After political controversy crept into the midst, a local concert was canceled last weekend featuring Cucu Diamantes, a well-known Cuban singer who has collaborated with music celebrities such as Fatboy Slim, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Orishas, and Beto Cuevas.
Diamantes was scheduled to perform at Union City High School’s opening day gala on Sept. 26. A concert did go on with other entertainers, but activists had threatened to protest Diamantes’ previous involvement in a “Paz sin Fronteras” (Peace Without Borders) concert that had taken place in Havana, Cuba a few days earlier.
“We must cancel the contract, due to your client’s recent performance at the ‘Paz Sin Fronteras’ in Cuba.” – Union City school board attorney Susanne Lavelle
Before the event, representatives for Diamantes received a letter from Union City Board of Education attorney Susanne Lavelle informing them, “We must cancel the contract, due to your client’s recent performance at the Paz Sin Fronteras in Cuba, [because] our community, which is comprised of approximately 85 per cent Cuban immigrants, became enraged at the thought of the high school supporting an artist who would perform in Cuba.”
The letter went on to say: “The community perceived Ms. Diamantes’ performance in Cuba as support of the current political regime in Cuba. The community came together and threatened civil unrest, protests, and the like at the grand opening gala if the high school went ahead with its plans to allow Ms. Diamantes to perform.”
Lavelle confirmed last week that the letter was sent from her office. She said Diamantes was paid her full performance fee even though she did not appear.
“So she pretty much got paid for doing nothing,” said Lavelle. The attorney would not disclose the amount.
Lavelle said she did not know the exact number of complaints received. “I was told that various [town] commissioners received numerous complaints,” said Lavelle.
Diamantes is not happy that she was disinvited.
“I think the Board of Education in Union City, New Jersey, should teach and make aware to new generations about the freedom of expression, tolerance, and the diversity of opinions,” said Diamantes last Friday in a Spanish message translated to English.
Celebrity singer Juanes, who headlined the concert in Cuba, wrote about the incident on his Twitter page on Sept. 26.
“What kind of example of education they want to leave? Such a negative message. And at that, that we’re in USA where there is ‘freedom,’ ” Juanes wrote.
When he posted the link to an Associated Press article about the incident, Juanes then followed it with a message: “That is for those that speak of repression and lack of freedom…even more shameful coming from a school. Total absurdity.”
Cuban residents from UC and WNY speak
“I’m very happy that Cubans were able to enjoy a concert,” said Yanet Carballido, a West New York resident working in Union City who came from Cuba six years ago. “After all, they rarely get to see something like it.”
She added, “Usually, Cubans in the island only get to see the same local artists. I think it’s unfair that they wouldn’t let [Diamantes] perform at the school.”
Carballido said she felt that it was generally the older generation of Cubans who were against the concert in Havana.
“Did they make a petition? How do they know that the majority of Cubans were against her singing here?” said Alexi Rodriguez, a West New York resident who came from Cuba 10 years ago.
Nearby, listening in on the conversation, was a Cuban man who interrupted and sang “Juanes has a red shirt,” in the tone of the singer’s famous song “La Camisa Negra,” (the black shirt).
The man didn’t want to reveal his identity, but said that he thought there shouldn’t have been a concert in Cuba in the first place: “The concert is for peace. If you notice, there’s no war in Cuba. What war is there? Now if you think about Colombia, where Juanes is from, they have terrorism going on there. They should have gone there to sing, not Cuba.”
“What does politics have to do with music?” said Rodolfo Coello, a Cuban living in Union City. He said he had a brother and cousins who didn’t think there was anything wrong with the concert in Cuba or with Diamantes singing in Union City, and that he thought other Cubans would feel the same way.
Melissa Rappaport may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org