Cuban Government Censors Reggaeton and "Sexually Explicit" Songs

Reggaeton is one of the most popular genres amongst Cuban youth.

December 5, 2012, 5:30 PM

Dec. 6, 2012— -- Cuba will punish musicians whose songs refer explicity to sexual acts or objectify women and ban such material from radio and TV, a top government official said on Tuesday.

In an interview with state-run newspaper Granma, Orlando Vistel, the director of the Cuban Music Institute, explained that the island's government will take licenses away from musicians that "violate ethics" rules during concerts, adding that "severe sanctions" will be administered to officials who allow such groups to perform.

These measures could disproportionately affect Cuban reggaeton performers like Osmani Garcia, who have become hugely popular across the island thanks to songs with sexual lyrics and thumping rhythms that can be danced along to in a not-so-subtle way (read: perreo). This popular hit, called El Chupi Chupi, could become one of the first targets of the new music regulations.

"The majority of the Cuban people has warned us that [music promoters] want to impose on them foreign trends that violate the most fundamental ethical principles," Vistel told Granma.

The middle-aged official admitted that the new measures would probably silence many reggaeton performers on the island, but added that any other music genre that broke ethics codes established by the Communist party would also be subject to censorship.

"Vulgar, banal and mediocre expressions can be found in other musical genres too," Vistel said. "We should not just target one genre. But it is also true that reggaeton is more notorious than the rest."

Reggaeton was originally spread through Latin America a decade ago by Puerto Rican artists such as Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Wisin y Yandel.

Lyrics are not always as explicitly sexual as in this Daddy Yankee classic, but videos do tend to feature curvaceous women in skimpy clothes, and rich guys in baseball caps enjoying big cars, luxurious homes and extra-large gold necklaces. This is not exactly the type of imagery promoted by Cuba's sombre socialist revolutionaries.

However, some analysts argue that there is more to these measures than a moral crusade.

In a column published on Cuban American website Café blogger Daniel Benitez suggests that the new music regulations could be part of a plan to keep more traditional Cuban groups with ties to the government, from losing an audience that is quickly shifting towards reggaeton.

"The problem [for the Cuban government] is not that the majority of the population enjoys the lyrics to the Chupi Chupi," Benitez writes. "But that other musical genres are decaying, and there are no funds [from government or consumers] to promote them with."

"Reggaeton and similar genres have won the battle [against genres like salsa and trova.] They have thousands of followers, and their videos and musical creations are filmed and distributed in an independent fashion, which is the best way to make things flow in a country where government centralism…sinks any initiative."

Benitez argues that by censuring reggaeton, the Cuban government is trying to force music lovers to buy into more traditional genres. He claims that the island's government has the custom of favoring certain music groups over others.

"I will never foget that Holguin, my native province, is home to the Hermanos Aviles Orchestra, the oldest active orchestra for popular dancing music in Latin America," Benitez writes. "But such a credential does not help the orchestra to gain any money or popularity, so under government mandate, all municipal governments in Holguin, are forced to hire this orchestra to play at their yearly festivals."

The Cuban American youth group Raices de Esperanza-Roots of Hope, said in a statement that the new regulations against reggeaton and sexually explicit songs were "erratic" and "disproportionate."

Raices argued that such severe measures, suggest that the Cuban government sees reggaeton performers as a "subversive," element in society, even if their music talks about sex, and not about politics.

"Although reggaetton and hip hop musicians are not a direct threat to the Cuban government, they have amassed a large following and audience across the island," Raices wrote. "Over recent years, the music scene in Cuba has become increasingly reflective of the diversity and interests of its population and has become an outlet for their observations and for communication among its citizenry."

Orlando Vistel, from the Cuban Music Institute, said that the government is currently formulating new laws to regulate what sort of music can be played in public spaces.

"Obviously, people can listen to whatever music they want in private," Vistel told Granma. "But that liberty does not include the right to reproduce (certain types of music) in restaurants, state run or privately owned cafeterias, buses and public spaces in general."

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