‘Hard Rock Havana’: Could heavy metal music change Cuba?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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In eulogizing the great 20th century Czech revolutionary and playwright, Rolling Stone observed: “It took a Czechoslovakian rock band that worshipped Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground to make Vaclav Havel realize the true power of rebellion.”

Could music help usher in a a similar “Velvet Revolution” some 90 miles south of Miami? According to Nicholas Brennan, director of a forthcoming documentary Hard Rock Havana, a thriving heavy metal scene has created an outlet for rebellion and free expression.

While the U.S. government funds Radio Marti as part of an overt attempt to undermine the Castro regime, the best propaganda often isn’t propaganda at all. A prime example of this, Brennan told me, comes from Diony Arce, the lead singer of the Zeus (the most legendary metal band in Cuba) who is profiled in the film.

When Arce was a kid, Brennan explains, he would walk on the beach to the northern most point in Havana “holding a radio up into the air to try to get the reception from Miami — where he was hearing these sounds that they’d never heard before — you know, Metallica, Pantera, coming through the radio signals from Miami.”

Could rock music be one of America’s great exports? To paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, politics might literally be (90 miles) downstream from culture.

(Support the ‘Hard Rock Havana’ kickstarter campaign here.)

“The big question,” Brennan says, “is what creates a space for an actual change?” And in that regard, he credits “the arts and cultural world,” noting that “the intellectuals are creating a space to have that conversation on the island.”

Brennan believes that in Cuba, heavy metal is about more than just blowing off some steam. “These are some of Cuba’s loudest citizens,” he says.

Listen to my full conversation with Hard Rock Havana director Nicholas Brennan here. And download the podcast on iTunes.

And check out the trailer: