Havana, 10 October (AFP) Every weekend, a new generation of rebels converges on downtown Havana, their tattoos, piercings, and dyed hair a world apart from the “new man” the island`s revolutionary leaders dreamed of.
They claim membership in a disparate band of urban tribes — “emos,” “screamos,” “repas,” “mikis,” “punks” and “freaks” — but come together on G Street, one of the capital`s main avenues, to drink, smoke, flirt, gossip and listen to the music that defines their clans. Cuba`s government once considered them “ideological deviants,” but has recently begun allowing these globalized rebels a small space of freedom — though still under the watchful eye of the police.
Gathering at midnight beneath statues of Latin American independence fighter Simon Bolivar and leftist hero Salvador Allende, several hundred mostly teenage revellers gather each weekend sporting creative tattoos, multiple piercings and gauged ears. Others wear leather or metal wristbands, or exotic post-punk hairstyles. In their cross-cutting fashion philosophy, “black is the new khaki.”
Under the raw light of streetlamps or in the shadows of the tree-lined median, they gather around MP3 players or cell phones playing hard rock, hip-hop, emo and reggaeton. They bear little resemblance to Havana`s postcard image of crumbling colonial buildings, classic American cars and salsa musicians decked out in white.
They are also a far cry from the revolutionary ideal of the selfless communist citizen that Che Guevara and Fidel Castro hoped to make the model for Cuba and the world after toppling dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and seizing power.But it is a well-behaved rebellion, with no fighting or loud music. This is still Cuba, after all, even if Fidel has relinquished power to his younger brother Raul and the island has started taking tentative steps toward reform.
A handful of police, both plainclothes and uniformed, keep an eye on the crowd. Nevertheless, the regime`s attitude has changed dramatically since the 1960s, when it persecuted young people who listened to the Beatles or Elvis — music labelled “counterrevolutionary”.
“There`s more tolerance now,” said Ruben Gutierrez, a self-described punk and G Street regular sporting six face piercings and several tattoos. The government has grown slowly more tolerant of “freaks,” or rock music fans, since the 1980s. In the early 2000s, police still chased fans of “enemy” (American) music away from G Street when they tried to gather there after the authorities closed their previous spot, a square near the Plaza de la Revolucion.
But in 2007, after carrying out a sociological study and deciding the young music lovers` worldview was compatible with communist ideology, the government began allowing them to stay on G Street. “This has been closely observed by the police and certain groups that carry out surveillance,” said Omar Padilla, a 30-year-old rocker with long hair. “There was a time when we couldn`t be here.”
But now, he said, “G is a kind of sanctuary for rockers. In reality it`s a bohemian life here, not just for rockers but for people from any urban tribe…. And yeah, you feel a little bit free.”The styles they embrace are the same ones that can be found on the streets of London, New York or Berlin.
Each tribe has its own space on G Street, but there are no signs of rivalry as they pass the night drinking rum and smoking cigarettes — plus a little pot — under the distant but constantly present gaze of the police. They include rockers, emos, punks, “repas” (hip-hop fans), “mikis” (pop fans) and “screamos” (a mix of punk and emo, according to adherents).
Their conversations range from music to literature to technology to fashion to love — but politics is absent. “They share the Cuban population`s disbelief and mistrust in political institutions, which they don`t consider spaces for mobilization or social transformation,” said psychologist Daybel Panellas of the University of Havana, who has studied the groups.
Pedro Luis Fernandez, a 17-year-old emo, described G Street as a place “to meet people who think like you, who like the same music and look the same.” Jorge Herrera, a 16-year-old “freak,” had more concrete goals: “We came to meet girls and get lucky if possible,” he said. “When you don`t have money to go to a club, you come to G,” said Pedro Tumbarell, a 21-year-old “screamo” by night and nursing student by day.