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Does the Rotilla Festival have a future in Miami?

Michel Matos, Director and Founder of the event, talked to the DDC about the artists that will participate, the city chosen, and their decision to remain in Cuba.

La Habana

Michel Matos, Director and Founder of the Rotilla Festival, dismissed by the Cuban authorities in 2011, has announced the re-launching of the brand with a concert on December 23 at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami.

It is the same venue in which American President Donald Trump rolled out his policy change towards Cuba. Matos clarifies that this is a simple coincidence: the theater is famous.

The organizers hope that the concert marks a reboot for the Festival, even if it is not on the Island.

"Diddier Santos, the producer of Rotilla here in Cuba, had the idea," Matos explained to DIARIO DE CUBA. "For years we were considering the possibility of relaunching it and establishing the brand there. Now we can: those who organized Rotilla here have rebuilt our networks there."

Several members of the Festival’s team and a lot of Rotilla's fans reside in Miami, says Matos. "In 2013, when I went for the first time, we organized an event, which we called Rotilla, at the Vedado Social Club. We presented our movie condemning what happened with the Festival: Ni rojo ni verde. Azul. Musicians, artists and DJs performed," he recalled.

"We came to the conclusion that we couldn’t do it here," in Cuba, he explained. "Last year, we tried to throw a party with electronic music at an open space in San Antonio de los Baños, and they stopped us. A helicopter even flew over."

Matos takes the opportunity to underscore "that Verano en Jibacoa [a festival] is not Rotilla. There is a tradition and the powers that be seize the opportunity to invite people," he clarifies. "The public is still confused."

"Doing it in Miami, with dissenting artists who are there (El Aldeano, David D'Omni, El Sexto), we take up a position: 'This is Rotilla and Miami, not Havana.' Verano en Jibacoa is an event organized by the Ministry of Culture, State Security, etc."

But State Security does not organize cultural events...

State Security is the entity that negotiates with artists who have "crossed the line," not Culture officials. When I worked on Rotilla, I had to negotiate with Security. I'm an artist, an activist, if you will, not an infiltrator or a military officer. I shouldn't have to deal with the military.

Here in Cuba, Rotilla was the only thing, but in Miami there are many cultural options. Why do you think it will have an audience there?

Certainly, there are many options of all kinds. But many who have left are nostalgic for Cuba, the way we relate to each other and have fun. And they long for voices that reflect their reality.

For now it will only be a concert. We'll call it the Rotilla Festival because we want to hold an open-air event in the future. The theater only has 800 seats. I think there will be people left outside. There we have a lot more fans. With the movie we filled up a theatre and the Vedado Social Club. We have a powerful brand and top-level artists.

You speak of Los Aldeanos and El Sexto as top-level artists. Here they were banned. There the scene is very competitive, with many good artists. It's not enough to have a message of dissent. Will you be able to fill theaters there?

Miami is part of the USA, where the cultural offerings are overwhelming, but it is also a world apart. Its residents have maintained their culture, codes, values ​​and conflicts from the past. They have developed their own Hispanic television. There are three million Cubans there, and many listen to Los Aldeanos, Raudel (Escuadrón Patriota), and David D'Omni. Their concerts in Miami sell out. Los Aldeanos were a phenomenon and their audience is still there, even though they're not together any longer. El Sexto has a strong profile as an artist and as an activist. He speaks before the US Congress, and in Geneva. He has very powerful sponsors backing his work. That is visibility.

For these artists, Rotilla was a forum drawing them together. When Los Aldeanos could not play anywhere else, the doors were open at the Rotilla, despite the reprisals we suffered. Sometimes they didn't allow it. Once Omni was not allowed to play. They said it was 'a national security problem.'

Keeping the Festival alive means that we don’t go extinct, and that there is still a forum reflecting our reality. We don't want to do a concert with just beautiful songs and swing, but to remember the difficult situation in Cuba, in economic, legal, political and security terms.

Isn't because of the event's critical posture towards the Cuban Government that you will be able relaunch Rotilla in Miami? Would it be possible without that position?

There are many pro-government artists and groups there. La Colmenita went on a tour and sang the praises of los cinco [spies]. That was his right. Now, Miami is where exiles went who were banished from Cuba, or who fled it. It is not a place of economic exile. Even those who say they leave for economic reasons, essentially do so for political reasons. Here on the island there are restrictions that prevent me from doing what Chinese, English and even American entrepreneurs do. It’s apartheid. If I leave because I want to be a millionaire, or simply prosper, it is because here the laws prevent me from doing so. The underlying problem is political.

Miami exiles are, basically, anti-Communist and anti-Castro (...) If our politics were different, a large sector of Miami would surely criticize us, but that wouldn't spell the end of our project.

There exists an organization called Alianza Martiana made up of pro-Communist radio stations. Even in the most anti-Castro and anti-Communist city in the world, there are a lot of pro-Communist and pro-Castro entities. And they organize marches and demonstrations without being attacked or imprisoned. The FBI doesn't say 'you're going too far.' Even if we were neutral, we would have a place there. But not here.

Listening to you, your insistence on staying here is all the more incomprehensible.

I was born here. Cuba is my country, as much as it is Fidel Castro's. I have thought about leaving. I can't work here. I feel persecuted. But what I want is for my country to open up, and achieve some semblance of normality. It's frustrating that an Englishman can build a golf course here, and I can't even have a club. It's immoral, it's discrimination. Until recently we couldn't even enter a hotel, or have a cell phone. I think that almost all we Cubans who have opened our eyes want to be part of a change. Maybe that is part of what keeps me here.

Aren't you afraid that, given your statements, you'll be stopped from traveling to Miami?

The event will happen, and it will be very good. My friends will send me photos. I'll set up a parallel show, like all those of us who are not allowed out. At this point, silence is a greater sin than talking.

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