Famous Cuban artists who left the island over the last decade are returning to their homeland of late to put on concerts and connect with Cuban fans.
The homecoming represents a new era in the history of communist Cuba, which over the last 60 years saw the trend of musicians often losing connection to their homeland after their exodus. Indeed, Cuban musicians often found themselves criticized for looking for better opportunities in countries like the United States.
The duet of the Valdivia brothers, Kelly and and Ellis, who go by the names “Kelly” and “Bonny” respectively, left Cuba in 2006 for the Dominican Republic and Spain. But Cuban concert halls and public squares are also showcasing their rhythm. The brothers recently returned to the island and even began working for state company EGREM Recording Studios in Havana.
The return of these artists comes at a time when the government of President Raul Castro has undertaken reforms to update the traditional Cuban economic model. Reforms have included a more flexible immigration bill that is making the entrance and exit of Cubans abroad easier.
Speaking to Reuters, one of the brothers exhibited a lack of enmity with the Cuban island.
“This return is after about six years, six, seven years [of being away]. [I’m] thrilled to belong to the Musicuba catalogue, our company EGREM, Musicuba and work for our fans, which is really where we are coming from. We have always raised the Cuban flag with pride, but you know, the artist belongs to the world and always has to be willing to work everywhere. And we are delighted to represent Cuba anywhere in the world,” said one of the singers from the duet Bonny and Kelly, 32-year-old Ebblis Valdivia.
But their decision to return has revived old grudges by a community of exiled Cubans living in Florida, many of whom emigrated after the revolution led by former Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1959.
Recently, Cuban musicians have received threats by exiled hardliners who have sought to hinder some of their shows in Miami as a form of punishment for engaging with Castro-ite Cuba. Regardless, more and more Cubans on the island are successfully performing in the United States.
“These days there’s the tendency to be more and accepting. The old tensions like the the one between the the U.S. and Cuba is an old way of thinking. And so with music, music has contributed to better understanding.” said the other brother, 32-year-old Kelly Valdivia.
Another performer who has returned to the island is salsa musician Isaac Delgado, who in 2007 moved to the United States.
He explained the importance of maintaining a link with your homeland, even if it can never be home again.
“When we are away from where we come from, our family, our people, well, it’s hard even though people don’t think it is, or it is at least for artists and singers. We need to breathe this Cuban air. And so what we have simply done, or many of us, or at least in my case, is not having played music in eight years. but now what I am doing is returning to Cuba to perform, but no never, never is my country part of my life and so what I think, or what most of us thinks is that we are here for only a visit,” he said.
Delgado, who shot to fame with his classic version of Celia Cruz’s “La Vida es un Carnaval” (Life is a Carnival) and was nominated in 2001 for a Grammy Award, traveled with his family abroad late in 2006 and did not return to Cuba. His group of 11 musicians then returned to Cuba.
“Honestly, what I most want is for all the people I have met over the years outside of Cuba, who are immensely talented, is to come here and test their abilities, and show and teach what they have learnt outside. I think that’s the most logical thing and what I wish for the most and I think it is imminent. I think this is encouraging people to come to Cuba, and it’s all about what people want in their hearts, whether it’s love for your country, family and the desire to express it in your home country, which is what I think is the ideal situation to not have any fear about saying and expressing what you feel,” he added.
Until now, after Cuban musicians emigrated their music was no longer played on state radio and television. But Mario Escalona, CEO of state EGREM Recording Studios, told Reuters that their policy has always struck a different chord.
“Cuba has its doors open and we [EGREM] as an institution in all our years of working with musicians have never shut our doors on musicians, they’ve always been open,” Escalona said recently.
And Cubans are thankful for their return.
“What matters is art, above all else, to enjoy what is good,” said 41-year-old photographer Martha Iris Perez.
Luis Rondon, a 32-year-old actor, said enthusiastically: ” “I see that it’s good, that they are here sharing with us again. It’s good because we like their music, apart from the reason why they left in the first place and now they return and they are now sharing with us Cubans.”
Among the most popular artists starting to return to the island are songwriters Raul Paz Raul Torres, Elain Morales, David Torrens, Vanito Brown, among others.