This is the sound of wasteful culture

Trash in the streets? Rampant crime? Who really gives a damn when we can have a massive paaarty!

Caracas has been hosting a music festival in the last few days, courtesy of the Mayor of western Caracas (Libertador Municipality) Jorge Rodríguez. The former CNE president/Vice-President/head of both Chavez & Maduro’s recent presidential campaigns has made this a pet project of his.

Suena Caracas isn’t your traditional festival in the style of Woodstock or Glastonbury. It takes place in multiple locations, and covers multiple music styles: from alternative rock to salsa to gaita (because December).

But the event has been filled with controversy since its announcement and one of the presentations is the talk of the town. Last weekend, the popular Venezuelan rock band Desorden Público took the stage and decided to present its new song “Everything is Normal”.

When criticizing the government, they were briefly censored by Avila TV, the Caracas-only station of the State Media System. But the song itself caused a split division inside the crowd as well, thanks to this timely lyric: “If they gonna keep on stealing, at least change the robbers”.

For the record, Desorden Público’s extensive repertoire includes politically-charged songs such as “Paralytic Politicians”, “Where’s the Future?” and “Valley of Bullets”. Nicolas Maduro surprisingly didn’t respond with insults but instead he “welcomed” the criticism, and told the band to keep up with their songs.

In the quiet words of The Simpsons’ Rainier Wolfcastle, the star of “McBain: Let’s Get Silly”: “That’s the joke”.

Going back to to the festival, the event has had its share of problems, which begn even before it started. For example, one of the main artists supposed to play in Suena Caracas were the local pop duo Chino & Nacho, who have quickly become international pop sensations. But hardcore Chavistas complained that they could not participate in the event because they showed support for the imprisoned Leopoldo Lopez on Twitter. Once Maduro himself got involved, it became just a matter of time before the duo was pulled off the list. Yet, they offered their own special concert in a smaller Caracas location to compensate.

But the biggest questions about the festival are two: first, how much did it cost? And second, who’s paying the bill?

According to this report from Agence France-Press (AFP), the money spent in Suena Caracas is around 27 million dollars, which comes from a special credit approved last month by the National Assembly. Jorge Rodriguez has denied such claims, saying that 95% of the money spent is in Bolivares (The festival isn’t free by the way, it charges for tickets). The opposition has decried the event, stating that the money could be better used for more urgent problems. Yet the central government is so pleased that they want to repeat the experience again next year… twice.

The original plans for Suena Caracas were more ambitious that the final result. This report from El Nacional hints that the organizers wanted American rock bands Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters to come. Funny that now, thanks to our economy, lack of security conditions, and the whole airline broohaha, foreign musicians are coming less and less to Venezuela. And with notable exceptions, the government is the only one capable of paying.

That’s simply a cultural hegemony – wasteful spending in order to keep its mythology alive, be it either with this festival or the alleged 50 million bucks that the famous Libertador movie with Edgar Ramirez cost (Variety said it, not me). And yes, we can also add to this the controversy with El Sistema and a new concert hall for my hometown – which we don’t really need. I don’t have any beef with El Sistema and I find its purpose noble. But that’s no excuse to avoid some needed scrutiny.

Culture and the arts are important for any society, but neither the state nor the private sector should have full control of it. Diversity is key.

We live in a time when anyone can put his/her works available for the world to see and/or hear. We can even help others to do the same thanks to things like Kickstarter and Patreon. That’s the power of choice. The state should help people embrace it, not block it or try to control it. If it does, it is no longer culture.