HAVANA TIMES – Cuban band Buena Fe, and particularly its director Israel Rojas, have conflicted with supporters and detractors on social media in recent months, due to its pro-government stance and ignoring other points of view.
Originally hailing from the Guantanamo province, Buena Fe emerged as a music group in 1999, with the duo Israel Rojas and Yoel Martinez. Rojas is the composer of all the band’s songs and lead singer, while Martinez plays the acoustic guitar and is the second voice. Their profession spans over 20 years on stage, 11 albums, great press coverage and an energetic social media presence.
They’ve formed a part of the cultural and political face-off that has polarized opinions since November 27, 2020, when over 200 artists gathered outside the Ministry of Culture to demand a dialogue and freedoms. Regardless that the group’s leaders were present, they made their support for the system and its institutions clear.
They’ve also taken part in government-led actions as a part of this political dispute. For instance, they placed on a concert on November 13, 2021, for participants on the Red Bandanas sit-in at Havana’s Parque Central, which was one in all the responses – together with interrogations and police sieges of activists, independent journalists and artists – to the decision for a Civic Protest for Change by the Archipielago platform, scheduled for November fifteenth.
Plus, they’ve an in depth relationship with Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, who tweeted on February seventh, Israel Rojas’ birthday, to wish him day and giving his personal thanks.
This open pro-government stance and moving away from other demands for human rights and never asking questions on repression of the artistic sector, has made the band a goal for critics, especially those that oppose the Communist Party system. Since November 2021 alone, they’ve been the middle of nine heated debates within the digital space.
PROTESTS AGAINST CONCERTS OUTSIDE CUBA
Between February seventh and thirteenth, the band visited Panama to participate within the official inauguration ceremony of the cultural space Casa Cuba, La Vitrina. They were invited by the Jose Marti Association of Cuban Residents in Panama. This trip is the most recent piece of stories that has rekindled discord between the band’s critics and supporters.
During their stay in Panama, they took part in a creative gala ceremony on the National Theater of Panama on the eleventh, they usually performed a concert at Casa Cuba, on Saturday twelfth, the date of the middle’s inauguration. On the latter, a small group of Cubans – as may be seen in videos shared by protestors – gathered to protest against the island’s Government, against the presence of Buena Fe on this country and against Cuban residents in Miami coming to the show, Carlos Lazo, leader of the Puentes de Amor project, and Erich Concepcion, singer and comedian.
Lazo and Concepcion were in Panama to participate in establishing Casa Cuba, thereby showing their support for the Puentes de Amor project which advocates for lifting the US blockade.
Protestors outside the cultural center in Panama weren’t capable of stop the band from performing.
This isn’t the primary time that Buena Fe concert events have attracted protests or boycott attempts outside Cuba’s borders. In January 2022, Web users opponents of the Cuban Government and living in Spain shared a boycott appeal for a concert the band was scheduled to play at Sala Storylive! in Madrid.
Regardless that a small group of Cubans – in line with witnesses present – did gather outside the venue and protest against the band and the Cuban Government, they didn’t stop the concert, like they’d planned. Several videos shared on the band’s official Facebook page prove that contained in the venue, the concert went on with none setbacks.
Then, in early February, Cuban residents in Canada launched a petition on the Change.org platform to stop the band’s concert events scheduled for May this 12 months. Buena Fe’s 2022 Canadian tour, which included shows in Montreal on May twentieth, Toronto on May twenty first and Edmonton on May twenty second, was canceled.
Nonetheless, in line with an official statement issued by The Opera House, Toronto’s theater of performing arts, the tour was canceled due to “new restrictions imposed on foreign nationals entering Canada as of Jan 15, 2022. All foreign nationals entering have to have a brand of vaccine accepted by Canada with a purpose to enter on the border. Buena Fe doesn’t yet meet this requirement.”
Israel Rojas and Yoel Martinez posted a video on their official Facebook page confirming The Opera House’s statement, and rejected the concept the cancellation of their concert events was a victory for many who oppose them. They defended Cuban vaccines and said they wouldn’t receive a foreign vaccine: “we’ll wait for our vaccines to be recognized” and “we’ll go to play there when our vaccines are recognized.”
CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING CONCERTS IN CUBA
The group’s public performances outside the island haven’t been the one source of controversy. The newest concert events on their national tour and on the steps of Universidad de la Habana for the FEU (University Students Federation) anniversary, last December, were accompanied by pictures with messages on social media that talked about how empty the venues were.
Unpicking these images, the group’s official Facebook page shared videos of its shows in Bayamo, in Guantanamo, on the University hill, where the camera deliberately spans across the concert hall to indicate that the venues weren’t empty.
In a Facebook live stream, Israel Rojas explained that “they’d really great feedback from the audience” in Guantanamo and Granma, and that they were “well-attended concert events”.
Their audiences weren’t the one thing being questioned. Ticket prices in today’s context have also been called into query. The announcement for a dinner/concert by the group on the La Cecilia Tourist Resort on December twenty fourth, costing 2000 CUP per person, triggered many comments of dissatisfaction on social media. Social media users questioned whether the group had consented to the value of their performances and argued that a Cuban’s minimum wage is just 2100 CUP, amongst other things.
After currency “reform” was implemented, the costs of cultural and sports events in Cuba shot up, and Resolution 328 from the Ministry of Finance and Prices, published on December 2020, established price caps on the rise of current prices, with different sorts of allowances. In line with the regulation, the value of local music concert events was fixed at as much as 4 times the unique price before the reform, and national music concert events, as much as five times.
Inside a context of economic crisis, high prices of cultural products are increasing the gap in a major population group’s access to those, although this doesn’t only apply to Buena Fe. Prior to now few months, ticket prices of many artists’ concert events have made headlines, and essentially the most outrageous was a concert by urban music duo Kimiko y Yordy in Cienfuegos, which was selling for twenty-four,000 pesos a ticket.
ISRAEL ROJAS’ CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENTS
Questions on Buena Fe have also been fueled by some controversial statements and comments made by Israel Rojas.
His more controversial statements recently were issued in a live stream shared with Carlos Lazo and other musicians in November 2021. In the course of their conversation, the singer said: “there are individuals who still tell us: “I don’t understand how you guys ended up turning into…” What have I turned myself into? You’re the abnormal one, no offense, I don’t wish to insult you, you never understood our songs.”
These words sparked criticism on social media against the artist, who explained on Twitter (@Israel_BuenaFe) that what he was referring to as “abnormal” were “individuals who said they interpreted their songs a method and now” are asking him to account for “their OWN interpretation.” He shared the complete live stream with Carlos Lazo on his personal Facebook page.
Soon after these statements, the singer did one other live stream while driving his Nissan automotive. The artist was accused of being an opportunist and hypocrite, for this reason. One user by the name Abel Castro wrote “(…) modern Nissan, you might be [Government] continuity”, Buena Fe’s official Facebook page responded with the concept of envy: “Envy mainly comes from not having something and seeing one other person have it and need it (…).” The response sparked a heated debate between opposing positions, reaching 1200 comments on the social media platform.
The leader of Buena Fe’s controversial opinions were remembered by Cuban comedian Alexis Valdes, who a few days ago, shared a fraction on Facebook from an interview he gave ten years ago when the group visited Miami. Within the interview, Valdes questioned Israel’s use of the expression “darn Ladies in White”, which he said at a concert at La Tropical in 2010. The singer admitted it was “an unlucky comment”.
Social media in Cuba is an especially politicized landscape, where users demand definitions and query the advantages of being near the Government in a national situation where Culture is at the top of this dispute. Buena Fe used to criticize corruption, government actions of their songs, and now they support the Government without saying a word.