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Spreading Cuba's musical rebellion by way of Pa.

Plus, the perils of apple picking in Pittsburgh.


October 7, 2022
Inside this edition: Gold leaf, cheat sheets, familiar faces, hometown study, the Jackal, wrong senators, and a Pennsylvania-made archive of Cuban punk. 

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(Samuel Reina Calvo, via Carmen Torre Pérez)

Carmen Torre Pérez brought some of Cuba’s heaviest music to the internet as a graduate student in Philadelphia.

Torre Pérez spent years cataloging Cuba’s punk and metal scenes for her dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania, creating the first dedicated archive and, in the process, uploading recordings of the bands she discovered to the world wide web via sites like Bandcamp. 

That kind of platforming is easily obtainable for many American musicians, but it isn’t for those in Cuba, where internet access is more expensive and limited. 

Torre Pérez, pictured at right, estimates there are between 20 and 30 punk bands on the island of 11.3 million people now. They are the mantle-bearers of a scene that took shape in the Special Period, a time of economic crisis in Cuba that began with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and lasted for a decade. 

American media has noticed Cuban punk.

Radiolab, in a 2015 episode on the movement known as "los frikis" or "the freaks," described a group of "80s Cuban misfits who found rock-and-roll and created a revolution within a revolution, going into exile without ever leaving home."

"Los frikis" are also the subject of a forthcoming film by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, the writers/directors behind The Peanut Butter Falcon

But no one ever made a literal roadmap of Cuban punk and thrash music like Torre Pérez did. (Click the map for band info, track samples, and more.)

Her dissertation treated the bands as a window into the nation’s socio-political history. And her related research revealed historical records — in this case musical recordings — in urgent need of preservation.

So she gathered the audio she could and posted digital versions, explaining, "otherwise these recordings would be stored in a very precarious way and could potentially be lost in the future."

The archive includes bands like the impeccably named Punk FloydBarrio AdentroWe Bite!!!Rotura, and a 30-year-old album by Detenidos.

(Samuel Reina Calvo, via Carmen Torre Pérez)

With a few exceptions — including a band named Porno para Ricardo, the members of which were detained in Cuba upon returning from a Miami show in 2016, demonstrating the limits also imposed on physical exports of Cuban punk — the bands Torre Pérez included in her archive would not have been easily findable to internet users in the rest of the world before.

(Porno para Ricardo has a Spotify page.)

A native of Spain, where her father owned a heavy metal club, Torre Pérez has become an ambassador for Cuba’s resilient and extremely DIY punks, as well as the young musicians who have fueled the scene during crackdowns and decades of economic and cultural isolation.

There’s always been some form of cultural exchange between America and Cuba, even when opposed by the governments involved. (Torre Pérez said smuggled cassette tapes that brought rock music to the island have been replaced by more efficient USB devices.) 

But while the Cuban government’s attitude toward rock music softened after the Special Period ended in 2000, marking a chapter of relative normalization for subgenres like punk, Torre Pérez said the island is now facing its worst economic crisis in decades, and tensions are rising:

“This economic crisis is kind of pushing the buttons of a lot of people, and that’s lit the fuse of a newer punk generation. People are angrier now than they were before, I would say.”

Torre Pérez, who recently relocated from Philadelphia — home of festivals like Latin Punk and YallaPunk — to Boston, is pondering the future of Cuban punk. Her archive is available to anyone considering its past. 

"People sometimes will email me and say they've seen my site or they've read an article that I've been in, or something like that, and it makes me really happy because that's exactly what I want," she explained. "I want to spread the word and spread awareness that these bands exist..."

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor

Here's how to help Cuba's hurricane victims, via PBS.

A PA Local sticker in the wild. Thanks for sharing, Kimberly D. Send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

Clarion Borough in Clarion County calls itself The Autumn Leaf Capital of the World, and its annual Autumn Leaf Festival just wrapped up.

Here's the state's fall foliage forecast for your neck of the woods.

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