News & Politics

Stopping Cuban Music at the Border

At the Barbados Jazz Festival, a glimpse at one unintended drawback of the U.S. embargo on Cuba: even musicians get stopped at the border.
[Editor's Note: In this special AlterNet podcast, Reese Erlich takes you to the Barbados Jazz Festival to hear some great Cuban music and see how U.S. policy impacts the musicians. Reese Erlich produces Jazz Perspectives for public radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, which can be heard online at]

U.S. policy towards Cuba gets more ridiculous by the day. While the rest of the world can visit Cuba, buy its rum and cigars, and hear its musicians live -- people in the U.S. cannot. For a brief time in the late 1990s, Cuban musicians performed regularly in the U.S. But that ended as the Bush Administration sought to tighten the trade embargo of Cuba. These days Americans must travel abroad to hear their favorite Cuban artists live.

Every year Cuban musicians attract huge crowds at music festivals all over Europe, the Caribbean and South America. And these days, that's almost the only place where Americans can hear Cuban musicians live. Mary Jane Marchelewicz (maar-ka-levitz), a school teacher from Burlington, Vt., says she came to the Barbados Jazz Festival with just that in mind.

"We discussed what we were going to see here at the Jazz Festival and decided when we saw the venue for Sunday that we were more interested in hearing the Cuban band because of the kind of music, the different sound. It's very sensual. It's the feeling, the movement, the sensual music."