The Red Album


Gorki Aguila is blunt in his assessment of Fidel Castro's half-century of revolution: "Communism is a failure. A total failure. Please, leftists of the world—improve your capitalism! Don't choose communism!"

Aguila, a Havana resident, wears homemade anti-government T-shirts, frequently denounces the Castro brothers as geriatric tyrants, and heads up what may be Cuba's only explicitly political punk band, Porno Para Ricardo (Porn for Ricardo). Because of his belief in free speech—and his stubborn willingness to criticize the communist regime—he is routinely arrested. In 2009, tired of his anti-government music, the Cuban authorities made the rare decision to grant Aguila a visa to travel abroad, perhaps hoping he wouldn't return.

In September, Senior Editor Michael C. Moynihan caught up with Aguila on the Washington, D.C., leg of his American promotional tour. To see more, go to Translated from the Spanish by Ivan Osorio.

Q: Che Guevara banned saxophones, and the Cuban regime banned Beatles records. What is the regime's issue with rock and pop music?

A: For them, popular Cuban music—specifically jazz or rock—was not politically correct. It meant a deviation from their ideology. They knew that that music was very powerful for the transmission of ideas. And they saw it as a deviation from what they planned and wanted for the youth.

Q: How did you come across Western punk rock music in Cuba?

A: Among punk groups, I like the Sex Pistols a lot. I like Black Flag, the Clash, the Ramones. In Cuba it's been very difficult to get access to information, not only of an artistic nature, but of any kind. Information regarding music reaches Cuba about 10 years late. That's why I listened to bands like Led Zeppelin in the 1980s. Today, thanks to technology, it's a little easier gaining access to information on music. But it's still not easy.

Q: Explain the name of the band.

A: Porno Para Ricardo, to simplify, is the opposite of patria o muerte ["fatherland or death"]. The fatherland for me is an agglomeration, a collective. Ricardo stands for the individual. And pornography is pleasure, joy, life. Death is…death. So Porno Para Ricardo is the opposite of "fatherland or death."

Q: Explain why you were arrested most recently and what it was like being in a Cuban prison for, essentially, playing music.

A: We were recording our most recent album [El Disco Rojo, or The Red Album] when the police show up and arrest us and don't tell us why. Once at the police station, they tell me that it's for "pre-criminal behavior." That's something they routinely use against people like us, who are opposed to the regime. It's very easy; they don't have a solid pretext, so they use this law that is quite applicable to us, which is "social dangerousness."

Q: That's very punk rock, by the way, to be "socially dangerous."

A: (Laughs.) What happened on this one occasion was something that had no precedent in Cuba, to my knowledge. I was freed thanks to international pressure, thanks to the solidarity I got from outside the country, and within the country.

Q: How do you get people together to see you guys play without the regime's sanction?

A: That's very difficult. We play out at most once a year. It's very difficult for us to organize a concert. That's something that the government has taken from us. What we mostly do is record our CDs and give them away to the public.

Being a musician in Cuba is very difficult for those who are not intertwined with the authorities. Even for musicians who are tied in with the establishment, it's difficult.