Jay-Z and Beyonce visiting Cuba, April 2013. A wee bit too Eva Peron-ish for my taste.
Florida lawmakers cry foul after Jay-Z, Beyonce travel to Cuba for anniversary
Published April 08, 2013 | Associated Press
Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba has angered two Cuban-American politicians who are demanding information on whether the couple’s visit to the communist island was licensed.
U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida have written to the U.S. Department of Treasury expressing concern about the trip. In the letter, both said they represent a community that has been “deeply and personally harmed by the Castro regime’s atrocities.”
“The restrictions on tourism travel are commonsense measures meant to prevent U.S. dollars from supporting a murderous regime that opposes U.S. security interests at every turn and which ruthlessly suppresses the most basic liberties of speech, assembly and belief,” the GOP lawmakers wrote.
April 4, 2013: Singer Beyonce and her husband, rapper Jay-Z,
are surrounded by body guards as they tour Old Havana, Cuba. (AP)
John Sullivan, a Treasury spokesman in Washington, said he could not comment on specific licenses. He said the agency was working on a response to the letter from Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart.
Beyonce and Jay-Z marked their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana last week. The state-run website CubaSi called it a tourist trip. The artists declined to speak with reporters.
Read more at:
I guess celebrity twits don’t care about government purges (i.e., genocide), torture, censorship and imprisonment for homosexuality, to mention a few of the atrocities of the Cuban regime.
I cannot imagine a more romantic place to celebrate a wedding anniversary than on an island where the law of the land restricts movement, association and expression.
Let’s cuddle up in your Che shirt, darling, while I sing you a Che inspired love ballad as we toast Cuba’s 54th year of oppression. Isn’t it romantic? Bat, bat, bat go the eyelashes and insert heavy sighs all around…
Read on about the real Che Guevara in a piece from Slate by Paul Berman
ss = s2 = stylish satirist
The Cult of Che Don’t applaud The Motorcycle Diaries.
By Paul Berman|Posted Friday, Sept. 24, 2004, at 7:33 AM
The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution’s first firing squads. He founded Cuba’s “labor camp” system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che’s imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for “two, three, many Vietnams,” he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: “Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …”— and so on. He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale.
The present-day cult of Che—the T-shirts, the bars, the posters—has succeeded in obscuring this dreadful reality. And Walter Salles’ movie The Motorcycle Diaries will now take its place at the heart of this cult. It has already received a standing ovation at Robert Redford’s Sundance film festival (Redford is the executive producer of The Motorcycle Diaries) and glowing admiration in the press. Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version, and he has been celebrated as a free-thinker and a rebel. And thus it is in Salles’ Motorcycle Diaries.
The film follows the young Che and his friend Alberto Granado on a vagabond tour of South America in 1951-52—which Che described in a book published under the title Motorcycle Diaries, and Granado in a book of his own. Che was a medical student in those days, and Granado a biochemist, and in real life, as in the movie, the two men spent a few weeks toiling as volunteers in a Peruvian leper colony. These weeks at the leper colony constitute the dramatic core of the movie. The colony is tyrannized by nuns, who maintain a cruel social hierarchy between the staff and the patients. The nuns refuse to feed people who fail to attend mass. Young Che, in his insistent honesty, rebels against these strictures, and his rebellion is bracing to witness. You think you are observing a noble protest against the oppressive customs and authoritarian habits of an obscurantist Catholic Church at its most reactionary.
Yet the entire movie, in its concept and tone, exudes a Christological cult of martyrdom, a cult of adoration for the spiritually superior person who is veering toward death—precisely the kind of adoration that Latin America’s Catholic Church promoted for several centuries, with miserable consequences. The rebellion against reactionary Catholicism in this movie is itself an expression of reactionary Catholicism. The traditional churches of Latin America are full of statues of gruesome bleeding saints. And the masochistic allure of those statues is precisely what you see in the movie’s many depictions of young Che coughing out his lungs from asthma and testing himself by swimming in cold water—all of which is rendered beautiful and alluring by a sensual backdrop of grays and browns and greens, and the lovely gaunt cheeks of one actor after another, and the violent Andean landscapes.
The movie in its story line sticks fairly close to Che’s diaries, with a few additions from other sources. The diaries tend to be haphazard and nonideological except for a very few passages. Che had not yet become an ideologue when he went on this trip. He reflected on the layered history of Latin America, and he expressed attitudes that managed to be pro-Indian and, at the same time, pro-conquistador. But the film is considerably more ideological, keen on expressing an “indigenist” attitude (to use the Latin-American Marxist term) of sympathy for the Indians and hostility to the conquistadors. Some Peruvian Marxist texts duly appear on the screen. I can imagine that Salles and his screenwriter, José Rivera, have been influenced more by Subcomandante Marcos and his “indigenist” rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico, than by Che.
And yet, for all the ostensible indigenism in this movie, the pathos here has very little to do with the Indian past, or even with the New World. The pathos is Spanish, in the most archaic fashion—a pathos that combines the Catholic martyrdom of the Christlike scenes with the on-the-road spirit not of Jack Kerouac (as some people may imagine) but of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a tried-and-true formula in Spanish culture. (See Benito Pérez Galdós’ classic 19th-century novel Nazarín.) If you were to compare Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries, with its pious tone, to the irrevent, humorous, ironic, libertarian films of Pedro Almodóvar, you could easily imagine that Salles’ film comes from the long-ago past, perhaps from the dark reactionary times of Franco—and Almodóvar’s movies come from the modern age that has rebelled against Franco.
The modern-day cult of Che blinds us not just to the past but also to the present. Right now a tremendous social struggle is taking place in Cuba. Dissident liberals have demanded fundamental human rights, and the dictatorship has rounded up all but one or two of the dissident leaders and sentenced them to many years in prison. Among those imprisoned leaders is an important Cuban poet and journalist, Raúl Rivero, who is serving a 20-year sentence. In the last couple of years the dissident movement has sprung up in yet another form in Cuba, as a campaign to establish independent libraries, free of state control; and state repression has fallen on this campaign, too.
These Cuban events have attracted the attention of a number of intellectuals and liberals around the world. Václav Havel has organized a campaign of solidarity with the Cuban dissidents and, together with Elena Bonner and other heroic liberals from the old Soviet bloc, has rushed to support the Cuban librarians. A group of American librarians has extended its solidarity to its Cuban colleagues, but, in order to do so, the American librarians have had to put up a fight within their own librarians’ organization, where the Castro dictatorship still has a number of sympathizers. And yet none of this has aroused much attention in the United States, apart from a newspaper column or two by Nat Hentoff and perhaps a few other journalists, and an occasional letter to the editor. The statements and manifestos that Havel has signed have been published in Le Monde in Paris, and in Letras Libres magazine in Mexico, but have remained practically invisible in the United States. The days when American intellectuals rallied in any significant way to the cause of liberal dissidents in other countries, the days when Havel’s statements were regarded by Americans as important calls for intellectual responsibility—those days appear to be over.
I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara, as the Sundance audience did, will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba—will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents. It’s easy in the world of film to make a movie about Che, but who among that cheering audience is going to make a movie about Raúl Rivero?
As a protest against the ovation at Sundance, I would like to append one of Rivero’s poems to my comment here. The police confiscated Rivero’s books and papers at the time of his arrest, but the poet’s wife, Blanca Reyes, was able to rescue the manuscript of a poem describing an earlier police raid on his home. Letras Libres published the poem in Mexico. I hope that Rivero will forgive me for my translation. I like this poem because it shows that the modern, Almodóvar-like qualities of impudence, wit, irreverence, irony, playfulness, and freedom, so badly missing from Salles’ pious work of cinematic genuflection, are fully alive in Latin America, and can be found right now in a Cuban prison.
by Raúl Rivero
What are these gentlemen looking for
in my house?
What is this officer doing
reading the sheet of paper
on which I’ve written
the words “ambition,” “lightness,” and “brittle”?
What hint of conspiracy
speaks to him from the photo without a dedication
of my father in a guayabera (black tie)
in the fields of the National Capitol?
How does he interpret my certificates of divorce?
Where will his techniques of harassment lead him
when he reads the ten-line poems
and discovers the war wounds
of my great-grandfather?
are examining the texts and drawings of my daughters,
and are infiltrating themselves into my emotional networks
and want to know where little Andrea sleeps
and what does her asthma have to do
with my carpets.
They want the code of a message from Zucu
in the upper part
of a cryptic text (here a light triumphal smile
of the comrade):
“Castles with music box. I won’t let the boy
hang out with the boogeyman. Jennie.”
A specialist in aporia came,
a literary critic with the rank of interim corporal
who examined at the point of a gun
the hills of poetry books.
in my house
with a search order,
a clean operation,
a full victory
for the vanguard of the proletariat
who confiscated my Consul typewriter,
one hundred forty-two blank pages
and a sad and personal heap of papers
—the most perishable of the perishable
from this summer.
Read Jay-Z in his own words how he revers and relates to Che, ss = s2 = stylish satirist
How A Village Voice Reporter Helped Write the Second Verse of Jay-Z’s
“Public Service Announcement”
By Zach Baron
Published Thu., Nov. 4 2010 at 11:30 AM
In 2003, this paper sent the writer Elizabeth Mendez Berry to profile Jay-Z on the eve of the release of what was then supposed to be his retirement record, The Black Album. Toward the end of the piece, which was published almost exactly seven years ago, Berry transcribes an interaction she had with Jay:
When I met with him, I gave him a copy of a critical–and I do mean critical–essay on Reasonable Doubt, Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter, and The Blueprint that I contributed to the book Classic Material. The following day, he called to tell me that it provoked him to write a new second verse for “Public Service Announcement.” He said that what he appreciated most about the piece was its honesty, and invited me to come to Baseline and hear the cut.
She hears it, eventually, but is left–along with the reader–guessing somewhat as to what role she played in the writing of the verse. Not anymore. On November 16, Spiegel & Grau will publish Decoded, the much anticipated “narrative journey through the lyrics and life” of Jay-Z, written by the rapper with the former Source editor (and occasional Voice contributor) Dream Hampton. In the book, Jay finally tells his side of the story as far as what happened between him and Berry, and how she influenced the writing of one of the great Jay-Z songs. We took the liberty of excerpting that part, below. Enjoy:
Just Blaze was one of the house producers at Roc-A-Fella Records, the company I co-founded with Kareem Burke and Damon Dash. He’s a remarkable producer, one of the best of his generation. As much as anyone, he helped craft the Roc-A-Fella sound when the label was at its peak: manipulated soul samples and original drum tracks, punctuated by horn stabs or big organ chords. It was dramatic music: It had emotion and nostalgia and a street edge, but he combined those elements into something original. His best tracks were stories in themselves. With his genius for creating drama and story in music, it made sense that Just was also deep into video games. He’d written soundtracks for them. He played them. He collected them. He was even a character in one game. If he could’ve gotten bodily sucked into a video game, like that guy in Tron did, he would’ve been happy forever. I was recording The Black Album and wanted Just to give me one last song for the album, which was supposed to be my last, but he was distracted by his video-game work. He’d already given me one song, “December 4th,” for the album–but I was still looking for one more. He was coming up empty and we were running up against our deadlines for getting the album done and mastered.
At the same time, the promotion was already starting, which isn’t my favorite part of the process. I’m still a guarded person when I’m not in the booth or onstage or with my oldest friends, and I’m particularly wary of the media. Part of the pre-release promotion for the album was a listening session in the studio with a reporter from The Village Voice, a young writer named Elizabeth Mendez Berry. I was playing the album unfinished; I felt like it needed maybe two more songs to be complete. After we listened to the album the reporter came up to me and said the strangest thing: “You don’t feel funny?” I was like, Huh?, because I knew she meant funny as in weird, and I was thinking, Actually, I feel real comfortable; this is one of the best albums of my career. . . . But then she said it again: “You don’t feel funny? You’re wearing that Che T-shirt and you have–” she gestured dramatically at the chain around my neck. “I couldn’t even concentrate on the music,” she said. “All I could think of is that big chain bouncing off of Che’s forehead.” The chain was a Jesus piece–the Jesus piece that Biggie used to wear, in fact. It’s part of my ritual when I record an album: I wear the Jesus piece and let my hair grow till I’m done.
This wasn’t the first time I’d worn a Che T-shirt–I’d worn a different one during my taping of an MTV Unplugged show, which I’d taped with the Roots. I didn’t really think much of it. Her question–don’t you feel funny?–caught me off guard and I didn’t have an answer for her. The conversation moved on, but before she left she gave me a copy of an essay she wrote about me for a book about classic albums. The essay was about three of my albums: Reasonable Doubt, Vol. 3 . . . Life and Times of S. Carter, and The Blueprint. That night I went home and read it. Here are some highlights:
On “Dope Man” he calls himself, “the soul of Mumia” in this modern-day time. I don’t think so.
Jay-Z is convincing. When he raps, “I’m representing for the seat where Rosa Parks sat / where Malcolm X was shot / where Martin Luther was popped” on “The Ruler’s Back,” you almost believe him.
And, referring to my MTV Unplugged show:
When he rocks his Guevara shirt and a do-rag, squint and you see a revolutionary. But open your eyes to the platinum chain around his neck: Jay-Z is a hustler.
Wow. I could’ve dismissed her as a hater; I remember her going on about “bling-bling,” which was just too easy, and, honestly, even after reading her essays I was mostly thinking, “It’s a T-shirt. You’re buggin.” But I was fascinated by the piece and thought some more about what she was saying. It stuck with me and that night I turned it around in my head.
We Rebellious, We Back Home
One of Big’s genius lines wasn’t even a rhyme, it was in the ad lib to “Juicy,” his first big hit:
Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin, to all the people that lived above the building that I was hustlin in front of that called the police on me when I was just tryin to make some money to feed my daughters, and all the niggas in the struggle.
I loved that he described what a lot of hustlers were going through in the streets–dissed and feared by teachers and parents and neighbors and cops, broke, working a corner to try to get some bread for basic shit–as more than some glamorous alternative to having a real job.
He elevated it to “the struggle.” That’s a loaded term. It’s usually used to talk about civil rights or black power–the seat where Rosa Parks sat / where Malcom X was shot / where Martin Luther was popped–not the kind of nickel-and-dime, just-to-get-by struggle that Biggie was talking about. Our struggle wasn’t organized or even coherent. There were no leaders of this “movement.” There wasn’t even a list of demands. Our struggle was truly a something-out-of-nothing, do-or-die situation. The fucked-up thing was that it led some of us to sell drugs on our own blocks and get caught up in the material spoils of that life. It was definitely different, less easily defined, less pure, and harder to celebrate than a simple call for revolution. But in their way, Biggie’s words made an even more desperate case for some kind of change. Che was coming from the perspective, “We deserve these rights; we are ready to lead.” We were coming from the perspective, “We need some kind of opportunity, we are ready to die.” The connections between the two kinds of struggles weren’t necessarily clear to me yet, but they were on my mind.
The Renegade, You Been Afraid
The day after the listening session, Just finally played a track for me. It opened with some dark minor organ notes and then flooded them with brassy chords that felt like the end of the world. It was beautiful. When a track is right, I feel like it’s mine from the second I hear it. I own it. This was the record I’d been waiting for. I spit two quick verses on it–no hook, no chorus, just two verses, because we were running out of time to get the album done and mastered and released on schedule. I called it “Public Service Announcement.”
The subject of the first verse wasn’t blazingly unique. It’s a variation on a story I’ve been telling since I was ten years old rapping into a tape recorder: I’m dope. Doper than you. But even when a rapper is just rapping about how dope he is, there’s something a little bit deeper going on. It’s like a sonnet, believe it or not. Sonnets have a set structure, but also a limited subject matter: They are mostly about love. Taking on such a familiar subject and writing about it in a set structure forced sonnet writers to find every nook and cranny in the subject and challenged them to invent new language for saying old things. It’s the same with braggadocio in rap. When we take the most familiar subject in the history of rap–why I’m dope–and frame it within the sixteen-bar structure of a rap verse, synced to the specific rhythm and feel of the track, more than anything it’s a test of creativity and wit. It’s like a metaphor for itself; if you can say how dope you are in a completely original, clever, powerful way, the rhyme itself becomes proof of the boast’s truth. And there are deeper layers of meaning buried in the simplest verses. I call rhymes like the first verse on “Public Service Announcement” Easter-egg hunts, because if you just listen to it once without paying attention, you’ll brush past some lines that can offer more meaning and resonance every time you listen to them.
The second verse for “Public Service Announcement” was almost entirely unrelated to the first verse. I wrote the second verse, which opens with the lyrics, I’m like Che Guevara with bling on, I’m complex, as a response to the journalist. When someone asked me at the time of the Unplugged show why it was that I wore the Che T-shirt, I think I said something glib like, “I consider myself a revolutionary because I’m a self-made millionaire in a racist society.” But it was really that it just felt right to me. I knew that people would have questions. Some people in the hip-hop world were surprised by it. There are rappers like Public Enemy and Dead Prez who’ve always been explicitly revolutionary, but I wasn’t one of them. I also wasn’t a Marxist like Che–the platinum Jesus piece made that pretty clear.
Later I would read more about Guevara and discover similarities in our lives. I related to him as a kid who had asthma and played sports. I related to the power of his image, too. The image on the T-shirt had a name Guerillero Heroico, heroic guerrilla. The photo was taken after the Cuban Revolution and by the time I wore the T-shirt, it was probably one of the most famous photographs in the world. Like a lot of people who stumble across the image with no context, I was still struck by its power and charisma.
No wonder Shawn finds, Che so heroic and inspiring, read below some of Che’s charismatic statements…
“The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have conserved their racial purity by a lack of affinity with washing, have seen their patch invaded by a different kind of slave: The Portugese…. the black is indolent and fanciful, he spends his money on frivolity and drink; the European comes from a tradition of working and saving which follows him to this corner of America and drives him to get ahead.” Che Guevara
The journalist was right, though. Images aren’t everything, and a T-shirt doesn’t change who you are. Like I said in the song “Blueprint 2,” cause the nigger wear a kufi, it don’t mean that he is bright. For any image or symbol or creative act to mean something, it has to touch something deeper, connect to something true. I know that the spirit of struggle and insurgency was woven into the lives of the people I grew up with in Bed-Stuy, even if in sometimes fucked up and corrupted ways. Che’s failures were bloody and his contradictions frustrating. But to have contradictions–especially when you’re fighting for you life–is human, and to wear the Che shirt and platinum and diamonds together is honest. In the end I wore it because I meant it.
Wow that is so deep, like so much landfill. Sure glad you meant it, Shawn. I am sure Fidel and Raul are pleased as punch. Bling and Che and Che and bling, ring-a-ding-ding.
ss = s2 = stylish satirist