Sunday, January 30, 2011

History Lesson

As those who have met me (or even read me here) know, I am an unreconstructed geek. I wear my interests and obsessions on my sleeve, generally, and pride myself on being relatively well-informed on a variety of topics. My daughter, 20, is wont to begin sentences, "Mom, you know everything, so tell me..." I admit, I'm no simels, who literally DOES know everything: I am just a pale replica. But I'm proud to be even that.

And so it's cool/interesting/exciting for me when I encounter a field of rock history that was completely hidden from me. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you GESI.

Castro aimed to cure Cuba once and for all of "ideological deviants," which included long-haired youth, homosexuals and any others the authorities simply had reason to mistrust. For Cuban authorities, The Beatles were viewed as harbingers of an imperialist offensive out to corrupt young Cuban minds.

Over the next two years, thousands of youth were swept up in a repressive crackdown. Among those caught in this burst of revolutionary fervor were two relatively unknown singer-songwriters whose names would become legendary a decade later: Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés.

The story of how these "deviants" were saved from oblivion and how, in turn, their music transformed the musical soul of revolutionary Cuba itself, is tied to the story of a short-lived rock fusion group, "Experimental Sound Collective of ICAIC" (ICAIC is Cuba's Film Institute), better known in Spanish as GESI.

Officially, GESI became the house band for the film institute, producing soundtracks for ICAIC's numerous projects. Unofficially, GESI served as a kind of cultural refuge for those whose artistic talents ran afoul of Cuba's ideological police. More fundamentally, GESI became a "musical think tank," as authors Deborah Pacini Hernandez and Reebee Garofalo have called the group. They were a diverse group of young, rebellious musicians at once committed to the revolution but determined to push against its aesthetically rigid ideological boundaries.

GESI formally existed from 1970 to 1978. Although prodigious in output, the group was initially barred from releasing its music on the radio or performing live. The idea was to contain these musical rebels, not reward them. As Rodríguez later lamented, the group was accused of making "songs with revolutionary texts and imperialist music."

This is just very cool stuff. I had no idea!

(h/t commenter Bill Buckner, under his meatspace name at The Social Network)


The Phantom Creep said...

This is actually a sort of parallel story to what went on in Brazil. Cf Os Mutantes and the whole movement they represented.

Very cool, and thanks for posting...

steve simels said...

That's a new one on me too, kiddo. Very interesting....