By Mike Fuller
Havana, Cuba – Occasional sprinkles kept down the dust for more than a hundred
dedicated rappers and fans at the Madriguera performance space in Centro Habana.
Many dreadlocked, and some with hiphop t-shirts, they were there for the Segunda
Avanzada de las Tropas concert, hosted by the duo Satira y Mestizo.
The space has been provincial headquarters of the Hermanos Saenz Association
since 1986, and its cultural promoter in charge of hiphop, William Figuerero,
says the most developed elements of this genre in Cuba are rap, breakdance,
graffiti, spoken word, and DJ’s."We’re trying to cultivate a more educational, cultural message that includes
elements like love and peace without abandoning hiphop’s rebellious qualities,”
he says, giving as an example the group Explosion Suprema. He said that as their
name implies, they have a volatile presence, but their message does not really
transcend daily existence or become socially critical in a negative way.
Group member Etian Arnau Lizaire, 24, is a welder from the outskirts of Alamar,
already known for being one of Havana’s more marginal neighborhoods. He talks
about how most of the polemics of today’s rap in Cuba revolve around gender and
offensive language to women, and says “we do strong music from our hearts but we
don’t incite people.”
Group leader Reynor Hernandez says “we’re not sexist and we have never have told
people to go be violent. Strength should not be confused with violence.” He says
unity and self-esteem are the keys to effecting palpable change in today’s
world, and that cannot be done alone.
Like Etian, he is currently studying to receive his high school Graduate
Equivalency Diploma, but doesn’t really get into academic or political issues.
“I’d say that in Cuba there are probably more good things than bad, but I’m a
musician not a politician.”
Satira from the hosting band felt otherwise, saying the island is far from
paradise, and many of its problems come from the US blockade. He said he
disagrees with George Bush’s policies regarding Cuba, and that much of Cuba has
been victimized by the blockade. “The people have no blame, but his laws affect
us,” he said.
Mestizo characterized the group’s activist influence when he claimed “while Satira y Mestizo exist we will struggle for the rights of the world’s poor.” One
of their numbers interlaced a recording of Che Guevara’s famous “Hasta la
victoria siempre” speech (Victory forever onward) with calls for power to
overcome daily obstacles.
Another Havana hiphopper was Jimmy, who sung a spiraling tour de force about the
difference between wanting and having. Krudas, a feminine duo including former
puppeteers Olivia Prendes and Odaimara Cuesta, raged into the mostly male
audience with lines like “now were gonna’ tell you a little about the ones who
birthed you, the ones who got you here all nice and pretty.”
No less than a phenomenon, three members of the visual-musical-literary group
OMNI gave a performance with Amaury Pacheco praying for the earth’s disrupted
orbit and Yassel Castellanos and David Escalona.
The latter is a specialist in finding Jose Marti’s “underground” writings, such
as “Freedom of thought is the base of all others” and using them in his songs
and on his clothing.
The show closed well after midnight with a hot-blooded performance by Explosion
Suprema, and proved, in the words of organizing committee member.