A #conciertodelamor or Facebook in Real Life

Last February, www.cubadebate.cu announced that All You Need Is Love – the emblematic song of The Beatles – would call a Great Concert for Love.

Mabel Olalde Azpiri

To be in contact with relatives, close friends, acquaintances of those friends, former classmates, work colleagues, people who are close and live far away, and even “persons you perhaps know”…all at once and in the same space. That could be the greatest advantage shared by the users of Facebook.

But these lines won’t be a study about the dangers and potentialities of the use of the social networks or the popularity of these sites as new forms of establishing, maintaining and cultivating social relationships. Though insufficient, there are ample academic works that treat the theme from diverse theoretical references, almost always coinciding that, in the end, the value of technologies and their disadvantages are related to the use given to them by human beings.

A less tackled topic would be the one that these paragraphs put forward to review: the feeling of crossing that border between virtual and real. However, it won’t be a story in the style of The Matrix or any other science fiction film; rather, a story will be told about love, Cubans and a concert.

In Cuba, debates concerning the Internet in general, and the social networks in particular, are somewhat different from those that may arise among U.S., Canadian, European or Chinese peoples. The concern about the possibility that the social networks threaten the normal development of interpersonal relationships is not a central issue. The dependence on technology for basic communication and the addictive capacity of some sites are certainly no danger for Cubans. No one has the possibility of dedicating more time to virtual life than to real life.

Perhaps that is the reason why some official announcements or calls promoted by the web have failed, and their organizers have attributed their failure to the lack of the Internet on the Island. But others have indeed achieved their purpose.

Something that might characterize Cuban users is the daily enthusiasm for transcending those so-called “weak” virtual interactions and extending them to the contact understood as “real.” A few months ago we heard of a meeting of Cuban twitterers; likewise, a party of high school graduates from the capital was promoted recently in Facebook, and groups of friends constantly coordinate their meetings. As in any other corner of the world, people meet, are seduced and make appointments through Facebook or Twitter. More than one love story has started that way.

And well, after such a long preamble, it’s time to take up again — or begin telling — the story of the concert and of a certain call made from the web that became a success. It all began like this:

Last February 6th, www.cubadebate.cu announced that All You Need Is Love – the emblematic song of The Beatles – would call a Great Concert for Love: “there will be real hugs and hugs through Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, in a party that also will take place simultaneously in the social networks.” And it added that “all those who wish may share from the Cuba Pavilion the photos and videos they make with their cell phones, photographic cameras or any other device. Cubadebate will publish them on its diverse channels in the social networks.” The news ended explaining that everything would be broadcast live through that site’s channel in Justin TV, and that in order to keep updated during those days they could use the hashtags #allyouneedislove and #conciertodelamor in Twitter.

The news caught the attention of users right away. “Could you explain clearly? The Internet in cell phones in Cuba? Well, in the Pavilion… hum… that sounds good,” says Carlos, the first to comment. Aida follows: “I don’t understand. If we don’t have the Internet in our cell phones, how do we reach Twitter or any other social network?”

“Most surely they will install PCs with access to the Internet in the Cuba Pavilion, and from them they can post those photos and videos in the social networks. I don’t think it can be done from the cell phone, greetings to all, Alexis.” Josué, still surprised, asks himself: “WIFI????” Worried, the “garrapato” [scribbler] states his opinion: “I read the article and it’s as if it were written in Sanskrit, because I don’t have a cell phone and I don’t even know what Twitter, Facebook or Flickr are. In fact, I’m an ordinary Cuban.”

In contrast, “Entiemporeal” gets excited: “This idea is veeeeeeeery good. I’m in Havana and I’m going to go out on the town and enjoy myself with Cuban music in Cuba.” Meanwhile, “CREO QUE ENTENDÍ” dares to contribute an answer: “You go to the Cuba Pavilion, take your photos with a cell phone or camera and then go to the place they will have set up to post the photos or videos you shot on the Internet, and the Internet users will be able to see first hand what happened in the Cuba Pavilion. You won’t need to see it in the Internet because you will be enjoying it there. Those with access to the Intranet will surely be able to see it in the Cuban pages. You will have the best option: to dance and sing and have a wonderful day of love in the company of these — in my opinion — great Cuban artists. Greetings.”

That was more or less the “conversation” among the readers of Cubadebate up to 2 p.m. on February 7th. Surely the consternation of these persons in the face of something so simple would not be understood somewhere else in the world. Why did it seem to them that this was such an uncommon situation?

It’s because in Cuba the connection from a cell phone — or even from the home phone — is something unusual. The priority for access is given to research centers, universities and cultural institutions; places where health professionals, researchers, students or professors enter into contact with the web. In a single day, one PC may be the bridge to the super highway of information for as many users as have the patience and time available. They must take on the challenge of finding the information they need as quickly as possible, wrestling with the slow connection and oversaturation of information on the web.

The Cuban government has previously explained that “the greatest limitation for using the Internet in Cuba is the available band width, for having to use the satellite link because the U.S. blockade does not allow access to the underwater fiber-optic cable that surrounds Cuba.”

But these problems would not prevent promoting, commenting and conversing on the subject in the networks. From several points of the Cuban geography, more than one person expressed his/her wish in Facebook with phrases like “I want to be there…” or “I would like so much to live that beautiful moment.” And beyond the borders, in Latin America’s Colombia, someone described the event as “beautiful!!!!”

As the days went by, expectations concerning the concert increased. In Twitter, the call also had followers: “@LegendarioCuba @yurisander @ifroilan @chiringadecuba @Cuba1erPlano @leunamrguez. Well, this group from #cuba invites you to the #conciertodelamor.” @CHAGUITO said that “the Cuba Pavilion will sing to love,” and @garces742001 reminded everyone that “this Friday #conciertodelamor, don’t forget your cell phone.” Meanwhile, in Facebook, María Margarita declared: “Heyyyy, I like that. We’ll be there to send many kisses to those we love.”

Those who did not possess a “profile” in these digital spaces did not remain without the information. The news circulated through e-mail, telephone calls and in “face 2 face” conversations. Already by Friday morning there was consensus: this is a good day to go to the Cuba Pavilion to listen to good music, dance, meet old friends again… in short, to have fun.

On the very same 10th of February, Cubadebate updated: “This Friday at 6 p.m. Havana’s Cuba Pavilion will open (…) letters or messages that the public will be able to write there and place in the mailboxes provided by the organizers will be read. Via bluethooth (…), the attendants will be able to send the images caught during the concert to machines set up in the Cuba Pavilion that (…) will project them on the screens there.”

Commentaries, retweets, status updating, chats, SMS and phone calls increased by the hour. A good coordination was required to prevent the absence of any of the “indispensables.” Suddenly, it was time to transform the virtual experience into real life, and simply close the Facebook window to move to the place where close friends, acquaintances of those friends, former classmates, work colleagues and even “persons you might know” were coming together…all knowing full well that people living far away, relatives on the other side of the Earth or an old love would also attend in a different way.

Minutes before it began, Raúl Torres, the concert’s musical star, declared to the Cubanow digital review that he was very thankful to participate in something so original: “It’s the first time that something of this magnitude is being done, something that reaches all corners of the world thanks to the new technologies. We are lucky that our songs, our poetry and our messages can reach everywhere, even those places where we have some relative or someone we love whom we haven’t seen for a long time. It’s a unique opportunity and I hope it will be repeated… Right now I am proud that they thought of calling me the first time that such an event is organized.”

Similarly, Dailén Vega, from her Twitter profile, was telling her followers: “#conciertodelamor is being experienced in the social networks.” In the meantime, in the patio of the Cuba Pavilion, it was the moment to update and visit those groups to which you belonged. One or another reported on how their work and family were doing. Those who some time ago had shared the same study group now met again. They talked about the latest CD or recommended the best movie running that week. Phrases like “I love your new hair-do” were a must, and there were even questions about some lines that had appeared hours before on the screen to announce the birth of somebody’s daughter.

In a few seconds it would be six p.m. and the organizers were putting on the finishing touches. The Cubadebate team and those who were making this experience possible were getting everything ready until “the #conciertodelamor finally began in the Cuba Pavilion.”

“We are transmitting live the #conciertodelamor through the Cubadebate channel on Justin TV.” Hundreds of young people are there, and who knows how many more thousands have arrived through their computers. The voice of Raúl Torres on stage, and a dozen young men with digital cameras spread around the place capturing smiles, kisses, embraces. Then they returned to the platform from which those signs of affection were being sent to the world, to cheer up the spirit of all those who wanted it that way.

In the meantime, a young girl waited impatiently for the arrival of that young man with whom, chatting, she had planned to meet there. She knows him well; she has already seen all the photos on “his wall,” but she is surprised to see him in three dimensions. And when he stands before her, she appreciates the height, the charisma, the way in which those tender eyes combine with the manly voice…

When she regains her breath, Adrián Berazaín is singing If I turn you into a song, a ballad that is part of Fábula, the most recent film by Cuban director Lester Hamlet. Then, the young troubadour pleases her with The Stage, and the public accompanies him, singing: “But at the same time I remain detained at some season of your love…”

Raúl Torres was back at the head of the concert. The public begins to see itself reflected on the screens; they thus appreciate their own photos and the images in movement enjoyed by those fortunate ones in possession of the wide band. Around 7:30 p.m., in Facebook, Dalia Reyes Perera and Tur Necita commented on the Cubadebate posts. They used few words: “how wonderful!!” “FANTASTIC.” Greetings from Alejandrina Carrasco came at once: “A very warm embrace to my Cuban brothers and sisters. A noble, supportive and hard-working people.”

But, of course, there were setbacks. Cubans are accustomed to things not being very easy and, as expected, the connection failed at some moment, while well-known persons kept coming to the Cuba Pavilion as well as appearing in the digital spaces. There were also problems with the audio system, which one young “habanera” made good use of by “disconnecting” and meditating a little.

By just looking carefully you find all possible resemblances in Facebook. You can see those that look familiar, whose faces you recall from somewhere — who knows from where — but in the end there is not much to say to them, so it’s preferable do ignore them. There are always those who greet someone from your group and that is the time to throw them a “request for friendship”… they share almost twenty friends with you. The most interesting are those who unfailingly visit the same places you choose week after week to be in contact with culture. You would have to conclude that they definitely “like” the same things, but the common points do not suffice to add them to the list of friends. However, their presence is already enough assurance that you are in the correct place.

Even messages were there. The space between the concert courtyard and the platform where computers, cables, chairs and tables were set up was covered many times. Hand-written messages were delivered there; some were read to the public between one song and another. In this way lovers showed their love and friends too… but one of the most original ones was dedicated by a young man to “an unknown girl in the concert.” Perhaps she never found out that she was the addressee nor who dedicated those lines to her, but everyone recovered a bit of their faith in love at first sight.

At that point the connection was restored: “Tony Ávila in the #conciertodelamor in Havana, Cuba.” The artist from Matanzas brought his most reflective compositions and also the most popular ones. No one could resist the impulse to hum Chacho and Chicha’s Hut. At the same time, on one of the screens, you could read the words of those watching the concert: “Cuba, I’d like to know you :),” “She’s beautiful, just like her people,” “I’d like a concert just like this one…When in El Salvador???” In this way, Vane Lee Mariel, Leo Fernández and Netmary Chicas Carcamo enjoyed themselves from their seats.

The #conciertodelamor was already an explosion of interactions, embraces, greetings between both dimensions: the virtual and the real. Between comings and goings of the connection, other musicians presented their melodies.

The climax arrived hand in hand with Fernando Bécquer: dancing definitely took hold of the place. The fun almost left the hundreds of bodies that jumped, laughed, and kissed without energies. Not even a million bitter, evil-intentioned, distrustful commentaries were able to extinguish the sparkle and magic of the moment. Vale Molina knew it, that’s why he wrote his commentary at 8:30 p.m.: “Why do strangers meddle in the domestic policy of a country that is more developed than any other Latin American country? (…) Cuba for the Cubans, and for those who love her because of her rich cultural, social, professional values!!!”

By that time everything had turned out well. The frantic rhythm of those in charge of transmitting everything that was happening there was beginning to come back to normal. Even the person in charge of editing some videos managed to recover the files he had lost in an unexpected error on his laptop. Then a melody flooded the place, and in one voice Cubans from several generations sang the same phrase in English: All you need is love… all you need is love…

And thus it came to an end, with a big embrace among lovers. The blog Siempre con Cuba said farewell: “@siempreconcuba ‘twittered’ from the #concierto del amor.” It was time to close the session and wait a couple of days to read what was happening in virtual life while real life was being lived at the utmost.

“Beleza! Boa noite,” was the trace left by Yuliet Jose. “How I’d like to be there!!!!!”… “and me too”… “I’m so envious, good for the Cubans.” After reading some commentaries there was no other option than to agree with Mónica Cecilia, Hilda Beatriz and Lilian Aracelis in that it was an unsurpassable time. We had to admit that, definitely, nothing that happened in the web surpassed the experience of being there.

Undoubtedly, the most exceptional was the joining of two dimensions and everything else that cannot be put in black and white. That is why, when reading some commentaries, a certain melancholy emerges toward the “lucky ones of the wide band” who, in spite of the availability of their networks, did not feel that night the sensation of transcending the border between the virtual and the real.

Translated by Olimpia Esperanza Sigarroa Santamarina

Revised by Susana Hurlich

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