In a country where DIY isn’t a lifestyle choice but an intrinsic part of everyday life, it’s hard to imagine Cuba left wanting for punk and rock n’ roll music on the forefront of its ingeniousness culture.
But yet, here we are in 2012 and to date, only a hand full of these types of bands have been able to cross over through embargos and experience and trade rock n’ roll music culture in Cuba. To make it even more remarkable, most of those bands are from western Canada brought to Cuba by artist run partnership, Solidarity Rock.
What started out as a friendship with one Cuban musician living in Edmonton turned into an international effort between artists and since 2007 Solidarity Rock has been working to create relationships between North American and Cuban bands through fundraisers, care packages and touring bands throughout the small island nation.
“William Garcia and I became really good friends,” recalls Solidarity Rock’s Drew McIntosh about the organizations unlikely beginnings. “Basically we started talking about what we could do to help overcome some of the difficulties we saw that people have there. At that time there was no access to basic things for rock bands to play music. There was nowhere for people to buy strings, there still really isn’t anywhere for people to buy strings or guitars or amplifiers and stuff.”
After the revolution the Castro government made a unified Cuban culture one of its most important mandates and that meant outlawing anything not deemed Cuban, and what genre of music at that time shouted USA more than Rock n’ Roll?
“At one point it was even illegal to listen to Rock n’ Roll music,” lamented McIntosh.
So as Sumba and Folklorico flourished, the Beatles were banned and without the foundation it seemed that Rock need a little help from some friends in Canada to jumpstart the small but determined genre to carve out a space in Cuba’s musical culture.
Currently in its fifth year Solidarity Rock has brought 40 musicians from acts like 7 And 7 Is, the Flates and the Vicious Cycles and helped 10 Cuban bands get the gear they need to get going. The latest fundraiser is for a recording/touring effort in July and August brining Vancouver’s Slow Learners, The Radii and Previous Tennants, which include the Hive’s Recording Engineer, Jesse Gander. This tour will also mark the first time an American band, Wisconsin’s Uh-OH, will tour Cuba with Solidarity Rock.
“Jesse’s bringing some interfaces and a computer and they are going to be [recording the records] at a youth centre,” says McIntosh about the one week session that will have Cuba’s Arrabio and Adictox in the “booth” for the first time.
“It’s going to be in a youth centre which is a dilapidated…well it’s pretty much an old house and parts of the ceiling are caving in but it will be good enough to turn up some amps and do some recording.”
With state of the art electronics being more rare than a 1958 Buick in parts of Cuba and electricity often on the fritz there’s bound to be a few occasions that will put the best of both Canadian and Cuban resourcefulness to the test.
“I’m just more concerned about the technical difficulties,” said Gander “Internet is really hard to find, and backing up data. It’s not like if the interface I’m using breaks there’s a Long & McQuade I can go to and get an other one so I’m bring two of the same one…I’m really excited about making new friends and seeing new places and getting recordings together, well the whole thing I’m just overwhelmed with excitement about.”
When audience funding for musicians and artists in North American has become, for some, the only way a group can get enough money for their own projects to lift off the ground the question begs to be posed: What is it about Solidarity Rock’s work that has musicians spending time and money on other bands’ development in an other country so far away?
“The best answer that I can give you is that I get to watch ideas that really changed my life going forward and changing other peoples’ lives too,” says McIntosh. “A lot of the musicians that have gone down there have come back and said that their focus has changed, that they kind of see their music doing different things and they see their own personal creative process meaning something else when it’s all said and done…it’s sort of an awakening of what’s possible with music and art.”
Catch the Solidarity Rock fundraiser at the Biltmore July 12 with Vicious Cycles, Slow Learners, The Radii and Previous Tennants.
By Katherine Green
Gatillo band photo: Aaron Bocanegra