This research led to several academic articles on different conceptions of “corporate social responsibility” and how the Cuban pharmaceutical industry – using “health needs” rather than profit as its “metric of success” – is “outperforming us in terms of drug treatments”.
Surprised by what she discovered and not content to keep her findings to the readers of her academic essays she decided that a musical was the best vehicle for quashing the many misconceptions about Cuba.
Having written the text, rather than turn to professional song writers she joined forces with the music department at Southampton and invited schools and colleges from across the UK to write the lyrics and music. As an educator she was keen to turn the creation of the musical into an educational project and now it is already being called ‘the next Evita’.
The script has ‘slots’ for 20 songs on such unlikely musical themes as the US embargo, the ethical dilemmas of leadership, the Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis.
So far 569 people/organisations have registered their songs!
People can vote for which songs make it into Fidel the musical in an X-Factor style event at The Turner Simms Concert Hall, University of Southampton on Sunday January 24.
The finalists will perform and then the audience will be asked to choose which ones should be in the musical with the help of a professional panel of musicians and songwriters: hence she is calling it “a musical by the people for the people!”
Dr Baden says she was inspired to write the musical because she felt she had grown up with a distorted picture of Cuba.
“Cuba came to my attention because their pharmaceutical industry is out-performing the US in their research into disease: for example, they have the first lung cancer vaccine,” she said, explaining that whilst countries like the US and UK are driven by profit and achieving the maximum price possible in terms of supply and demand, Cuba is driven by meeting the needs of society.
“It’s a very different mentality”, she said.
“If you look at things like infant mortality and gender equality, Cuba is out-performing us on very little money, so I went there, talked to high level businesses and entrepreneurs and became inspired.
"I wrote a paper on it and it was turned down because, they said, 'Castro was a brutal dictator'.
From speaking to lots of people there she felt Castro was “very beloved” and of Cuba she adds: “They are very democratic. They only have one party but there is democracy as you have to be voted on to it.
“This knee-jerk response we have to Cuba that it’s so oppressive and there’s a dictatorship is so far removed from reality.
"The propaganda gets in the way and as an academic it really bothered me that this would block the publishing of my paper.”
During her visits and extensive reading and research Dr Baden says she became fascinated by Cuba’s “culture of solidarity”, 'the level of political literacy' and '"he heroic stories of the revolution".
As for Mr Castro – who stepped down as president in 2008 amid reports of deteriorating health – she was “struck by how much people loved him".
“People might joke about his eccentricities, but they never doubt his integrity or intentions.”
But she adds: “People either loved him or hated him: there were 638 attempts on his life! He is a remarkable character.”
And so the musical is “sympathetic without stretching the truth”, but there will be controversial episodes, including one about “a poet who gets arrested for being too critical”.
The musical content is certainly shaping up to be very varied but once the final songs are selected an arranger will step in to orchestrate the material and forge it into a coherent whole. It will be honed through a series of development workshops at the Mayflower Theatre. Any proceeds will go to charity.
Dr Baden says it looks as though they have enough songs for a concise version of the musical and any schools involved will be able to stage it free of charge.
The plan will ultimately be to put on a professional production, take it on tour and eventually into the West End.
It has been a major undertaking for Dr Baden the mother of two who first visited Cuba two-and-a-half years ago but it has also been a labour of love.
“The gap between work and play is completely broken down for me. Over last summer I was writing the script and was totally immersed in the world of 50s, 60s, 70s Cuba. This last Autumn was full on with teaching so it’s all been a little overwhelming.
“I feel I’ve set a ball rolling down the hill and I’m frantically chasing after it! It really livened up last year. It’s been nice to step outside my comfort zone.”
Could Fidel the Musical be the next Evita? It certainly looks very promising.
*The Turner Simms gala musical event takes place on January 24. A free Cuban cocktail/Cuban beer is included in the adult price and soft drinks and light refreshments are available for the under 18s. The bar is also open for extra drinks. Television coverage is likely.
Be part of the Fidel the Musical journey.
Click on https://www.turnersims.co.uk/events/fidel-the-musical-gala-event/ or ring Turner Sims 023 8059 5151.