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Cuba: While The Politicians Argued, The Musicians Jammed

Editor's note: On June 4, the Trump administration made changes to U.S. policies that make it harder for Americans to visit Cuba. It was another decision that rolled back some of the more liberal visitation policies of the Obama administration.

As pundits, politicians and the travel industry try to unpack this latest twist in a six-decade political standoff between the U.S. and Cuba, Alt.Latino would like to revisit a show about the musical relationship between the two countries. It originally ran Sept. 30, 2016, but we thought the historical lessons learned from the show give us cultural context to a political feud that's still very much a going concern. So let's go to Havana...

"Go before it changes!"

I can't tell you how many times I have heard that charge since the thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which has prompted so many people to visit the island nation.

No doubt there will be quite a few changes in the coming years, especially economic ones. How it will all shake out is anyone's guess. But what hasn't changed is the close relationship that exists between the music of our two countries, which goes back at least to the 19th century. Spanish speakers use the phrase primos hermanos to refer to the relationship between familial first cousins, and that seems an appropriate description for the give-and-take that has been going on between the U.S. and Cuba, too.

During a recent visit to Havana, I sat down in cafes and home studios with Cuban musicians to trace that history in words and music. The politicians in both countries could learn a few things from those who make music about bridging gaps, finding common ground and even celebrating differences — because those are the kinds of skills needed to get a group of people together to play music.

And why not use those skills in geopolitics, right?

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Felix Contreras
Felix Contreras is co-creator and co-host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.