A Cuban Rapper Rebels against a Corrupt Bureaucracy and Wins / Juan Juan
Juan Juan Almeida, 17February 2017 — After two years and eight months of
prolonged struggle, the inconclastic Santiago de Cuba rapper Henry Laso
Martinez, known as “El Encuyé,” won the first round in a battle against
corrupt officials in charge of the country’s most powerful musical
organization, the Cuban Institute of Music.
In the summer of 2012, the young musician and former leader of the group
Pasión Caribe needed a permit to work as a singer. He claims that
Orlando Vistel Columbié, who was then vice-president of the Institute of
Music, told him he would have to pay 500 CUC (USD $500) for the right to
Laso paid it, assuming this type of extortion was normal procedure and
because he needed the paperwork. Four years later he needed another
permit, this time to be a soloist. Reinaldo Almeira, the director of a
music group named for Cuban singer Benny Moré, told him the fee would be
1,000 CUC, 700 of which would go to Vistel for the right to a new
audition. Though Laso paid it, his application was turned down.
Thus began the rapper’s painful odyssey. He filed complaints with the
police and the attorney general. He sent letters to Raúl Castro, to
Orlando Vistel, to Reinaldo Almeida, to the director of Tumbao Mayor
Orchestra and to Conrado, a colonel from the Ministry of the Interior
assigned to handle musical affairs at the Ministry of Culture. When none
of them responded, Laso became radicalized.
“I had posters put up, I had young people screaming. They saw that I had
followers behind me and young people supporting my cause. That was when
the authorities, who were clearly outnumbered, decided to call it quits,
that I was right and that all I wanted to do was work. It’s unfortunate
but that’s the way it was. I won but I wonder what would have happened
if I was an unknown. If instead of being an artist, I was a laborer,”
says the urban musician.
An audition was finally scheduled for February 1. On that date he
performed in front of a panel of judges as a solo singer from
Cienfuego’s Rafael Lay orchestra.
“Five people decide whether I can sing or not. It makes no sense but I
did get legal status. They filmed the recording session and they are now
processing the paperwork at the Institute of Music in Havana. It then
goes to Orlando Vistel for his signature,” says Laso.
“Today I want to thank all the friends and the media who supported me in
demonstrating that there was a group of corrupt officials here. In the
midst of my crusade, I had the honor of meeting Pablo Milanés* who told
me, ’Fight, and when you get your work back, you will have to confront
the things that are wrong, even if they don’t affect you.’ I was
impressed, Pablo is a man who, when he is not happy with things,
criticizes them publicly. He is a person who helps artists a lot, who
supported my cause and was indignant at the injustice to which they
subjected me,” he adds.
“First, with respect to my future work, I will rescue the word love but,
once in awhile, I will shake things up. I will always tell the truth. Of
course, if they want to censor me, I will continue the fight because I
am no longer afraid. I have more than fifty reasons to tell anyone the
truth to his face,” says the singer.
“I am an artist committed to the society in which I live. I will make
songs but I will not remain silent while a bunch of scumbags damages the
careers of other artists,” he adds.
“I solved part of the problem. Now I have to work to help my family but
I will never forget the cause. I wanted to show that a citizen can take
action and I did. And I am taking the opportunity to publicly promise
that I will fight to end this fraudulent system of auditions, that my
voice will be a constant call to abolish a bureaucracy whose only
purpose is to sell paperwork, enrich dishonest officials and destroy the
dream of a lot of young people,” he concludes.
*Translator’s note: One of Cuba’s most popular and famous
singer/songwriters. Though a longtime a supporter of the Cuban
revolution, in recent years Milanés has been publicly critical of it.
Source: A Cuban Rapper Rebels against a Corrupt Bureaucracy and Wins /
Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba –