The second request from the New York Philharmonic to go to Havana ran into administrative obstacles. The United States denied a first trip last year, arguing that the orchestra’s millionaire benefactors wanted to travel with the musicians just to drink daiquiri cocktails – strictly prohibited. According to The New York Times, this time the patrons promised to work on educational activities during the tour, but the government was not convinced – it seemed like subterfuge.
This contradicts my initial assumption when I learned (through a friend who conducted documentary interviews for the historic event) of Wynton Marsalis’s trip to Cuba in October with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, organized by the Cuban Institute of Music. I thought it was part of a state strategy, or perhaps an Obama strategy: to improve the political climate through cultural diplomacy. Plausible – the following month, American Ballet Theatre traveled to Havana to pay tribute to Alicia Alonso. But the way the Marsalis tour was developed – last-minute authorization from Washington – confirmed that certain politicians and their administrators – the former in their clouded perspective of power, the latter submerged in their frozen laws – are identical everywhere: they hurt citizens, regulating their movements, thoughts and cultural exchanges. Heraclitus’s Identity of Opposites is verified anew.
One of the questions I suggested to my friend, should she have managed to interview the US Chief of Mission in Havana, was about US cultural policy in Latin America. Eternally preoccupied by drugs and terrorism, the US ends up forgetting the immense diplomatic potential of its magnificent artists, who abhor the violent, canned American media trash that is the only “cultural” content Latin America gets from the US. If Latin Americans were exposed to the independent artists and the more critical television and cinema offerings from the US, they’d be surprised. They would better understand the complex cultural and political diversity in that relatively unknown country. The foolish image of a monolithic empire of mean exploiters would crumble, revealing the deep connection between nations, as Marsalis showed with Havana and his hometown of New Orleans.
The tour received a lot of press, and the contact between Havana’s youth and Marsalis and his musicians was profound and emotional. Traveling artists immersed in the immediacy of daily contact with foreign audiences triumph where politicians fail with their ostentatious national pride and rigid policies – futile relics of barbarism. The ensuing artistic triumph is often attributed to governments, politicians and diplomats of the day, but it remains solely the product of the audacity of organizations committed to culture and not to power.
These traveling artists, such as Marsalis and the New York Philharmonic, build the north-south cultural bridge, but as music teachers from Europe and the US realize when they come to Venezuela to teach in El Sistema, the bridge also travels from south to north. Proof of this is a recent conference at Harvard’s School of Education on the Venezuelan legacy in the new educational approaches of major conservatories in Boston and New York. There is a privileged opening, a new space that arms merchants and their corrupt clientele would like to shut down: the field of cultural transaction, where we all win. It’s the new cultural stock market with huge long-term returns for all nations. Invest.
Translated from Spanish by Rosemary Holland