Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rap Calls for 'Revolution Within the Revolution'

Rap Calls for 'Revolution Within the Revolution'
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Aug 14 (IPS) - In makeshift studios, Cuba's hip hop movement
keeps on recording music that goes to the heart of the country's
troubles, in spite of the indifference of record companies and the
media, and the negative response of society, which is perhaps afraid of
hearing its defects exposed in song lyrics.

"People are making hip hop music in a very basic way, that is, with a
computer and a microphone. They just squeeze into a small room or a
bathroom," Alexei "El Tipo Este" Rodríguez, a member of the duo Obsesión
along with Magia López, one of the few women rappers on the island, told

They both had "a really bad experience" when they recorded with the
state-owned company EGREM (Recordings and Musical Editions Company).
"They lied to us about sales in the United States, and people in Cuba
never got to hear about the album because they handled it so badly,"
said Alexei, 35, who has been in the hip hop movement for more than a

"I think Cuban record companies are only looking for music that markets
itself on its own, like salsa, reggaeton -- dance music," said Afro
Velásquez, a member of the group Hermanazos, which with Obsesión makes
up the independent recording project La Fabri_k, a response to the
indifference of national recording studios to including rap in their

"Our dream is to sign a contract with a foreign record company," said
Rodríguez. "But the most radical, the most orthodox, don't want to be
bound to any recording company."

Among the "orthodox" is Papá Humbertico, the driving force behind the
Real 70 project, which produces rap discs and videos. The 23-year-old
has become an almost legendary figure because of his tenacious defence
of "underground" hip hop, following the rules of urban poetry and
disdaining commercialism.

Real 70 emerged in 2001 as a result of the need for instrumental backing
for rappers in this Caribbean island nation.

"Very few people within rap were devoted to music production, and they
charged prices that were impossible at the time," Humbertico said.

His studio is a room in the house where he lives with his family, in the
town of Barreras, east of Havana. Groups will either pay for a recording
or background music, or get them free, depending on their aims. "If we
see they feel the same way as we do, they become part of the project,"
he said.

But hip hop isn't just a way of earning a living. "I'm doing something
that gives me strength to live and carry on," said Humbertico, who was
expelled from several schools before he found his true vocation. "If I
hadn't become a rapper, I'd now be involved in dogfights or cockfights

In 2002 his name hit the international media because of the controversy
sparked by a song of his against "police brutality against young
people," which finally got him hauled into the office of a high-ranking
Havana police chief.

"I see that as an achievement: I wrote that song, and it hit home where
I wanted it to," he said.

Humbertico is also a member of the Mano Armada duo. He says that the
country needs to "revolutionise the political sphere and the minds of
the people" through new ideas. His latest disc, "Revolution within the
Revolution," spells out these thoughts.

On a separate but parallel road, La Fabri_k's Third Symposium of Cuban
Hip Hop, held from Jul. 25 to 29, attempted to consolidate organisation
of the movement on the island and relaunch its community work, one of
the core practices of Obsesión and Hermanazos' project.

"We are asking ourselves whether we are really progressive and
revolutionary," López said. "We are marginalised, but that's not an
impediment to organising our work."

"The symposium has helped me see that the art of rapping, being a disc
jockey, spraying graffiti or dancing isn't all there is to hip hop
culture, because there's much more to it, it includes lifestyle and
everything you can do to make the world a better place," Velásquez said.

Now La Fabri_k is working on a disc against violence, which will bring
together various rap groups. The chosen tracks are about different
expressions of violence in modern society, such as police brutality,
wars, family and domestic violence, and violence promoted by the media.

"It's a disc about violence, but in itself it isn't violent, because
it's about finding love, which is so necessary," Rodríguez emphasised.

The aggressive gestures and lyrics of hip hop are one reason why this
music style has been criticised in Cuba. "If (rappers) are aggressive on
stage, it's because they've been downtrodden for 500 years, and because
they live on a small plot, in a house that's falling down, and have no
chance of recording a disc," said Carmen González, a poet and
independent researcher.

According to González, the racial equality that was decreed after the
1959 triumph of the Cuban Revolution has not been effective because of
the "five centuries of social disadvantage" suffered by black people,
who comprise the majority of hip hop movement artists.

"It's very hard for our society to recognise that there is a group that
has been left out, and that is spelling this out to the country in art,"
she said.

As well as providing immediate social commentary, Cuban rap calls on
people to think, poses historic themes anew, and attacks red-hot
problems like homophobia and racism. "From a reality-based viewpoint, it
is setting forth proposals, but people haven't learned to see and
recognise what hip hop is proposing," González said.

"You can't just turn your back on them and say, 'this is just for
marginal people,'" said González, who is also editor of the Movimiento
magazine of the Cuban Rap Agency, devoted to hip hop in Cuba, and is
writing a book about women's voices in Cuban rap.

"This must be defended in the way society works / it's not just about
being clever at rhyming words /," López sings on a track of the first
disc produced by La Fabri_k, while her partner Rodríguez appears to
reinforce her message, singing on the same disc "don't mix up scarcity /
with lack of honesty /." (END/2007)


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