Tracey Noelle Luz
For 9 years I taught literacy through photography to 6th graders in Newark, NJ. In 2008, I found I could no longer teach, that everything in me was pushing me to become a professional photojournalist. Going strictly by intuition, I cashed in my pension and left for Havana in July 2009 to document the Cuban metal band Escape and the imminent departure of their keyboard player, Jennifer Hernandez, who was leaving for the United States to be reunited with her father.
As a young girl growing up in a single parent household, growing up with economic uncertainty, I found my voice and the strength to fight back against everything that seemed to be crushing me in heavy metal. Heavy metal is furious and passionate, a manifesto of individual liberty. At the age of 14, I found my outlet being encroached upon by the Parents' Resource Music Center, led by Tipper Gore, trying to squash our freedom of speech. The ensuing battle that inspired unlikely coalitions between Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, Frank Zappa and John Denver in defense of music, and the rebellious nature of metal itself politicized me immensely.
Years later I would find myself in Havana, stricken like most Americans by the beauty of the people and the passion of their music. It was at that point I met "frikis" or "metalheads" but in my American superiority, I saw myself as having graduated from such petty bourgeois culture; I listened to jazz which was much more revolutionary.
I didn't realize then what these young men and women were doing, what they were experiencing, and how courageous they were in playing what was then termed, "the music of the enemy."
This body of work focuses on Alejandro Padron, the drummer of Escape. He is, undoubtedly, the premiere metal drummer on the island. Living in Cuba, especially as a "friki" or Cuban metalhead, Alejandro has no future. His band has been approved by the state run Rock Agency, and he has a contract to play at the premiere (and only) metal venue, Maxim in Havana with Escape once a month. However, leaving the island to tour or having the opportunity to release their music outside of Cuba seems unlikely.
Alejandro lives with his father, his developmentally disabled brother, the mother of his son, and his son. His mother passed away in 2005, and his father, Julian, still had not let go of her memory years later. Jenysan, the mother of his son Jorgito, controlled the finances of the home, dating men from other countries to secure necessities unobtainable by a Cuban family. The immediate pressures of raising a son without the ability to make a life for his family, and the external control of the state leaves little room for Alejandro to breathe. Watching and photographing Alejandro, the emblamatic rock and roll bad boy, there was a distinct difference between who he was in waking life, and the person he became when he found peace, driving a heavy metal band from the back seat of his drum set.
Tracey Noelle Luz
Jersey City, NJ
38 Years Old
Weekend portfolio selected by Olga Sviblova.