Ibeyi: Afro-Cuban Religion Meets Experimental Pop

When it comes to mixing the old with the new, nobody does it quite like Ibeyi. The group, made up of twin sisters from a French-Cuban family, draws on Afro-Cuban religious chants to make experimental pop music, with tinges of hip-hop and electronic music. It’s proven to be a winning combo. Ibeyi has been getting a lot of love from audiences and music critics alike in the months since the band’s self-titled debut album dropped.

Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz are in their early 20s, and come from what you call Cuban music royalty. Their father, Angá Díaz, played conga in the Buena Vista Social Club and is considered to be one of the all-time greatest percussionists in Latin music. He passed away when the twins were just 11 years old, leaving an ocean of grief in their tight-knit family. A few years later, their older sister died suddenly as well.

These tragedies brought compelled the girls to begin making music together as an outlet for their grief. The music that naturally came out included the Yoruba-language songs and rhythms from the Cuban folk religion they grew up practicing, known as santería or la regla de ochá—musical traditions closely related to the cycle of life and death.

Maria Hinojosa got a chance to sit down and chat with Lisa and Naomi backstage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, before their 2015 sold-out show in Brooklyn.

Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

The Complexities of Tania León

Composers like Tania León infuse their work with Caribbean instruments, Yoruba rhythms, and atonal piano work: elements that make their music a much more global experience.

Tania’s compositions and operas have been performed internationally. They have received countless awards from places like ASCAP and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Grammy and Latin Grammy nominated León was the first musical director and a founding member of Arthur Mitchell’s famous Dance Theatre of Harlem and has been a visiting professor at Yale, the University of Michigan and others.

At 72 years old, there is no sign of López slowing down. She assembled a month-long music festival called Composers Now featuring New York-based composers of all kinds. Plus. she collaborated on an opera with Harvard African-American Studies professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., about the Little Rock Nine–the group of black students who bravely enrolled at a white high school in Arkansas in the 1950s.

Born in Havana in the 1943, Tania León was classically trained, but Afro-Cuban music and other Cuban traditions, as well as a variety of postmodern musical forms have always found a way into her unique style. She sat down with Maria Hinojosa to talk about her life and her work.

Photo courtesy of Ernesto Mora

After Transforming Church’s Role in Cuba, Longtime Havana Cardinal Steps Down

Top Story — Cardinal Jamie Ortega, the longtime leader of the Catholic Church in Cuba and a key player in the clandestine negotiations that resulted in resumed diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, stepped down on Tuesday. His retirement was expected, and he will be replaced by Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez as Havana’s archbishop, the Associated Press reported.

Ortega, 79, had been the Archbishop of Havana since 1981 and is credited with passing along letters from the Vatican to U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro urging them to reach a political détente.

Ortega also oversaw three papal visits to Cuba and served during a period in which, according to The New York Times, “the church became the only institution outside the government with any sway on the island.”

In the years since Ortega assumed his position, the church has expanded its influence into areas formerly dominated by the state and encouraged the government to accelerate economic reforms. In contrast with the marginalization that followed the revolution in 1959, the church is now expanding in both size and scope, offering social services like job training.

Ortega faced criticism, especially among the Cuban exile community, for allegedly not doing enough to support Cuba’s dissidents, including notably calling a group of activists “delinquents” in one case. The Miami Herald suggests Ortega sought a greater role for the church in Cuba at the expense of fully supporting pro-democracy efforts by dissidents.

Ortega’s retirement comes amid a generally chilly backlash from the Cuban government following the positive hype surrounding Obama’s visit to Havana last month. On March 28 former Cuban President Fidel Castro wrote a rare open letter in the state-run newspaper Granma, warning, “we don’t need the empire to give us anything.”

Revolutionary rhetoric also predominated at Cuba’s Communist Party Congress earlier this month, when President Raúl Castro announced he and other top party leaders would remain in power for at least another five years. The overriding message of the party congress was of continuity, and of improving upon Cuban socialism even in light of economic reforms and warmer relations with the United States.

In choosing García as Havana’s new archbishop, Pope Francis did not specify whether he expected him to follow Ortega’s political example and continue to advocate for change.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

Following a scathing report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding Mexico’s investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 teacher-trainee students in Guerrero state, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on Tuesday expressing concern over “the many challenges and obstacles reported by the experts” and urging the Mexican government to take the group’s recommendations “into serious consideration.”

The United Nations issued its statement on the same day that The New York Times published an editorial that detailed Mexico’s botched investigation into the disappearances and condemned “the government’s lack of political will to reform judicial institutions and its callousness toward its citizens.”

Caribbean

The U.S. Congress will not agree on a fiscal rescue plan for Puerto Rico ahead of a $422 million debt payment it owes on May 1, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday, adding that there are no guarantees of a bailout for the territory before a $2 billion payment is due July 1, after which the island’s government could be sued by some bondholders.

Central America

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales on Tuesday repudiated the claim by Belize’s government that its soldiers shot to death a 13-year-old Guatemalan in self-defense in an incident on the border between the two countries. The resulting border crisis, stemming from long-standing tensions, has prompted troop deployments and a request for an mediation by the Organization of American States.

Union groups in Costa Rica launched a nationwide strike across public schools and health services on Tuesday, as thousands of school and medical workers marched to Congress with demands that included salary increases, higher taxes on the wealthy and land rights for peasants.

Andes

On Tuesday, Venezuela’s electoral council decided to begin collecting signatures in order to initiate a petition to eventually recall President Nicolás Maduro, a far-from-certain prospect given the many hurdles involved.

In an attempt to manage Venezuela’s ever-growing energy crisis, President Nicolás Maduro announced that public employees will only work two days a week for at least the next two weeks in order to save energy.

Southern Cone

Brazil’s health ministry announced that 230 people have died of swine flu in the past year, 70 of them in the past week, prompting a national campaign of free vaccinations.

Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, who may assume the presidency in the coming weeks, has drafted an ambitious economic rescue program that would seek to regain investor confidence by, among other things, replacing the board of the central bank which has been accused of irresponsibly targeting growth at the risk of inflation, three sources told Reuters.

The remains of the Nobel-prize winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda were finally reburied in his former home of Isla Negra after being exhumed three years prior in order to conduct an investigation into whether he was poisoned or died of natural causes, the results of which will be released next month.

Argentina’s state-run oil company YPF will export oil for the first time in two years next month, taking advantage of a new subsidy which seeks to spur drilling despite a collapse in crude prices.

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Cuba to Introduce Broadband Internet Pilot Program

Top Story — The Cuban government will roll out broadband Internet service in two neighborhoods in Havana, the director of the state telecommunications company ETECSA announced on Sunday night. The pilot program, referred to as an “important milestone” by The Associated Press, will allow citizens in one of the least digitally connected countries in the world to access the web from their homes for the first time.

Providing Internet connectivity in Cuba was one of the goals set by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration since the two countries re-established diplomatic relations in Dec. 2014. The announcement on Sunday night came on the same day that The Washington Post, in an editorial, cited Cuba’s persistently low connectivity rates as evidence that Obama’s plan to open the country up to democracy was “failing to live up to its declared goals.”

At present, only diplomats and Cubans who work for foreign companies are allowed to have broadband Internet access in their homes. The connections are notoriously slow and cost hundreds of dollars in monthly fees.

The Cuban government introduced broadband Internet service to the general public for the first time last year, with the creation of dozens of WiFi hotspots. The service, however, costs $2 an hour — one-tenth the average monthly salary in Cuba.

ETECSA Director Odalys Rodríguez del Toro said the pilot program will allow residents in Havana’s city center to order broadband service through Chinese telecom operator Huawei. The offer of broadband service will also extend to cafes, bars and restaurants. During her Sunday-night announcement, del Toro added that Cuba will double the number of WiFi hotspots this year by opening 30 new ones in Havana.

Del Toro, however, did not specify a timeline for the pilot program or the price that Havana residents should expect to pay for broadband service.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

Mexican authorities carried out a police raid at the U.S.-Mexico border — where an armed group was allegedly trafficking drugs and smuggling migrants to the United States — arresting 22 members of the powerful Sinaloa cartel and shooting and killing two after the suspects opened fire on Mexican federal police, according to a statement issued Sunday.

In Mexico’s Guerrero state, at least 11 have been killed after unknown assailants opened fire on a 15-year-old’s birthday party.

On Friday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto officially changed the name of his country’s capital city to Ciudad de Mexico, or CDMX, instead of the previous Distrito Federal. The official rebranding is part of the effort to give the city more independence from the government.

New York City lawyers, consultants and publicists are profiting from Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, as well-connected firms are earning millions in fees for handling the island’s financial-restructuring process, the New York Post reports.

Caribbean

Puerto Rico proposed a plan to restructure its debt on Friday that includes giving major creditors new bonds worth on average 54 percent of their current ones. If enacted, the plan would cut the island’s debt service from 36 percent of the budget to 15 percent.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, the head of the U.N. mission to Haiti rejected accusations that the international community is interfering in the country’s electoral crisis, but said Haiti’s move to indefinitely postpone presidential and legislative elections was a “step backward.”

Central America

El Salvador’s former President Francisco Flores, who had been under house arrest on charges of embezzling money intended for the victims of his country’s 2001 earthquake, died Sunday after suffering a brain hemorrhage at 56 years old.

In an effort to exterminate mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, El Salvador has deployed fumigation machines throughout the country, where some 6,000 people have already been infected with the virus. The World Health Organization will meet today to decide whether to declare a global emergency over the outbreak of Zika virus in the Americas.

Andes

A top FARC leader said in an interview Sunday that members of the rebel group will pursue political roles in the wake of a peace agreement, which he emphasized will require broad-reaching collaboration.

The Colombian National Health Institute revealed data in an epidemiological paper
about the reach of the Zika virus, with 2,100 pregnant women infected and 20,297 total confirmed cases in the country.

Members of the Venezuelan navy entered Colombia Saturday, leading to gunfire with local police near the Arauca river, an incident the Colombian Foreign Ministry said it is investigating with Venezuelan authorities.

Southern Cone

The daughter-in-law of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was charged with corruption on Friday along with 12 others for allegedly evading $165,000 in taxes under her firm Caval, a scandal that has further damaged the popularity of Bachelet’s administration.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri has committed to expand efforts to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, fractured the country’s diplomatic relationship with Iran and continues to be a politically charged issue in the country.

Two people were shot and killed late Saturday during pre-carnival celebrations in Brazil, G1 reported, when attackers opened fire on street crowds in Rio de Janeiro and Brasília.

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Obama Relaxes Rules on Cuba Trade as Tourism Surges

Top Story – As of today, Cuba will be able to import U.S. goods on credit for the first time since the start of an economic embargo in 1962.

The Obama administration announced the change on Tuesday, enabling U.S. financing of non-agricultural goods to the island on a case-by-case basis. Prior to today’s shift, most U.S. imports were paid for in Cuba in cash or through a third party, a process the New York Times described as “costly and burdensome.”

An economic embargo remains in place, subject to the control of the U.S. Congress. The shift comes two weeks after Obama called on Congress to “recognize that the Cold War is over,” and end the embargo. Despite the intransigence of Congress, the Obama administration has made several recent, additional steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba, including a statement by Obama expressing his desire to visit the island nation before his term ends.

The administration nonetheless continues to highlight concerns over human rights, political expression and entrepreneurial freedom in Cuba. They urge the Cuban government to implement reforms that would increase economic independence, freedom of expression and access to the Internet.

Meanwhile, other major changes are coming to the island as tourism has increased overall by 17.4 percent since the Dec. 2014 restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. Visits from the United States by non-Cuban-Americans have also jumped by 77 percent. The overwhelmed tourist infrastructure may have an easier time keeping up with booming demand as U.S. goods face fewer restrictions on their way to the island.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

Mexico’s Jalisco state became the fourth jurisdiction in the country where gay couples can be legally married after the Supreme Court ruled against language in a Jalisco state law that defined marriage as between a man and woman.

A Mexican Health Ministry official said there is “no justification” to ask women to delay getting pregnant due to the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil and recently spread to the United States.

Meanwhile, Obama met with public health and national security officials about the virus Tuesday and has called for expedited research in order to help diagnose, prevent and treat it.

The Texas city of El Paso has approved a plan to prepare for the visit in February by Pope Francis to the adjacent Mexican city of Juárez, which could cost El Paso more than $1 million even though the pontiff will remain on the Mexican side of the border.

Caribbean

Haiti’s former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has enjoyed growing influence in his country since he returned from exile in 2011, according to Reuters, and may serve as a kingmaker in an ongoing electoral dispute.

Puerto Rico is scheduled to hold debt-restructuring talks with representatives from several bondholder groups on Jan. 29, in an attempt to decide what to do with the island’s $70 billion of bonds, a process further complicated since the U.S. territory has over a dozen types of bonds it must negotiate simultaneously.

Central America

Costa Rica has detected its first case of the Zika virus in a 25-year-old man who had visited Colombia.

The United Nations and Panama’s Foreign Ministry hosted a workshop Tuesday for representatives to take part in a truth commission that will investigate the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, in which a disputed number of civilians were killed.

Andes

On Tuesday, Alberto Fujimori, the former President of Peru, was transferred back to prison, where he is serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses, after a medical scare necessitated his transfer to a hospital.

Henry Ramos, the head of the opposition-led Venezuelan congress, said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect current President Nicolás Maduro to complete his current term, adding he believes Maduro might be replaced this year.

In response to decreased global oil prices, Venezuela’s state-owned hydrocarbon company PDVSA is seeking to attract more investment from international oil companies.

Southern Cone

In order to combat the spread of the Zika virus, the Brazilian government will be deploying 220,000 troops trained to raise awareness about the virus throughout the country.

Brazilian police on Wednesday executed several search warrants in the states of São Paulo and Santa Catarina, including in the hometown and headquarters of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the latest phase in an ongoing nationwide investigation into corruption.

On Tuesday, Argentine officials ordered LATAM Airlines workers, who belong to the country’s commercial airline worker’s union, to cease striking and return to work as pay negotiations resume.

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Yoani Sánchez: Blogging For Free Speech In Cuba

More and more, our global society is measuring a country’s degree of freedom by its treatment of the Internet, and Cuba has some of the most restrictive Internet access in the world. There is only one internet provider, the cost is prohibitive for most citizens, and most anti-government content is blocked. So for Cuban technophile Yoani Sanchez to continue to publish her now infamous blog Generación Y, which is fiercely critical of her government’s censorship and authoritarianism, is to continue to face risk.

Host Maria Hinojosa sat down with Yoani Sanchez where they talked about her passion for technology, the motivation behind her work, and the deep love she has for her country.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

YASUYOSHI CHIBA:AFP:Getty Images

Yoani Sanchez graduated from the University of Havana. She returned to Cuba from a stay in Switzerland, where she began blogging on Generation Y. Her blog is widely translated around the world.

Baseball’s International Neighbors

Despite Cuba’s track record of culling baseball talent, players on the island still make about as much money as an average construction worker. So it’s not surprising that one of their best players, 26-year-old center fielder Rusney Castillo, has defected from his home country in the hopes of signing with a Major League team in the U.S. This comes just months after Cuba’s recent change in policy allowing its players to sign with foreign leagues. But with the U.S. embargo on Cuba still on the books, Cuba will have to do much more to keep its star sluggers from leaving home and heading to the fame and fortune of the American dugout.

 

Photo by Wikimedia user Ramon.Rovirosa

 

 

RACISM IN CUBA

Since 1959, the Cuban government has combatted racial discrimination. Officially all Cubans had the same opportunities.  But since the harsh economic times in the 1990s, black Cubans complain of increasing racial discrimination. Reese Erlich reports from Havana on this controversial issue.

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Reese Erlich is a best-selling book author and freelance journalist who writes regularly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio, Marketplace Radio and National Public Radio.

LESBIANS IN CUBA

After the 1959 revolution, being gay in Cuba was considered counter-revolutionary. LGBT Cubans were jailed and harassed because of their sexual identity. Hear from two lesbians talk about their life on the island since the Revolution.

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Von Diaz is a multimedia journalist based in New York City. Her reporting focuses on immigration, Cuba, and LGBT issues. She was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Atlanta, GA. She is a Feet in Two Worlds fellow, and has published her work on PRI’s The World, WNYC, and New American Media.

CUBAN HIP HOP

While the hip hop movement in Cuba has been developing for many years, women rappers have struggled to make inroads. One of the few to break through has been Telmary Diaz. Though she now lives outside of the island, her music focuses on her experiences as a Cuban woman.

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Telmary Diaz, better known as Telmary, is an award-winning Toronto-based Cuban rapper, musician, and spoken-word artist. In 2007 she released her first solo album A Diario to rave reviews. She made her film debut in “Todas las noches terminan en el Malecon” by Cecilia Araujo (Brazil 2001), and her feature debut in “Musica Cubana” by German Krall (2004). She has also worked to the 2005 Spanish film “Habana Blues” by Benito Zambrano, and contributed the soundtrack of the 2002 Italian film “MalaHabana” by Guido Giansoldatti.