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Los Frikis

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 03:34 PM

set list for Gerson Govea's Chispa e Tren (Photo Credit: Luis Trelles)

How a group of 80’s Cuban misfits found rock-and-roll and created a revolution within a revolution, going into exile without ever leaving home. In a collaboration with Radio Ambulante, reporter Luis Trelles bring us the story of punk rock’s arrival in Cuba and a small band of outsiders who sentenced themselves to death and set themselves free.

Produced by Tim Howard & Matt Kielty. With production help from Andy Mills. 

Special thanks to VIH, Eskoria, Metamorfosis and Alio Die & Mariolina Zitta for the use of their music. 


Bob Arellano, Yohandra Cardoso, Vladamir Ceballos, Jesus Alberto Diaz “Tino”, Gerson Govea and Luis Trelles


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Comments [74]


I really really want a song list along with the band for each song. Can anyone help me?

Sep. 02 2016 12:34 PM
M. Caridad from USA

"When you don't have any doors left, death is a door"

Really enjoyed this podcast! Would love to hear more about Cuba, especially ROCK in Cuba.

May. 05 2016 09:32 AM
Friki from New York

If this topic is of interest, please check out a documentary being made that touches on this subject.

"In a country where freedom of expression was once so suppressed that punk rockers self-injected with HIV to live freer lives in sanatoriums and homosexuals were sent to forced labor camps, a man named Ramón Silverio had a BRIGHTER VISION of REVOLUTION. He dreamed of a place where people of all kinds, of all orientations and beliefs, could truly be free."


Mar. 31 2016 12:54 PM
hana jakrlova from prague, czech rep / new york

Almost a year later, I still think about this story. I listed to it just after I came back to NYC from Cuba. I photographed the dissidents there, and the daily life of ordinary people. I spent half of my life in communism (in Czechoslovakia) so the Cuban reality was eerily familiar. The suffering of people who fight for freedom, the poverty, the hypocrisy of the establishment and the parallel world of ignorant tourism were braking my heart. My stories have been published at the CNN and elsewhere - have a look, if interested (the whole series is at my website - and I will have exhibition in Miami in the end of March):

Feb. 04 2016 09:47 AM
Jordan from Utah

This is one of those episodes that I wasn't going to care for, but it somehow stole my attention from me with the paradoxical freedom from AIDS and the inevitable tragedy following. Thanks

Dec. 02 2015 04:11 PM
lazlo jamf from montreal

sept/oct us/canada tour of ARRABIO and ADICTOX (one ex-member of ESKORIA)-

Sep. 08 2015 11:13 PM
ambermtl from montreal

For those of you looking for more info about past & present Cuban punk bands, this isn't much to go on, but this is a facebook page for punks in cuba now. Might be possible in the near future to attain music from them or to keep up with what projects they are involved in:

Jul. 02 2015 02:48 PM
Espacios from California

What an incredible story. Thank you for telling it here. For those interested in another era of artistic freedom and repression in Cuba, check out the documentary Unfinished Spaces ( about the architects who designed the Cuban National Art Schools in the 1960s. That film was also recently featured on an episode of the NPR show/podcast 99% Invisible.

Jun. 10 2015 01:51 PM
E-Bat from Miami

I lived those stories in Cuba as teenager, here is a recent Cuban movie based in this true event:

Jun. 08 2015 11:44 PM

I'm trying to find more information about Eskoria (as well as other Cuban punk bands), does anyone know of places to look? Or where to find their records or cd's? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

May. 22 2015 04:44 PM
Jeff Hoelscher

I misspoke. The stories are great, but are no longer constrained by the title of the show.

May. 20 2015 05:23 PM
Jeff Hoelscher from Minneapolis,MN

Radiolab has gone the way of This American Life. The stories are great but no longer have anything to do with the name of the show. How is this story about science?

May. 20 2015 05:18 PM

Radiolab & Radio Ambulante- you bastards really hit a deep nerve with this one. I can't stop thinking about this piece. Yesterday I listened to the Radiolab piece twice. Once while driving by myself and again last night as I introduced my husband and my oldest punk rocker friend to it after we left a show.

Today I am still thinking about their stories. I can look back on my own life and recognize that I could have knowingly made the same decision as Papo and Gerson at one point in my life. I spent an awful lot of years feeling like there was "nothing left to live for so why not die". It isn't a crazy stretch of the imagination to think a younger, less wise me may have been tempted by the proposition of acceptance, community and idealism that existed among the early self-injectors in the Cuban punk scene.

I see a reflection of myself in this piece that is simultaneously beautiful, sad, profoundly transcendent and haunting at the same time.

Going to try to do something productive today (now that the day is half over) My final question is of a lighter note- Yohandra's mention of her sadness whenever she loses a tape touched me. A good friend made an awesome tape for me over 20 years ago that I still remember each song and her handwritten notes tucked into the cassette case by heart even though the tape has been gone for a couple decades. I wish I still had today. If Yohandra and Gerson could see any band live who would they want to see?

Feel free to message me at melissathegoddess[at]gmail[dot]com if you'd like to respond to any of my questions off the comments thread!

May. 17 2015 05:30 PM

Edit: a "better" life meaning one that possessed more meaning, purpose and deeper connections to others than what could exist by simply buying into the default social norms and mores. I was thinking more about the journey taken with those like-minded individuals rather than focusing on the outcome since some of those outcomes were knowingly chosen and others were not.

There are so many stories in this larger one that could and should be explored. The threads that connected those women who didn't "opt-in" the way Papo and Gerson did what are their stories? What roles did those in the sanatorium who felt it to be an extension of prison take in educating those they loved on the outside to help them avoid the same fate? What are the stories of the families whose loved ones were sent away?

How did what happened to self-injectors shape HIV education and outreach policy? What is the current state of HIV in Cuba? How are HIV patients treated (medically and socially) in Cuba. Does criminalization of patients still occur?

I know Cuba has an incredible medical system, but I don't know how American isolationist policies affected pharmaceutical advances there. Was there a delay in access to the newest antiretroviral drugs? What do disenfranchised youth in Cuba feel toward the path that Los Frikis before them created? Is there an awareness of the impact or have they -and the lessons associated- been forgotten?

So many questions....

May. 17 2015 02:28 PM

Death is a door, but so is music. I went to hear an old but much beloved punk band last week and, even though I am close to 40, I will still jump into the pit and rock out like I did during those early years when I was young, angry and searching for something to hold on to that was genuine and honest.

The punk scene changed my life- the bonds I created made me feel less alone, less defective. They saved me from a very lonely, depressed and suicidal path.

I mentioned to coworkers the day after that show how listening to the Sex Pistols, the Misfits, Ministry, Rage Against the Machine and so many other bands changed my life and I instantly recognized in their quizzical looks and questions that they didn't "get" it and no amount of explaining would help them relate the profundity of experiences I have had because of that music.

This story does precisely what I couldn't do in that moment. It beautifully captured and related the pain, disenfranchisement, and alienation felt by so many youth and how music became a crucial door to a better life. In music we are united.

I married an old punk from Mexico and even though we grew up in two different cultures speaking different languages we share such similar stories of how music shaped and changed our lives.

Love and solidarity to all of those who have walked that same path. I would love to see a monument or tribute to Los Frikis started.

Can Luis share with us what his thoughts are on what Yohandra and Gerson would like to see that would be the best lasting tribute to Papo & Los Frikis? This needs to happen whether it is an album or a show or a memorial/monument or something entirely different.

This podcast has been a mighty pebble that could start ripples that could become waves.

May. 17 2015 01:48 PM
Domagoj from Croatia

Really interesting, on so many levels. Thanks!

Apr. 28 2015 03:24 PM
lola from prince islands

Here's a drawing that I made after listening to the episode:

Apr. 25 2015 01:12 PM

Wow! This story really gave me goosebumps. Thank you for constantly putting out really interesting content.
So many levels of perception and perspective in this one.

Apr. 20 2015 03:02 AM
Sarah from Austin, TX

I shared this amazing podcast last night with my cousin, who is the person that gave me a Led Zeppelin album as a teenager. And then today he linked me to a song he wrote inspired by this story! The circle of rock n' roll!

Apr. 16 2015 07:41 PM
JT from London

Wow. Really goes to show that by trying to be a 'rebel' you end up re-enforcing the most oppressive system of all: that of US hegemonic imperialism.

In the US you're 'free' to die in poverty.

Apr. 15 2015 10:52 PM
Harriet Truman from Oviedo

Music is definitely one of the most life changing and inspiring thing. It can shape people in so many different ways. It’s a good escape to get away from it all and that's how Vlad and the Frikis used it. Casmir I can relate just listening to one song can really change me and influence me. It’s absolutely horrible how they contracted HIV and did this just to escape. This was a very scary unusual form of self harm. It's a great thing though they realized the damage this did and stopped.

Apr. 13 2015 10:30 PM
Virginia N Plath from United States

Music is so powerful. It has helped me through hard times for sure and alter my way of looking at things. Very cool to hear about how it effected these men.

Apr. 13 2015 07:27 PM
dmf from omaha, nebraska


Apr. 11 2015 09:48 AM
Aundrea from Ukiah, CA

This was a great podcast. I am a lover of American and British punk music/movement, but never pondered one from Cuba. The self-injecting part was incredible and sad. Thank you for a great podcast.

Apr. 09 2015 06:08 PM


Apr. 09 2015 01:28 AM
Guy from United States

Great episode! What's the name of the song you play as the show is ending?

Apr. 08 2015 09:10 PM
Danette Cotera from México

Hi, can we get any of the music from the cuban punk bands mentioned??? Awesome show and awesome episode!!!

Apr. 08 2015 02:12 PM
Loreli E Bond from USA

Enjoyed this NPR because my love for music. It is inspiring and is able to take people to different places, experience feelings and imagine possibilities. I love hearing from people that love music too because it makes my love for it greater. I have always grown up with music in my life and it will never leave.

Apr. 07 2015 07:10 AM
Any K. Melville

Music is so powerful, it has helped me through some of the hardest times of my life. It doesn't matter what mood you're in, there's a song that speaks to you. Music isn't just an art it's an outlet to express emotion or escape it. It takes you to a whole other world. It was really inspiring to hear about how these people used music to escape socialism in Cuba and start a movement. But it's also really sad that they felt the need to destroy their lives by injecting themselves with he hiv virus. It just proves how powerful music can be in influencing everyday life.

Apr. 06 2015 11:42 PM
Anna B. Silverstein

It is amazing how a thousand little things converge and manifest in something like the punk rock/HIV movement. Music is a contagious form of expression, and the fact that they were able to enjoy it after condemning themselves is a bit ironic. I am curious as to how the quarantined areas stayed so autonomous.

Apr. 06 2015 11:22 PM
Anna Morrison from Florida, USA

This really intrigued me, and it really made me happy. I'm a big music lover and I definitely believe that it is very, very powerful. It really is true that with music, one can literally escape from reality without leaving home. It's magical and it positively affects the lives of so many people.

Apr. 06 2015 09:52 PM
Agatha Y. Coleridge

I agree that music is very powerful and can change people's lives in many different ways. It’s a way to escape reality and I believe that was how Vladomir and the other Frikis used it to escape socialism in Cuba. I thought it was very interesting how he explained his life in Cuba and how hard it was to live during that time. I also thought it was fascinating how just after hearing one Led Zeppelin song, it changed his whole perspective on life and how it changed him from being a good-mannered boy to a Friki. However, when the people started to inject themselves with the HIV blood in order to escape to the sanitarium, it was really sad because their life must have been so bad that they had to resort to this self-harm. Even though it created a movement and hundreds of more people began to inject themselves, I'm glad that after they saw the consequences people stopped injecting themselves with the HIV.

Apr. 06 2015 09:12 PM
Catniss S. Vonnegut from Oviedo

Music is constantly changing because of the people that listen to it and people are constantly changing because of the music they listen too. It's sad that the man got HIV because in countries like Cuba its basically an instant death sentence. In America there is at least ways to prolong the lives of those with HIV and AIDS. Its weird to think how different the lives of people in other countries are compared to the way we live.

Apr. 06 2015 08:50 PM
Emma from NYC

I looked for Valdomir's documentary online but wasn't able to find more than a 4 minute clip on YouTube. Can Radiolab post a link?

Apr. 05 2015 05:07 PM
David from United States

There is great beautiful movie called Azucar Amarga, made by a Cuban-American, Leon Ichazo, in the 90's ( about this. One of the charachters is a "frikie" who does everything you describe here, the rock culture, the beatings, the injections with Aids and the sanitarium. It's worth watching.

Apr. 03 2015 03:57 PM
Daniel Alarcón from United States

This is Daniel Alarcón, Executive Producer of Radio Ambulante.

Victor Candelas: I'm afraid there may be some misunderstanding. Our producer, Luis Trelles, has reported two stories from Cuba about the frikis. The first, "Cuando La Habana era Friki" is a broader look at the rock scene, and its fractured relationship to the government. The second, called "Los sobrevivientes" focuses on the story of Gerson and Yohandra, and we dive deep into life at the sanitarium in Pinar del Río. It sounds like you didn't hear this second story. I can assure you no one is "lying". We take our work seriously, just as our colleagues at Radiolab do.

The link to Los sobrevivientes is here:

I hope you enjoy it.



Apr. 02 2015 02:31 PM
Carrie from Boston

I'm a little frustrated that Radiolab didn't include other information besides the photo blog. I'd like to know more about the documentaries create (possible links to clips) and any academic papers or other articles written about this subculture in Cuba. My family is from Cuba but left in the 60s, so I'm extremely interested to learn about these acts of rebellion that wouldn't otherwise have been publicized by Cuba. I find it unsatisfying to offer such a powerful story without any follow up.

Apr. 02 2015 09:39 AM
Victor Candelas from United States

I just heard the spanish version from radio ambulante and the story is totally different, they do not mention that some of the frikis infected themselves with aids like this podcast does, they say it was an epidemic, they do not mention any of the happenings in the sanitarium where they were sent to. i'm so confused and wonder who is lying?

Apr. 01 2015 09:53 PM
Jim from Canada

As I listened to this documentary I thought of my own days as a Punk Rocker and all of the British and American Punks who had influenced me in that youthful rebellion through banging out rage filled three chord songs.

All that I could think of was that by comparison the Brits and American Punks of my youth seemed like side-line poseurs and rank amateurs when compared to the nihilistic dedication to real rebellion in the Cuban scene.
It's one thing to sing about the Queen of England knowing that she is never going to personally send her thugs to beat the crap out of you, or send you to work in the fields.

Signing about Castro is one thing...singing to Castro in direct defiance is not rebellion - it was Revolution.

Apr. 01 2015 11:13 AM
Javier from The Central Valley California

Were talking about Cubans of whom up to now the majority still doesn't have access to the internet. So even searching for their music is close to impossible. Awesome.

Mar. 31 2015 12:34 PM
Nico from San Francisco

I find it interesting that I do not find any information about "Papo la Bala" or "Luis Enrique Delgado" on Google. Very strange...

Mar. 31 2015 11:24 AM
Toni L. Gatsby from NY

The impact music can have on someones life truly amazes me. Music is only various levels and pitches of many sounds together, and how this can turn someones life around is truly unbelievable. Cuba continues to fight in many wars and battles, causing their economy to suffer. HIV is truly a saddening topic and is a commonly discussed issue inside and outside of school. Many people should take a step forward to try to protect themselves from this terrible disease. Awareness should become a bigger part in todays society, but people also should be more careful about the choices they make.

Mar. 30 2015 10:50 PM
Toni J Wilde from savannah, ga

Music has influenced people ever sense the beginning of time. Especially starting in the 1900's, music shaped culture, outlooks, and attitude of many individuals. It saddens me that even in the 80's, one couldn't freely express themselves without being convicted of a "petty crime". That is where it draws the line of religion and culture, let someone be who they want to be and don't judge them for someone you're not

Mar. 30 2015 10:32 PM
Agatha B Silverstein from Fl

The idea of music having such a huge impact on these people's loves is amazing. Punk Rock ideals were originally about speaking up against the government and allowing people to say their how they deal with things around them and not care about it. The Cuban punk rockers who self injected themselves were very much protesting the government because it gave them the freedom they wanted and deserved.

Mar. 30 2015 10:04 PM
Virginia T Ripley from Florida

I thought this was a really interesting story. I find it amazing how certain things can influence a persons life so much.

Mar. 30 2015 09:55 PM
Alice A. Keats from Florida

It is amazing the impact simple music can have on someone's lives. It's amazing how it can change a person just by the impact of sound. Constant war and fighting always takes a toll on the economy and unfortunately Cuba's economy is suffering and will remain to suffer. The section about HIV is insanely saddening. In my second period class it was said that HIV AIDS is remains the biggest risk of death among the world. More people should take initiative to stay safe and protect themselves but many don't have substantial education. I hope that some day the virus will be eliminated completely, it is utterly deadly and should be brought more awareness.

Mar. 30 2015 08:41 PM
Alice Z Lovecraft from Florida

When I clicked on this I expected a metal band to show opposition to the government through music - and only music. I can not believe that these people were brave enough to do something like that. I have to admit, it was an awful idea and could be considered a bit stupid but I understand their actions under the circumstances and they did not know the effects of the illness. I also found it interesting that the houses they kept the people who got HIV at were so nice. Just from that, it sounds like a pretty good deal. You get a home, lots of food, you can listen to whatever music you want to and you get to relax. It all sounded great until the disease really began to affect them.

Mar. 30 2015 08:16 PM
Lorelei M. Coleridge

This was a really interesting exploration of the interaction between music and politics. It is also a very engaging and informative story. As someone who likes music but is regrettably unknowledgeable about it, I found it very helpful that they included clips of what they were talking about. What these people did in rebellion was crazy but at the same time one of only a few ways to take back control of their lives in a desperate situation. It is terribly sad that they had to choose between suffering and dying young, and that they did so without really knowing the consequences. This is both a tragedy and an inspirational story about courage and the power of music, and I was really surprised to find that I actually enjoyed this podcast somehow.

Mar. 30 2015 07:42 PM
3D from Chicago

Hey 2d - it's "sinkhole" by soltero.

Mar. 30 2015 11:20 AM

anyone know the name of the song at the very end? I googled the lyrics and nothing is showing up!!

Mar. 30 2015 02:41 AM
Melina trimarchi from Canada

I can't seem to find any information on Maldito sea tu nombre libertad, directed by Vladimir Ceballos (1994) other than academic articles. Could anyone help me out? I'd love to rent it online or find it somewhere!

Mar. 29 2015 01:11 PM
Catniss J. Plath

This story is wonderful. It's amazing how rock and roll can influence a person's life so much. I can't imagine how much these people went through.

Mar. 29 2015 11:34 AM
smo from brooklyn

this is incredible! thank you so much radiolab for continually being amazing!

Mar. 28 2015 08:18 PM

Mar. 27 2015 11:21 PM
James Goode from Shanghai, China

The last few stories featured on Radio Lab have been: Football, Wrestling, Don Quixote, Fu-Go, and Los Frikis. While I'm yearning for a good old fashioned science-related story, the people who complain about this topic and that topic are missing the greatness of this show that basically exists without topical borders.

Mar. 27 2015 09:40 AM
Carmen from Puerto Rico

Incredible story. It was heart-rending.

Mar. 26 2015 10:33 PM
Tyler from NYC

This is one of the most amazing stories you've ever featured. It has been in my head all week. Can you please expand the story at some point or have the Spanish language version translated to augment the story? Thanks so much again.

Mar. 26 2015 10:21 PM
Jon from dc

Where could we find the punk music used throughout the episode?

Mar. 26 2015 09:47 PM
Aaron Murphy

Thinking of these kids, finding out what they signed up for ... made me weep. So sad.

Mar. 26 2015 07:01 PM
Jamie York, Senior Producer, Radiolab from NYC

The Swedish documentary is called 'Socialismo o Muerte' and it was produced by Swedish television channel SVT -

And Tim is fine, sorry for implying otherwise.

Mar. 26 2015 02:58 PM
tieronejeff from Canada

I too am looking for that SVT documentary... any chance someone can post a name or link? I know zero Spanish so I know I will spell wrong if I try and guess based on audio.

Mar. 26 2015 02:43 PM
Adrian Sanchez from Oakland, Ca.

Are there any links to the music of the bands from the sanitariums? I'd love to listen to and support bands like VIH, and Eskoria if possible.

Mar. 26 2015 12:21 PM
Nancy from Germany

Like Johan, I'd like to know more about the Swedish documentary. I've only been able to find a Dutch one. Could it be there was a mix-up?

Mar. 26 2015 11:40 AM
vladimir ceballos from providence, Rhode Island

Luis Enrique Delgado was the name of Papo la Bala. Hi Yoel from Washington, whar part of this documentary was not real? Yo tambien vivi esa epoca y los entreviste a todos cuando hacia mi documental y el Papo fue muy buen amigo mio pues vivia en el Llamazares en mi mismo edificio. Cuando aquello yo dirigia el Programa En Punta por Radio Guama y fui freekiss mucho antes que el Papo y el Bruja y Emilito, etc. Es verdad que las fechas se trastocan pero la mayor parte es realidad. Anyway Maldito sea tu nombre libertad esta a tu disposicion si lo quieres ver

Mar. 26 2015 04:11 AM
Jackie from Tempe, AZ

Incredible story! My mind was blown.

Mar. 26 2015 12:31 AM
Yoel from Washington state

I was one of these guys. But i leave the group because my family requested me from the group because they thought i have AID. There is things in this history are not real and very bad information. Papo la bala, Bruja, Los hermanos Quintana fueron todos mis amigos.

Mar. 25 2015 11:41 PM
S Dean from United States

@Jamie York, Using "dearly departed" made me think that Tim Howard had died... I'm glad that's not the case! Great podcast :)

Mar. 25 2015 11:18 PM
Jamie York, Senior Producer, Radiolab from NYC

The song under the end credits is 'Sinkhole' by Soltero, the nom de guerre of our dearly departed producer Tim Howard. You can find more of his music here:

Mar. 25 2015 06:13 PM
Chelsea from Canada

Is the documentary about this available online anywhere?

Mar. 25 2015 06:08 PM
Sam from Canada

Anyone know the name of the song at the end?

Mar. 25 2015 05:29 PM
todd from Manhattan

@Lee, the Radio Ambulante version also has an English transcription worth checking out:

Mar. 25 2015 04:44 PM
Johan Hallberg from Sverige

Strong and sad story. What was the original name of the Swedish Documentary you mention.

Mar. 25 2015 04:27 PM
Lee from California

This is an amazing story! I wish that the folks at Radio Lab had gone much further into the story than they did.

I followed the link to Radio Ambulante, but I don't speak Spanish. Its a shame that this story, and perhaps many stories like it, doesn't reach a wider audience simply because of a language barrier.

I guess I'll have to start studying Spanish. And Mandarin. And Russian....

Mar. 25 2015 03:14 PM

What was Papo's full name?

Mar. 25 2015 01:01 PM

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