Musica o Muerte!
What would you be willing to do to be free? Los Frikis, the punk-rock musicians living in Cuba of the 90-ies, self-infected with HIV virus to escape persecution and hardship of the ‘period special.
In my project ‘Musica o Muerte!’ I wanted to explore the phenomenon of voluntary exile as a response to living in oppressive regime, and the price artists are willing to pay for creative freedom. I documented the surviving members of ‘Los Frikis’, people who gave themselves HIV voluntarily in order to live in at least relative freedom of state run sanatoria in Cuba. I also documented several current rock bands in various part of Cuba, that are not government approved and therefore in underground, either completely forbidden to play publicly or being heavily censured and having their possibility to perform severely restricted.
HIV self-infected punk musician Gherson and his wife Yoandra in Pinar del Rio, former rocker Pedrito living with AIDS, Gorki and Lia from punk-rock band Porno Para Riccardo, Panter the rap musician, the guys from Punk Floyd group in Santo Spirito or Kaoz band in Santa Clara, they all try to be free in the regime that does not allow free expression and despite cosmetic changes for the outside world, still persecutes musicians that dont play by the rules.
What price are artists willing to pay to be free? Most people living in dictatorships usually had two choices - either to accept the reality at least seemingly, and to adjust to it, and live according to oneself as much as possible, or an exile - either into one’s soul, or abroad. That, in case of Cuba, was a perilous journey on a raft through sharks’ filled sea.
However, there is a third possibility of ‘exile into freedom’ - the absolute one, born only from total despair. This ‘exile to eternity’ had a unique form in Cuba: a pact with death, a deal, the meantime in which it was possible to live freely, before the final and inevitable end. Documentary film Musica o Muerte will present an unknown chapter of human desire for freedom: Cuban phenomena of Los Frikis, people who got voluntarily infected by HIV in the nineties. They did it in order to live in at least relatively free community of HIV clinics (and at the same time, prisons) where HIV infected were being locked up Castro regime.
Due to a ’time limited’ life of the HIV patients, they were allowed to express themselves and live in a relative freedom - unlike in the majority society, where the regime persecuted any signs of ‘imperialism’ or ‘pro-americanism’, such as long hair, tattoos, and mainly playing “Western’ music - mainly punk and heavy metal. Perhaps in order to keep the appearance of the brilliant Cuban healthcare (largely a construct based on misleading statistics) the HIV patients had relatively good nutrition, unlike most of the Cubans who, after the exit of Soviet ‘sponsors’ suffered a cruel economic crises and even famine.
Clinics for HIV patients became therefore true of islands of freedom on the so called ‘Island of Freedom’. And that is why many of ‘los frikis’ - which means freaks or madmen, as majority society titled them and as they called themselves - decided for a desperate step: rather then to live in the world which suffocates any self-realisation in life and fulfilment, I will voluntarily infect myself with a deadly virus, so that I can exist at least for a few years in relative freedom - rather then living in hopelessness and misery.
Documentary Film Musica o Muerte will capture the memories as well as presents of Los Frikis, the Cubans who lived in and created this mad, desperate, yet very human chapter in history of Cuba and of mankind. Most people, voluntarily infected by HIV, died sooner or later in the clinics - the HIV medication in Cuba was not available. However, some individuals survived - and they still live in abandoned clinics, slowly claimed by nature, as if it th Mother Nature itself wanted to cover the tragic collective past with a new life.
The motif of freedom and music is very up to date in Cuba, and the connection to present day is obvious: The music in Cuba can be a slave of the regime - the pretty and non-confrontational salsa of people that are ‘poor but happy’ (cynical and hypocritical description of those, who would never live in such reality voluntarily, and who perceive this impoverished and photogenic country as a playground for those more fortunate), and on the other side of the spectrum, music as a protest: Variation on numerous stories of protest-songs writers around the world - people who became dissidents not by choice and active opposition, but simply by their desire to live freely and make the music they love and give a message they feel strongly about. A Cuban band known for their persecution and repeated imprisonment of its members, but mainly for their critical and witty anti-regime texts with no auto-censorship is Porno Para Riccardo, with its charismatic frontman Gorki.