Havana Hip-Hop: Alive and Kicking By Mike Fuller

(Prensa Latina)Havana, Cuba -Dusk at Havana’s 100 thousand-strong bedroom community of Alamar
brought together November 5 rappers and fans as part of the 10th Habana Hip
Hop Festival. A city-wide event, it also included sites in Vedado and Nuevo
Vedado, with everything from concerts to audiovisual presentations,
exhibitions and conferences.

Called by some a “new kind of Cuban social song,” it could be said to have
roots in a musical tradition that goes back to folk singers like Silvio
Rodríguez or Pablo Milanés. But with an edge.And that edge sometimes slashes. Tonight’s show included a write-in on the
schedule, and improvisation can invite polemics. People were still talking
about how the night before Escuadrón Patriota had issues from the sponsoring
Hermanos Saiz association for singing outside of the program.

But Sátira y Mestizo’s Jose Miguel Gonzalez and Lewis Cabrales, who met in
the Army two years ago, made it in tonight, dressed in their usual military
fatigues. They fired into the darkened bleachers discourse about African
rebels like Patricio Lumumba and Agostino Neto who fought for their people
and must be remembered.

Definitely not dance music, the lyrics were punctuated by a strumming
syncopated beat, but even the most controversial was intended to have a
positive message.

Wary of journalists twisting his intentions, Lewis is very clear about
lyrics like “Hay que tener un socio lleno de pesos,” or “One needs a partner
with a lot of money.” He told me that “to be able to change things, not only
us Cubans, we need to count on collaboration, because alone it’s not easy.
Those of us with little need to unite with others who have more resources.
Ours is a practical message we give to the poor of the world, but not
necessarily ourselves. We consider ourselves underground and we like it
He said that as a matter of fact what they want is to “put in our grain of
sand to improve things
.” Other groups may be less politically charged, and
Malcolm Junco, director of Justicia for the last eight years, said about the
recent US elections “The US people should not have voted for Bush, but I’m
not into politics
.” Although he claims his music was rejected at a festival
five years ago, he feels rap is pretty much accepted in Cuba now.

The group Desafio’s leader, Mendoza , says their music is “a means of
expression to make favorable criticism to improve the world
.” He said the US
election was “a total fraud and truly sad for humanity. I write against war
and social problems, and am pro-women and love
.” Luis Eligio was also on the
scene, garbed in a construction helmet with painted face.

Member of the collective OMNI, which also does performance art and graffiti
since 1999, they have a headquarters at the Alamar Casa de la Cultura.
Pioneers in stage poetry, he said they’d like to see more interaction with
the public, and opposed the fences put up between stage and crowd. His team
fused with Zona Franca, a local rap group in 2001, and they try to stick to
what he calls the “essence of rap, a spiritual street movement.”
He said the US election was a “game to entertain the world. Anyone they
elect is a façade, and the real government is invisible. Power in the USA is
an amalgam of Coca Cola, toothpaste, hamburgers and the best clothes, and is
converted into virtual images. There are dissenters but they don’t organize.
But some real good Americans have come here

Eligio said it’s important for performers of this genre to be faithful to
their beginnings, as groups like Krudas Cubensi, Anonimo Consejo and
especially Explosion Suprema. This reflexive performer, who wakes every day
at 5am to meditate, said it is fundamental to discover oneself, be aware of
religious traditions, spirituality, music, politics, struggle and the search
for God.

An almighty presence in the Alamar amphitheater may be debatable, but the
spray painted images on the walls, the clarity of the sung messages and aura
of the people was evidence that some power higher was alive.
And kicking.

[Photo: Mendoza of the band Desafío].