Cuban newspaper breaks ground by publishing names of exiled Cuban artists nominated for Grammys

Ending a history in Cuba’s state-run news media of ignoring exiled musicians who criticize the government, the newspaper Trabajadores has published the full list of Cubans nominated for the Latin Grammys, including exiles.

The Granma newspaper, official voice of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba and entrenched redoubt of revolutionary orthodoxy, on Thursday published only the names of island residents nominated for the prizes, to be announced Nov. 21 in Las Vegas.

But Trabajadores, run by the state-controlled Confederation of Cuban Workers, published the names of all the dozen artists on Wednesday, reflecting both the shifts and the lack of significant changes taking place under the Raúl Castro government.

“Well how about that! Look how much we have advanced,” jazz musician Paquito D’Rivera joked in a phone interview with El Nuevo Herald. The 10-time Grammy winner said his awards have never been mentioned in Cuban media.

Trabajadores listed the nominated musicians living in the United States: D’Rivera, Albita and Arturo Sandoval, who have been vocally critical of the government, and others less critical to varying degrees: Chuchito Valdes, Amaury Gutierrez, Jorge Luis Piloto and Leslie Cartaya. It also listed Alex Cuba, who lives in Canada.

“It’s very nice of them to recognize that Cubans outside the country are also Cubans,” said Ileana Mateu, former wife and artistic representative of Chucho Valdes.

“These musicians were never mentioned before. They were erased from the map,” Mateu said from her home in New Jersey. “People on the street do remember them and talk about them, but for the government, it’s like they don’t exist.”

D’Rivera said he believes Castro government officials are seeking a reconciliation with exiled musicians and noted that an upcoming jazz festival in Havana has been dedicated to the late pianist Bebo Valdes, a harsh critic of the communist system.

“I believe in reconciliation among Cubans, but not with them in power,” he said. “You cannot reconciliate with someone who … who stoned your house, who separated you from your daughter for nine years.”

The difference between the Trabajadores and Granma reports appeared to reflect the clash of forces pushing both for and against an opening at the Ministry of Culture, arbiter of all artists and artistic functions on the island, from concerts to art exhibits.

Ministry officials indefinitely suspended fusion musician Roberto Carcasses earlier this month for asking for freedom of information and opinion and direct presidential elections during a concert, but backtracked a few days later amid a wave of protests.

And last summer, the government quietly ended the blacklist of exiled musicians banned from radio and TV for decades. Cubans have now heard Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan on the airwaves but never Willie Chirino, a vociferous critic of the government.

The island residents nominated for Latin Grammys were the Septeto Santiaguero; Miriam Ramos with Barbarito Torres, Ernán López-Nussa and Rolando Luna; and classical music composer Leo Brouwer.

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