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AM-PM 2016: Driving Cuba’s Musical Scene

AM-PM 2016: Driving Cuba’s Musical Scene

by Adela López

Photos courtesy of the event

“Cuba is in fashion” is a phrase frequently heard nowadays. The visit of an American president, concerts by stellar bands and the arrival of ocean liners are signaling to Cubans that our environment is changing rapidly. But how can we turn these changes in our favor?

Culture-wise, new ways to create and consume emerge quickly and are not always visible to the naked eye. The possibility of introducing our artistic products on the international market poses questions to experts and artists alike. After being away from the game where “anything goes” for decades, the comeback seems uncertain to many.

In such a complex context, AM-PM “América por su Música” [America for its Music] has emerged as a meeting of professionals that stands out for its intention to strengthen the Cuban music industry from its various professions.

Music and Critics

“By music industry I mean all the people who need to be in sync for a musician to be able reach their audience, from stagehand to managers to producers to critics. Cuba has turned its back turned on the music market, and this has hindered the growth of these professions on the Island. In fact, there have been times—luckily overcome—when they have been demonized,” said Darsy Fernández, member of the organizing committee of the event, in an exclusive interview for Lahabana.com.

The cultural project led by X Alfonso known as Fábrica de Arte Cubano (F.A.C.) has announced this year’s event event, which in its first edition focused on the music manager. In 2016, the center of attention will rest on the music critic, and Fernández released that the musical producer will be the focal point in 2017. “Choosing where to put the focus each year is very much related to the things we think are not working right.”

From June 13 to 19, Cuban journalists will be able to discuss their concerns with foreign workshop participants, who will comment on their professional experiences. AM-PM aims to create the necessary links for Cuban communicators to interact with members of the Ibero-American Network of Music Journalism. “Our goal is to create a Cuban chapter of this organization and that our critics become a part of it.”

In this regard, Fernández, who has been in the music biz for almost 25 years, notes that there isn’t a single magazine in Cuba that is entirely devoted to music. “Neither Vistar Magazine, nor Clave, nor Boletín Música takes this approach. And I don’t think we need to sit and wait for “Rolling Stones Cuba” to be created. Instead, there should be a Cuban publication written by Cuban journalists. Critics are essential in developing a music scene in any nation. We have good critics here, but we feel that they have been isolated, that they do not use all the tools at their disposal, perhaps due to difficulties to access communication channels.”

In addition, the event will focus on musical curatorship, which encompasses areas other than journalism. Such is the case of radio and TV programmers, consultants, writers, directors, and hosts. “In Cuba, the repertoire performer for recorded music played a very important role, but it has disappeared. This is why you run into albums whose songs lack consistency and character.”

Another topic the AM-PM organizers plan to discuss is the importance of content lists. “Radio shows are inviting artists to suggest the music they like. It would be interesting for the audience to know what kind of music Silvio Rodríguez or Descemer Bueno listens to, for instance. The contents curator would be the person in charge of choosing the content on a concept basis as opposed to randomly.”

Brainstorming: Music & Tech

AM-PM has its sights set on the emerging alternative music movement in Latin America. “We are not interested in Sony or Universal—companies with highly efficient marketing mechanisms—coming here. Instead, we need a different kind of players. I think there is an independent music scene that is pretty solid, with networks in which Cuba can find a place,” said journalist Rafa G. Escalona, a member of the organizing committee.

“Much of the strengthening of the alternative musical movement is due to the use of new technologies, of which we are bereft of here due to economic and connectivity problems. With the realization of this brainstorming, we first want to raise a discussion and create synergies between the music and the technological sectors. By asking key questions, such as ‘What do I need?’ and ‘What are my needs as a musician?’ web developers could create apps that would provide solutions to the problems of artists,” said Escalona, creator of the blog The microwave.

The people we interviewed confirmed that the developers of projects such as Guiarte, Adoble, etc., will attend the second AM-PM. The meetings will include a pitch where artists will show their works to journalists. This way, communication professionals will note how useful these applications can be for their work.

“Much to our surprise, technology entrepreneurs are participating with great interest in the discussion. So far, all those who have been interested in music in Cuba have confined themselves to creating promotion guides alone. This may be somehow related to the pattern of cultural consumption, but technology for production and mediation is also necessary. We need to see music as a process instead of a product that will only be consumed. Additionally, musicians can’t continue working as if they will never have access to the Internet. When we finally get online easily, which will inevitably happen, we need to be prepared to make use of these technologies,” said Fernández.

The Foro Cantar y Decir [Sing and Say Forum] will complement the busy schedule of AM-PM 2016. Media professionals will discuss the use of music as a tool to prevent violence against women. Casa de las Américas, the second venue of the event, will host an exchange led by singer and activist Rochy Ameneiro. Also, the opening of two exhibitions (caricature and photography) on Cuban music will take place.

“We would like that the next time the Rolling Stones play in Havana, they come under the guiding hand of Cuban producers; or that the next Buena Vista Social Club project be discovered by someone in our own music industry. If this is complemented by the State’s goodwill, I believe the Cuban music industry could explode all around the world, and all the talent we have here could finally become very visible,” said Fernández.

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