In 1988 after feeling the separation from his children because of his work, the great British singer Rod Stewart composed the beautiful song “Forever Young.” Before releasing it, a member of his team noted that between the title (two words) and the central issue of love for his children there were important similarities with Bob Dylan’s homonymous song.
Noticing these similarities, Stewart had the immediate delicacy of contacting Dylan and discussing the subject. The Dylan and Stewart teams reached an agreement to share the royalties and Stewart donated his share of the profits to a charity. We all win with two great themes.
This example of how decent and educated people, cultured and good mannered, resolve the discrepancies in life brings to mind the story of the controversy that the Orishas group’s new song has unleashed, because the theme includes a good part of Silvio Rodríguez’s classic “Ojalá.”
In his prestigious blog Segunda Cita, the singer-songwriter has described Orishas’ action as “parasitism” and “flagrant copyright infringement.” Silvio clarifies that he was not consulted about the inclusion of his text in this song.
It is unfortunate that it has been so, that Orishas has not followed the appropriate patterns of behavior, because if Silvio Rodríguez has left an indelible mark on the art of Cuba as a nation and beyond borders, Orishas, distance apart, has touched the fiber of Cubans and their surroundings, with a fusion of genres, admired by many.
Even if it were to incorporate a text of Rodriguez’s song in an attempt to give it a resignification, why not follow Stewart’s paradigm with Bob Dylan and consult it?
Worse than what happened between the artists and the songs has been the reaction in the social media and the digital public sphere where, with the purpose of stirring up false controversies, egging on factions and political partisans, all standards of justice and decency have been thrown out the window.
A group discontent with the political trajectory―by the way, complex and nuanced―of the great poet that Silvio Rodríguez is, have taken it out with insults against he who is the undisputed owner of the lyrics intoned by singer Beatriz Luengo and incorporated into the theme by Orishas, “Ojalá pase.”
The authors of “Isla Bella,” a composition that touches Cubans’ patriotic fiber wherever they are, should distance themselves from that McCarthyite crowd that in the past also attacked Yotuel for defining himself as “pro-Castro” in an interview with Cubaencuentro in 2002 and talking proudly about their (of Orishas) lunch with Fidel Castro. With that unscrupulous pack, which doesn’t even understand the nuances of what Ruzzo defined as “constrictive social criticism” when defending them, the authors of “A lo cubano” don’t need adversaries. They were the same ones who took it out on the concert for peace organized by Juanes in Havana and all those who participated in it, including Orishas.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who besides being an American ambassador to the UN, under Nixon, was one of the most important intellectual Democratic senators, author of several social analysis books, clarified that one has the right to one’s interpretation, but not to one’s own actions.
Let’s start with the latter, which is indisputable. “Ojalá” was written by Silvio Rodríguez, and no matter what is interpreted by the political supporters of the new Orishas song for its denunciation of the Cuban government, in art and in life, there are ethical consensus and legal mandates that guide or should guide our social life.
These were the standards that inspired the paradigm that Rod Stewart followed and that if possible Orishas should emulate. An ounce of elegance in the apology is worth more than a pound of bravado. The world is not the politically motivated circus of intransigent anti-Castro websites.
Orishas and any Cuban have the right to political discrepancy and to denounce those who from their perspective “block the game of domino.”
There is a considerable number of Cubans who dissent, disagree and have the right to legitimately dispute the Communist Party of Cuba to govern a country of which they are also citizens. It is not about giving up one’s own ideas or the motives and feelings that can assist the cultivators of hip-hop fusion with traditional Cuban music; it’s simply that what’s not ours is respected.
In a way, the use by Orishas of the well-known lyrics of “Ojalá,” which by the way has a history in Rodriguez’s relationship with the public in search of dissenting codes, is a recognition of the fact that the history of the song in Cuba has a lot to say in the poetic footprint that Silvio has left.
It’s necessary to choose and to amend. Having that gallant gesture towards Silvio lets down the entire anti-Castro gang, which does not respect Cuba’s sovereignty and agrees with illegal intervention, the increasing sanctions under the Helms-Burton Act. That pack does not believe in international standards of law and justice, not even to organize political opposition, or to receive funds with transparency.
Totalitarianism is not just the censorship that the Cuban government has put into practice and that Ruzzo denounced for having “prohibited physical presence on major radio stations and on television because of the first record.”
Totalitarianism is also the campaign to impose on singers, from Gente de Zona for example, an anti-Castro militancy as a test of fire to live and exercise their art in Miami.
Totalitarianism is to put the political positions, those in favor and also those against the government, above family affiliations that, from a classic work like Antigone, art revealed as natural rights. It is asking for opponents or the government, license to exercise violence and harassment against those who are not their committed supporters. It is to expel someone from their work for their dissenting political ideas of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and also the McCarthyite apparatus that accuses, excludes, takes care and worries about the work of those who do not agree with their extremism in the United States to create fear. They are the anonymous denunciations without evidence, such as those of “communist agents,” which have also been used against Orishas, which are not resolved in a court of law.
In a polarized context like the Cuban, leaning and reproducing intransigence is easy, the greatness of Orishas would be to have the courage to agree, apologize and find a solution with Silvio.
If Silvio were not to accept it, then withdraw the song or amend it by giving another text to the beautiful voice of Beatriz Luengo. Again, let’s go to the facts: “Ojalá” is a song by Silvio Rodríguez not Orishas. “That sometimes losing is winning/that life has its own plan.”
Political development implies building a nonpartisan culture of standards. The formula of “for my enemies, the law; for those with whom I agree, whatever they want” does not lead to democracy.
What would the militants say in the attack against Silvio Rodríguez if tomorrow a singer committed to the PCC uses the same number of stanzas of “Ojalá” used in the song by Orishas in a tribute to Fidel Castro with lyrics of “Mi tierra” by Gloria Estefan?
Surely the same ones who defend the everything goes against Castroism, would go crazy with the plagiarism.
The resignification of classic themes such as “Forever Young” by Dylan, “Ojalá” by Silvio or “Mi tierra” by Estefan are valid, if as what occurred with Rod Stewart it is done with appropriate manners and within accepted standards of civility. The other is not art, but an easy gesture, red meat for the pack. Orishas has the talent and also the responsibility of being better than that. “Ojalá” (Let’s hope so).