The band and WiFi

Making culture in the 21st century.

The Municipal Band of Camagüey gives its concert every Friday night in Agramonte Park. The occasion brings together a handful of regulars, as well as foreign tourists and curious locals. In recent years the old musical group has renovated its members with graduates from the art schools, which has had a decisive impact on its professional work. Its programmes, now more ambitious, can include the overture of the opera Carmen and even dare to play passages of Bach’s Toccata and fugue in Re Minor, without this preventing it from making incursions into the Cuban danzones of Antonio María Romeu.

Until a short time ago, the majority of the persons present in the park on Friday nights went to listen to the open-air concert, now the musicians have a powerful rival: the centric park is one of the areas with wireless access to the Internet and more than a hundred persons concentrate there to connect to the miraculous Wi-Fi.

 

It is an almost silent crowd that brandishes telephones, laptops, tablets, in search of that privileged point where communication is supposedly faster and more stable. Accompanied by the band’s music, those who congregate there try to chat with the cousin who lives in Italy, make requests to the friends living in Mexico or simply enjoying online those implausible wrestling tournaments of the WWE or of the UFC. The former peanut or candy vendors have almost been completely replaced by those who offer Internet cards, which the State sells for 2 CUC, but some people hoard to sell at 3 or more, depending on the day, time and variations in the demand.

 

Something similar is occurring in the neighbouring Plaza de la Soledad, where the public takes up almost all the free space on the steps of its postmodern and not very functional park. There’s a small crowd on the corner. Someone has been able to make “face-to-face” contact with their daughter thanks to the benefits of the Skype programme. The daughter, who has been living for a short time in Hialeah, is chatting with her mother but she constantly asks for relatives and friends come to the small screen. She still isn’t acquainted with the new site and the form of communication helps to mitigate the nostalgias.

 

Until a short while ago only a similar number of persons could spontaneously meet in a public space if music brought them together, live or canned music. The WiFi areas in Camagüey and other parts of the country have generated unthinkable sociological modifications because, compared to what occurs in public concerts and the carnivals, it’s not a noisy crowd that lacks discipline, formed by more or less extensive groups who interact among themselves. What passers-by now see are small groups, not very noisy and many solitary persons concentrated on the screens of their devices, because each second is gold to communicate with others or to download films, books, news or applications from the web to improve their equipment.

 

Certain installations like the Café Ciudad, facing Agramonte Park, have seen the number of users exponentially increase. Getting one of its tables in the open air is a veritable feat. But the new public does nor consume alcoholic beverages and doesn’t make noise like the other that surrounds and besieges tourists. The newcomers barely consume a soft drink or a cup of coffee to justify their staying in the place where it is possible to sit down to enjoy the attractions of the Internet.

 

Even though the recent public appearance of Internet in Cuba is still very limited, it has already generated a considerable cultural change. For the first time a certain amount of citizens, not necessarily intellectuals, authorised officials, have gained awareness of the characteristics of the “global hamlet”. The borders in communication have been broken and access to the social media has allowed a less narrow vision of life.

 

On the other hand, while some in the sea of Google only admire certain floating waste, for others it is the opportunity of gaining access at high speed to the news, technological or art information that will have an influence on their professional work and private life. There’s no more waiting for the clipping from the other side of the world, the magazine or the paperback, or the record that would deteriorate as it passes from hand to hand.

 

The amount of persons who can pay for a cell phone line, buy a laptop or a tablet is still rather small compared to certain international standards, but it is undoubtedly increasing and the information a person obtains is multiplied exponentially in the following hours. Camagüey and all of Cuba will see in a very short time the effects of this change, equivalent to those produced by the coming to the island of the telephone and cinema.

 

Not everyone is optimistic with these transformations. A musician from the band confessed his fear that, in a not very short time, the concerts will be totally left without a public and will disappear in the end. A centuries-old tradition, which a traveler from the 19th century called “the opera of the poor,” would disappear without leaving a trace, replaced by a technology with apparently more attractive options. I reminded him that the emergence of cinema did not make theatre disappear, as the e-book did not totally ruin the printing of paper volumes. Now, a group of persons are living the fever of a new form of culture, which to the extent that it becomes generalised and its use becomes a daily thing, would be managed with less anxiety and would be allowed to coexist with older manifestations, because if it comes to it, daily culture is made with an integration of old and new things that unthinkably harmonize.

 

The Municipal Band of Camagüey can peacefully continue with its rehearsals and concerts. Music always finds the way of resisting in each stage of history. It should not be forgotten that its most distant predecessor, the Band of the Regiment of León, which got to the city in 1821, performed in a very different environment: that of a sleepy inland city whose only focus of culture was the Royal Audience established a few metres from the Plaza de Armas, which did not prevent that in the early 20th century Camagüey could offer the nascent Republic two notable composers and band founders: José Marín Varona and Luis Casas Romero, the latter also a pioneer of the radio in Cuba.

 

For this second decade of the 21st century it will be necessary to find our own attractive way of giving concerts, including the possibility of someone broadcasting them live or on video, thanks to the WiFi, for nostalgic friends or relatives in any part of the world. (2015)

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