Released under the Cuban sun for the very elaborate promo of a controversial sixth album, the three favorite rockers of the English remain the most romantic of the skinned alive.
While the British singer on the guitar has just strangled his last chord and the feedback of his Les Paul pierces the eardrums of an audience boosted, a strange excitement seizes the room. Two thousand people seem to be waiting and the fear of a reaction coming from the mezzanine in the center of which a grieving figure finally applauds. He is standing up and seems satisfied and as his name is Fidel Castro and we are in Havana, it's a good sign. Surrounded by a tide of bodyguards, he heads for the exit. Like a bearded Elvis, huddled in an olive green uniform and shining medals, the Lider Maximo left the room. It is then that the public, freed from the tutelage of its historical leader, raises the arms to the sky and starts a barouf at all breaking. "Are you going to make as much noise as the war tonight?" Castro asked them that afternoon. "I hope," the singer replied.
Midi typing in the heart of Havana, the famous Nacional Hotel is bubbling with activity. A favorite vacation spot for Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Sam Giancana and all the mafia theogony of the 1950s, the Nacional is a palace of radiant beauty, a marble sculpture proudly standing proud of the concrete boils built vis-à-vis -vis during the last decades, less concerned with architectural elegance. This is where the Manic Street Preachers established their headquarters for this first visit to Cuba. Tonight, the trio Welsh triumphed by the British public since his albums Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours will play his first concert since the new year 2000 and try to reconnect with his first achievements of politically hysterical glam-punk band. And to do this, he invests a place surrealistically named the Teatro Karl Marx. A living paradox, this group will have spent the nineties in an emotional rollercoaster that would have got the better of any less cohesive training. Since the endearing arrogance of their first statements, in which they announced from the height of their twenty years that their first album would sell to sixteen million copies by operating the ultimate fusion of Guns N'Roses and Public Enemy, until rock emphatic of This Is My Truth ...Manics have always been a group we wanted to love but never succeeded in realizing their intentions. And yet the elements were all there: the intelligence of their lyrics concocted by the bassist Nicky Wire and the disappeared guitarist Richey Edwards, the slogans sprayed on their frail carcasses at the time of their first album Generation Terrorists , the brunette atmosphere of The Holy Bible (true testament of Richey before he disappears body and soul); the dazzling message of hope of the disc Everything Must Go (triumphal return as a trio), the electrifying concerts, the smoky statements ( "I wish that Michael Stipe die slowly of AIDS", Nicky Wire, 1994) and brilliance, as when Richey etched 4 Real on the forearm after a reporter questioned his rebellious rock'n'roll authenticity. And then there are some memorable songs, such as the superb Motorcycle Emptiness , the most poignant of the hymns to the drunkenness of adolescence of the decade, phenomenal tube driven by the concrete drum beat of drummer Sean Moore and the broken voice of James Dean Bradfield, singer-guitarist more like a Mean Streets figure than a Welsh worker son he is. And yet, there will always be a doubt, a malaise, on the Manic Street Preachers. The impression of a huge potential wasted.
Ten years later, on the terrace of the Nacional, under a radiant sun, Bradfield shows by his handshake his Welsh heritage made of coal and rugby mines, with a few extra kilos to certify the origin. Sean Moore is as dumb and shy as ever. Nicky Wire hides behind large sunglasses, probably to hide his closed-minded answers to questions, as if he were plunging into his mental thesaurus of scathing quotes prepared in advance. Curiously, for a group also celebrated for its sense of the murderous formula, the press conference for the Cuban and international press will show the trio strangely silent, no doubt moved by the enthusiastic reception of the local press. "The first western rock band to come to Cuba" and announcing with a false ingenuity that they do not know if the concert will be a success or not. All of this is for the beauty of the gesture, they say, and not at all to ensure that the launch of the new Manics, Know Your Enemy , is a global event. An album loaded with references to Cuba, explicitly thanks to songs such as Baby Elian or indirectly with the frankly dubious Freedom Of Speech Will not Feed My Children , which continues the If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next from the previous album in the Marxist-Leninist argumentation. Nicky Wire: "It is an ironic tale about the destiny experienced by all the ex-communist countries, to whom we have promised monts and wonders, prosperity and freedom, and who find themselves led by criminals, indebted, with gigantic unemployment and suicide rates. and McDonald's everywhere. That's what capitalism has brought them. Lots of people are experiencing a painful disillusionment about what they thought they were going to happen to them. With the tyranny of capitalism, a didacture replaces another. " A very beautiful image of Epinal that lies the scary misery of the suburbs of Havana that the Manics have been careful to avoid by taking their quarters at the Nacional. Yuri Lenquette, photographer emeritus and Cuban adoption, sees his request to bring the Manics in the popular neighborhoods of the city postponed ad vitam æternam. He plagues the group who came to visit the city as rock stars in the resort and not as musicians really interested in the local culture. And he recalls that in terms of Western rock'n'roll band, a small formation named after the Mano Negra came ten years ago in a boat cohabited by the Royal Deluxe troop and set fire to Havana by generously letting the locals mingle with their music. No marble palaces or Danish journalists, no visit to Castro for them, but the life of the streets and the music of the heart. A difference of point of view as another. Wire: "We just want to make a gesture of support for Cuba. The American culture dominates the world but, for thirty years, this small island stands up to him. Before the revolution, Cuba was the Las Vegas of the Caribbean. Today, whatever we say, the education rate and social security services are better in Cuba than in the United Kingdom. There is a lot of poverty, yes. And also a lot of repression against the freedom of speech ... But do they have it in the United States? If they are free to express themselves, why did a high school student enter a class last year to kill thirty-two students? Is capitalism less harmful than communism? The US elections are the perfect example. If it had been any other country, the US would have been the first to rise and declare that this election is illegal and that we must start all over again. Imagine the same circumstances in Bosnia or in a country in Africa. America would have intervened. But as it is at home, everything is fine and we elect a crypto-fascist president. I'm not saying that the Cuban regime is better, but I think our vision is flawed."
Rock & Folk: Are not you falling into your old habit of viewing politics in glamorous terms?
Nicky Wire: I do not think supporting Cuba is very glamorous.
R & F: Yet, all this image of the rebel guerilla who is resisting the United States, it has something of class. You yourself have played with paramilitary imaging more than once during your career.
James Dean Bradfield: We come here to provide modest support, but most of all to discover the country, not to use it. We are not like the Clash in 1978 posing in Perfecto in front of the barricades in Belfast.
R & F: But in 1978, members of the Clash were threatened with death by the IRA and considered harmful by the British police. By going to Belfast, they risked their skin. You do not risk much here.
James Dean Bradfield: That's right. Let's say that coming here is a way of pulling ourselves from complacency in which we had locked ourselves up with the previous album. A great motivation to come here is to come and play in front of people who do not even know who we are, let alone our songs. After six albums, we wanted something different. The political aspect comes second. We want to see if some of our songs will be played by a totally virgin audience. It's about getting scared again, of daring to take the risk of failure.
R & F: What would you say to people accusing you of exploiting Cuba for promotional purposes?
Nicky Wire: That they are cons.
Nicky Wire was more inspired in his answers. While Lenquette leads us to the Theatro America to admire Carlos Manuel, salsa-pop phenomenon of the season, crushing Ricky Martin of its superb, we feel in the streets of Havana a strange similarity with the countries of the East before the fall of the communist bloc. The same half-empty shops, the same aesthetic mixing historical architecture and concrete ugliness, the same indolence tired in the eyes of people. The same passive frustration, a resignation strewn with flashes of pride. Marxism is the same everywhere, finally. Only the climate changes. Everything seems here ready for the post-Castro. Already, Japanese and European car brands compete fiercely to conquer the local market once the borders are open and the superb antique cars seem ready to finally give way to Nissan's latest innovations. The Buick with the famous engines slant six, the Chevrolet with 396 over-inflated and even the sparkling Lincoln or flecked with string and putty are already the relics of half a century occupied in resisting the absurd stupidity of a global culture eager to reach his end. Like the now imaginary Berlin in which Cave, Bowie or Pop had locked themselves up to isolate themselves from the generalized mental dereliction, the attraction of Cuba is that of an oasis not yet too dirty by the industrial and cultural defecations of the capitalist animal. No commercials, no business, nothing to sell and nothing to throw away, life in Cuba is still marked by a certain respect for the individual, illusory but refreshing. Illusory because everything is in fact for sale here, against the precious dollars that will allow a family to feed. Prostitution and drugs are the second job of a huge part of the local population, who lives the disgusting lightness of tourists come here to vent their frustrations. As for the few who dare to meet locals as individuals worthy of interest, they pose as many problems as they give their friendship with sincerity. As Yuri Lenquette explains: "Imaginative treasures are deployed to spin wheat for them without hurting them or giving them alms. "
The gesture of the Manic Street Preachers, with all the sincerity that drives them without a doubt, also looks like alms. Like British rock stars they are, they put their big clogs feet in the dish without even worrying about the scope of their gesture. While each of their movement is immortalized by five video cameras preparing the inevitable documentary, their clumsy complacency towards Fidel Castro, whose authoritarian drift is not new, looks like a criminal naïveté. And yet, we can not help thinking that in their place we would do the same. We would go and shake the spoon at Castro, we would play at the Teatro Karl Marx and we would try to give these two thousand Cuban kids the best concert of his career. And that's what the Manics are doing tonight. In front of an amazed parterre,Kevin Carter , unblocking their hits by sprinkling them with new album tracks. The audience is young and enthusiastic, consisting mostly of local students (loco?) And a handful of hardcore fans who made the trip from Britain for the occasion. Astonishing vision that this audience with dark and golden skin came screaming his joy in front of a rock'n'roll whiter than white. A whole row of young people grabbed the stems of the small flags adorned with the band's name to make drum sticks and hammer a surprisingly salsa rhythm on Sean Moore's riffs, while the front ranks headbang as a Sepultura concert. It is also amazing to note to what corners of the planet the Def Leppard T-shirts seem stubbornly wanting to fit in. Dedicating You Love Us , a true major tense to the hostile public of their debut, Felix Savon, Cuban boxing champion, they finish the concert on A Design For Life , an ode to the working class whose first words "Libraries gave us power" seem have been written for the Cuban people, the most cultured and the most educated of this corner of the planet. After all, this popular triumph seems to be the Manics' real victory over their detractors, proof that they are right to do what they do. And they suggest to anyone who wants to listen to them that it will not last long. Nicky Wire: "The last concert we gave was in front of sixty thousand people at the Cardiff stadium on New Year's Eve 2000. We said: we can not do better than that, we have to go elsewhere, take the tangent. Find the reasons why we formed the group originally. Creatively, I think we are at our zenith. We are not trying to keep the illusion that we are a gang of teenagers. I'm going to be thirty-two, it would be ridiculous to pretend. I do not want to pretend to be the Last Gang in the City. " James Dean Bradfield: " We're closer to the end than the beginning, that's for sure. It would not be healthy for a group like ours to stay together for years. "
As Fidel Castro gets up, the audience waits fearfully that he leaves the place to protest the departure of the group and let explode his joy when he returns for the first reminder he has ever given. With the ultimate energy, James launches a tribute through the decades to the first teenage liberator, Chuck Berry himself, by having all the audience sing an emblematic song: Rock'n'Roll Music . And if this gesture seeks its true meaning, between greatness of soul and perfect ridicule, it recalls the phrase said shortly before by Nicky Wire: "I admit that I say a lot of bullshit and that fifty percent of my comments are hogwash, but at least I have an opinion. The worst thing is to think nothing and be mediocre. It is better to wallow gloriously than to be average. " Admirable profession of faith perfectly appropriate to the circumstances, a contradiction of more, an additional paradox to add to the list of Manic Street Preachers and to that, not less considerable, of Cuba. And as James's Les Paul tears the air out of its oversaturated volume, the crowd raises their arms to the sky, making more noise than any war.