

“Senor,” He demanded. “Ticket.”

“ I don’t understand Spanish.” I said.

Stunned by my accent he asked, “Americano?” 

“Yes, I’m from Florida” I replied.

Glancing around the dark alleyway he whispered, “I have an aunt in Orlando.” Then, surprisingly, turned his back and allowed me to pass.

Inside the dimly lit hall an emcee introduced celebrities in rapid fire Cubanese I couldn’t understand. A pair of stand-up comics told jokes I didn’t get. Of course there were no seats so I wandered from spot to spot snapping pictures. After a few moments at any one location I was ushered away by polite but firm security guards with the orders. “You can’t stand here.” After an hour I was running out of dark corners and my face was becoming too familiar so I exited the front door where the crowd had thinned. Only a few die-hards remained in the night chill, shivering, hoping.

Walking down the dark street toward a busy thoroughfare, the scene seemed surreal. It yelled ideological inconsistency, and over the next ten days as I traveled the country, this night would come to mind often. It signaled a changing Cuba. The hip swinging swagger of Havana’s young fashion conscious elite and the crowd outside hoping to gain entry into the Karl Marx Theater are the new Cuba.

No longer satisfied with their grandparents dream of revolutionary purity bringing a better life, a new generation of Cubans is seeking solutions outside the socialist box. A growing group of entrepreneurs are starting small businesses, licensed and regulated by the state. Bakers, barbers and palidar – private restaurant - owners are feeding, housing and trimming tourist and Cubanos alike. They pay government fees and taxes and reinvest profits to improve or expand their businesses. With the newly passed laws allowing the buying and selling of homes and cars, the average Cuban is able for the first time to accumulate real net worth. These are huge steps in personal choices.

Another Havana blog quotes a city street vendor, “I don’t know if I like Raul.” He says. “But I may like what he is doing.”

I felt it first at the airport standing in front of an official eyeing my American passport. In years past he would have demanded to know the exact address of every place I would spend the night. When informed I would be flying back to the States from the distant city of Holguin, making a series of yet undetermined stops along the way, he simply shrugged and said, “Have a nice stay.”

The punch line of a Cuban joke recounts Castro questioning Napoleon. “How could you have possibility lost the battle of Waterloo?” Napoleon rubs his imaginary beard, a gesture used by a generation of Cubans to indicate El Supremo. “Fidel.” He says, ”If I would have had your control of the media, no one would have ever heard of Waterloo.”

But as Yoani points out, “Music taste cannot be censored.” If you think otherwise, just listen for the sound of El Chupi Chupi blaring on any street in Havana.

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