Friendlier Obama tune on Cuba brings musical détente

December 5, 2009

President Barack Obama’s softer approach to U.S.–Cuba relationships is paying dividends, culturally. Well-known Cuban musicians are starting to make their way into the U.S. for tours and are finding it easy to get their visas as well.

Omara Portuondo is one such artiste who was in America recently. The 79-year-old diva was invited to help host the Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas. If the ceremony took place several months back, the Bush administration would never have allowed it. Soon after Portuondo’s visit, another legend in the form of Septeto Nacional toured the States. The manager of Septeto Nacional has this to say, “Everywhere we played it was packed. The main newspapers in the U.S. wrote about our work. The atmosphere was very positive, even in Miami.”

Even though there is a general ban in place for Americans with regard to travel to Cuba, the musical theme seems to be affecting everyone. R&B band Kool and the Gang is scheduled to play there on December 19-22 after obtaining special permission from immigration authorities. “Although it is still too early to tell whether this amounts to a significant shift in policy, it indicates that the U.S. and Cuba are continuing to reduce bilateral tensions in subtle but important ways,” said Cuba expert Dan Erikson.

Although there is no sign of the 47-year old embargo being lifted, Obama’s attempt at better relations with Cuba has included lifting restrictions on family visits by Cuban Americans to the island bringing much needed emotional relief and joy to those suffering from a fragmented family.