Rebel with a Cause
by Robert-Jan Friele
Cuban punk rock-musician Gorki Águila Carrasco is an instinctive rebel. He’s in constant conflict with the Castro regime, but refuses to leave Cuba. “Every time they hit you, you feel more resentment.”
For a man who likes to flash his bare buttocks and challenge his fans to react during concerts – or more accurately, performances – Gorki Luis Águila Carrasco (42) is remarkably quiet on this Tuesday morning in Havana. Thoughtful even.
Dressed in a faded T-shirt and boxer shorts, Gorki (his name is also his stage name) talks about his endless struggle with the Cuban regime. A battle in which the only thing at stake is his individual freedom, but which has made him the target of persecution and intimidation nevertheless.
Gorki is an extraordinary creative artist, but the respect he has earned from his fellow Cubans is mainly for his refusal to bow down to the Castro-regime. Even those who do not like his punk rock music know the price he has to pay. This gives his struggle for individual freedom a much wider resonance.
Sitting by the open doors of the balcony in his apartment in the Playa neighborhood, a Caribbean breeze ruffles Gorki’s thick mop of curls. They are pitch black, threaded with grey hairs that betray his age. In his right nostril shines a piercing; you’re either a punker or you’re not.
If a man is a product of his circumstances, then Gorki can sum himself up in two sentences. About his childhood: "My mother taught me to have opinions." And subsequently: "Every time they touch you, you feel more resentment inside, you become more radical."
It has been two years since his last arrest, seven years since he received a four year prison sentence and in five weeks the Cuban police will arrest him again.
Stand by your opinions
Gorki was sixteen when he began to dress like his idols – the musicians of Led Zeppelin, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols – and was arrested: his clothing was different, thus suspicious. His father had warned him that his love of rock music could get him into trouble. Gorki: “I found out quickly that rock was not politically correct.” He was locked up for two nights.
Politically correct or not, his mother had taught him that he should stand up for his opinions and tastes. Gorki's life would be dedicated to making the music of his choice. At the end of 1998 this determination led to the creation of the band Porno para Ricardo
(porn for Ricardo). The name has two meanings, the literal: Gorki had a friend, Ricardo, with a penchant for porn. This is forbidden in Cuba so Ricardo’s taste was not catered for and hence the name.
And secondly, “porno para Ricardo is also the opposite of patria o muerte ['the fatherland or death" - motto of the Cuban Revolution, red.]. Ricardo as the individual, versus the masses. And porn represents sex, fun, life, as opposed to the death.”
The band’s logo depicts the communist hammer and sickle with the hammer in the shape of an erect penis. ‘Non-governmental musical group’, it says underneath, an implicit criticism of all the state-employed musicians who produce politically correct salsas for export.
Anger turns to satire
For the first five years, Gorki and Porno para Ricardo, operated in relative freedom. But in 2003, 75 critics of the regime were arrested and shortly after it was Gorki’s turn. During a concert he gave an amphetamine pill to a female fan who turned out to be a police officer and was sentenced to four years in prison.
All Cuba’s music venues are state-owned and when Gorki was released after two years, Porno para Ricardo was unable to find anywhere to perform. Satire replaced Gork’s anger. In his song El commandante
he sings about the coma andante (walking coma), ‘the commander [Fidel Castro, red.] wants me to work for a miserable salary / the commander wants me to applaud the shit he is spouting.’
In 2008, Gorki was arrested again, for being ‘ a danger to society’, a crime that can be punished with up to four years in prison. After intense pressure from the international community, the prosecutor changed the indictment to ‘disobedience’. Gorki was fined six hundred pesos, (more than a monthly salary in Cuba).
Subsequently he wrote the songs for Porno para Ricardo’s sixth album Rojo Desteñido (pale red), including the number Cómo joder a un Comunista
: 'Do you know how to screw a Communist? / Take a spray can and write on the wall of his house: Gone with Fidel.’
Sitting in the tropical morning breeze, Gorki talks about his ‘war’ with the regime. He insists that his work is not political - although his lyrics suggest otherwise – but that he simply wants the regime “to respect me.”
Gorki is no dissident according to Pablo Díaz, from the online newspaper Cuba Encuentro
. Speaking to the French magazine L’Express
he said: “Gorki’s generation is not anti-Castro, but a-Castro. Unlike previous generations, this one does not have sentiments from the time of the revolution [1959 red.]. It is apolitical (…), a major problem for a regime that makes everything political.”
With a smile Gorki digs through a box full of notes all summoning him to report to the police station. They usually keep him waiting an hour or two before an agent gives him a lecture. “That’s their way to frighten people, but now it has been a long time since I had to report. Nowadays they try to intimidate my surroundings, to make people afraid to deal with me. Two band members have already moved abroad.”
Leaving Cuba is something Gorki has thought about; his family has already moved to Mexico. But his daughter (12) lives in Havana and he does not want to leave Porno para Ricardo. “We feed ourselves with the reality in Cuba, a great source of inspiration.”
No essential freedoms
That source has not yet been exhausted, believes Gorki, although speculations about political change are in fashion. This is mainly due to the recent economic reforms made by President Raul Castro giving more space to private entrepreneurs.
"These changes are only the result of the economic crisis," says Gorki. "The relationship between liberty and the economy in Cuba is an evil one. Maybe some things have improved here, but we still cannot protest, we have no Internet-access. In Cuba, there are still no essential freedoms."
That’s very obvious five weeks later. On their way to a concert venue, the police arrest Gorki and the three other band members of Porno para Ricardo. They’re released a couple of hours later, but the concert has been cancelled.
Image: Johannes Frandsen
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