Strengthening the Cuban music industry

Strengthening the Cuban music industry

Since the historic deal, announced on 1 July 2015, formally restoring diplomatic relations between the United States of America and Cuba, there have been high expectations about a renaissance of the Cuban music industry. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is providing a helping hand.

Music is one of the most cost-effective tools to develop a country’s economy. The music sector’s impact contributes to economic growth and to exports, as well as enhancing diplomacy, stimulating tourism, retaining youth talent and attracting investment. It also contributes to quality of life and well-being.

In Cuba, music is part of the national identity. The country's education system has contributed to creating the foundations of a superior professional music scene with respect to many other Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Both the qualitative and quantitative levels of Cuban musical creation are continuously growing, with the Cuban industry numbering some 17,000 registered professional musicians.

Cuban music is characterized by a diversity of genres and styles, ranging from traditional folk music to contemporary creations. But although Cuban music is often considered one of the richest and most influential regional musics of the world, since the United States of America freeze on trade with Cuba imposed in 1960, the industry has suffered.

Matters improved and Cuban music enjoyed a boom in popularity in the United States after Washington exempted Cuban recordings from the trade embargo in 1988. Later, the US government allowed Cuban artists to perform Stateside, although under the condition that they receive no more than per diem payments.

By 2000, hundreds of musicians from the island had performed in the US, most prominently Buena Vista Social Club, whose 1997 Ry Cooder-produced album enjoyed huge success in the US and beyond. But, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the US, the Bush administration banned Cuban artists.

Now the normalizing of relations between the two countries is raising hopes of a return of the good times.

Michel Vega, CEO of songwriter/producer Marc Anthony’s new entertainment company, Magnus Media LLC, told Fader magazine many of his colleagues in the US music industry have been treating the new relationship a little like a gold rush. “We’ve heard of a lot of A&Rs [talent scouts] and writers going over to Cuba and doing scouting trips. It just seems that every day you hear about someone having gone or planning to go.”

However, Cuban sound engineer, Ali Álvarez, sounded a note of caution, telling Fader, “Most Cuban artists and producers do not fully understand the American market per se. Their lyrics are extremely local and the level of production is poor in most cases, due to the lack of technological knowledge and expertise.”

To help overcome these and other challenges, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is implementing a project to help develop the country’s music industry value chain.

Carlos Chanduvi Suarez, head of UNIDO’s Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Division, says, “Cuban music has a well-deserved international reputation due to its incredible quality and the talent of its musicians, but the country’s music sector needs further development in order to optimize this asset and grow internally and externally.”

“Worldwide music production and distribution models change constantly, revenue streams keep diversifying, and consumption habits flow with the appearance of new devices, online services and software,” adds Chanduvi Suarez.

With a budget of US$1.3m, provided by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the project will promote entrepreneurship and extend the export value of the music industry by, amongst other things, developing business models, training musicians, producers and engineers, advising on branding and marketing strategies, and supporting wholesalers and retailers.

The project puts a focus on expanding digital trade online and promoting streaming and subscription services, as well as live presentations/festivals. As Chanduvi Suarez says, “these can be major opportunities for increasing aggregated value and market access.”

The overall outcome of project will be to improve the competitiveness of the Cuban music value chain and extend its export value. By the end of the project in 2018, the value of sales of the Cuban music industry will have increased by 30% and the sector will have become more inclusive and sustainable.

By Charles Arthur