Cuban dissident artists Gorki Águila y Lia Villares staged a counter-concert to the Rolling Stones’s historic performance in Havana on Friday. Unlike the Rolling Stones concert, the Cuban punk rockers were entirely silent.
The performance, titled “Public Scandal,” featured the two musicians wearing tape on their mouths and standing on a mattress over a balcony. They stood in silence for an hour, holding their musical instruments.
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“This performance is to position us regarding our attitude, which is against these artists that come to lend themselves to these people’s [the Castros’] circus and the censorship to which we are submitted,” Águila told the U.S.-based Radio Martí. “We were completely watched by secret police,” he added.
The artists were allowed to stand in silence, Águila says, but anyone attempting to attend the event or watch it from under the balcony were arrested. “State Security used patrol cars to block people coming to the performance,” he told Spain’s Diario de Cuba. “Suddenly, we saw from the balcony a stampede of ‘security’ agents that attacked Claudio Fuentes, who tried to enter the building… we also heard of Danilo Maldonado’s arrest.”
Claudio Fuentes is a pro-democracy photographer who works with dissident groups in Cuba. Danilo Maldonado, known commonly as “El Sexto,” is a performance artist who became famous last year after serving ten months in prison for writing the names “Fidel” and “Raúl” on the backs of two pigs for a performance based on the George Orwell novel Animal Farm.
Fuentes has been freed, but Águila says he does not know the status of Maldonado.
Águila and Villares are members of the punk rock group Porno para Ricardo, who have been for more than a decade a thorn in the side of the Castro regime. With song lyrics aggressively criticizing communism and the Castro brothers in general, the band’s members are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest.
Porno para Ricardo’s latest single, “Down with You-Know-Who,” mocks the government’s inability to withstand criticism. “To say ‘down with Fidel,’ you have to do it shrewdly,” Águila sings, “you can end up in the tank… because the law is useless.”
Águila famously stood trial on charges of “social dangerousness” and “perverting communist morality” in 2008, receiving a fine after international human rights groups condemned his arrest. Águila was again arrested on March 11 after returning from the United States. “They arrested me, and threatened me like they know how… they asked me if I had plans to go see the Rolling Stones,” Águila said of his arrest then.
A week later, Águila was arrested again, on the eve of President Barack Obama’s arrival in Cuba. Danilo Maldonado, along with a number of other prominent dissidents — more than 50 dissidents total — were also arrested that day.
Before his latest arrest, Águila published a video message to Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, asking them to “inform yourself.”
Let me tell you something, my brother, when you go there – yeah, I’m talking to you, Mick Jagger yourself, you and your band– when you go there, and when Obama goes to Cuba, we will probably be locked up in a cell. I don’t know if we will be able to do a little concert in the cell, but they will probably put one musician per cell and we won’t be able to hear each other.
I am a censored musician in Cuba. I am a musician that does not have the right you have to play anywhere. Understand? So at least, damn, inform yourself. That’s all I ask of your, yell what you want, but be informed. If you are going to play because you want to play in a tyranny, do what you want. This, damn, I hope this gets to you, what I’m saying.
In Cuba, musicians are censored. Musicians can’t play. Women are beaten. I would love to say that to artists: inform yourself first about what is happening in Cuba. At least throw a little “down with Castro. in there, a little one. Keith Richard, the craziest one, he can do it. Can you imagine?
Águila’s wishes went unfulfilled, as the Rolling Stones played their concert with only a passing reference to the censorship of rock and roll music in Cuba. “We know that years back it was hard to hear our music in Cuba, but here we are playing. I also think the times are changing,” Mick Jagger told the crowd in Spanish.
Fidel Castro for decades forbid any Western music in Cuba, fearing its liberating influence on its fans. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Cuban government began allowing pro-Revolution soft rockers associated with the Nueva Trova movement to perform, so long as their lyrics celebrated the Castro dictatorship.