Cuba’s rebel rap roars for ‘revolution within the revolution’
Cuba's rebel rap roars for 'revolution within the revolution'
by Laura Bonilla Sun Jan 14, 6:29 PM ET
BARRERAS, Cuba (AFP) – Backed by a modest home recording studio,
Humberto Cabrera has joined Cuba's rappers who rhyme and roar for change
in a country whose communist regime usually quiets dissent.
Hip-hop artists have some of the most critical voices on the island, and
many flock to Cabrera's home in Barreras, a hushed town outside Havana,
to record their plight and pleas for a better life.
One song complains about harsh life in Havana, "where there is no hope,
from where the savvy leave."
"We try to talk about the reality of a Cuban's life in our songs, what
happens to us in the street," Cabrera, 23, told AFP.
Cabrera, whose stage name is "Papa Humbertico" (Daddy Little Humberto),
formed the rap duo Mano Armada (Armed Hand) with Yoandy Gonzalez, "El
Discipulo" (The Disciple).
One of their songs, "Revolution within the Revolution," talks about the
need for "things to change" and for "life to improve" in Cuba, which has
been led by
Fidel Castro's regime since 1959.
The duo talks about their ideas in a short documentary they made with a
"We have lived under the same political doctrine for a long time and
changes are still lacking," Gonzalez says in the recording.
"There is a need for young leaders, young ideas," he says. "We don't
want the Americans to come take charge here and privatize things. We
want everything the way it is but with new ideas."
The walls of Cabrera's studio are splashed with graffiti. He records on
a computer, copies onto discs and distributes homemade demos by hand.
Hip-hop made its way to Cuba in the 1980s over radio broadcasts from
Florida, less than 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the Caribbean island.
Today, there are about 500 rap groups in Cuba that sing about racism,
the people who flee the island seeking a better life and everyday problems.
Only a handful who abide by certain political and aesthetic requirements
receive help from the Cuban Rap Agency (ACR), which the government
created in 2002.
Edgar Gonzalez, 22, and known as "Edgaro" cooperates with the agency and
said there are different concepts for being "anti-establishment."
"To point to a problem resolves nothing," said Gonzalez, whose group is
named "Doble Filo" (Double Edged).
"Rap owes it to the people to go beyond what they already know," he
said, adding that rappers should offer solutions.
"Armed Hand," despite lacking a medium to promote their music like most
Cuban rappers, is not interested in joining the rap agency because they
want their music to be "from the street" and not "institutional."
"I think I'm one of the rappers heading the black list," said Cabrera,
who wears loose Bermuda shorts and shaves his head clean.
"There are places where we haven't been able to perform because they
know our history," he said. "Radios have told us, 'I can't play you
because they'll kick me out, because it will put me in trouble'."
Cabrera said they were invited to perform in Mexico two years ago. But
two days before their trip, the government lifted their exit visas
without explanation, he said.
Cabrera and Gonzalez are members of Saiz Brothers Association, a branch
of the Culture Ministry for young artists to explore "the most audacious
and revolutionary levels of a vanguard art."
The association promotes "an art within the revolution, completely
within its political beliefs," said Claudia Esposito, one of the
While rap has found a voice in Cuba, it now faces fierce competition
from reggaeton, which mixes rap, reggae and Latin rhythms but whose main
preoccupation is getting people to dance sensually.
"All reggaeton does is make people stupid," Cabrera lamented.