If punk is freedom, then Porno Para Ricardo is the world’s ultimate punk band.
In 15 years, Porno Para Ricardo has established itself as Cuba’s loudest, bravest and most important dissident voice in music. They have produced seven albums by themselves on an island where the government treats them like an enemy, and despite arrests and pressure from the thumb of censorship, the band has broken in new generations of fans and kept the faith among the old ones. They’ve even managed to carry their unique take on music and politics far beyond the island’s shores, although they can’t travel or perform in public.
We caught up with two members of the band, lead singer Gorki Aguila and guitarist Ciro Diaz, in Mexico City while they rehearsed and awaited word on whether or not the remaining members of the band would be able to join them for a European tour, the first time the band would be able to play together outside of Cuba. They were optimistic, but also far from certain that the gig would go off as planned.
And for good reason. It’s been a tough road for these artists. The Castro administration is constantly attempting to silence the band as the band’s popularity and international media attention continues to grow. Band members face a constant threat of arrest. Gorki Aguila spent two years in prison from 2003 to 2005 after he was first arrested on trumped up drug charges. Then in 2008 officials moved to a charge of “being a danger to society.”
In fact, just last month, after returning to Cuba from his trip to Mexico City and Europe depicted in this mini-doc, Gorki was arrested yet again. He is awaiting sentencing in Cuba over two pills that he says a Mexican doctor prescribed for his epileptic disorder. Friends are gathering information from his family and doctors in Mexico that could help him.
For Cubans, just making contact with the band is a risk. “There are people that have been kicked out of their universities just for having our music on their hard drives,” says Ciro Diaz.
Even Javier Dorantes, the filmmaker behind this project and a foreigner, was detained and questioned by what he describes as “hard, nameless authority figures.”
“I knew it was going to be harder for the people who were helping me while I was in Cuba,” he says.
That sense of difficulty is something that the band deals with regularly. They accept the consequences of thinking and acting the way they choose, and backed by a little bit of hope and a whole lot of passion, they plan to continue.
Sometimes the optimism pays off. The two band members who were in Mexico were able to travel to Europe for the band’s performance at two Polish music festivals and in other European shows. It was the first time the band has played together in front of an audience in more than a decade.
“We’re the most famous band in the world for not playing,” Gorki often says.