Cuban hip hopHip hop music arrived in Cuba via radio and TV broadcasts from Miami. During the 1980s hip hop culture in Cuba was mainly centred on breakdancing. But by the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the onset of the Special Period, young "raperos" were seeking ways to express their frustrations.
Early days: ImportationInitially hip hop was viewed with suspicion, not just by the government, but by many in the community as well. With raperos emulating US rappers' aggressive posturing and lyrical content, hip hop was seen as just another cultural invasion from the US, bringing with it the violence and problems of the ghettos.
The importation and the birth of Cuban rap could be debatable, but many argue that the importation of U.S rap and its influence was brought from Miami. Rap hit Cuba approximately quarter century ago but it was not imported to Cuba until the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. However it existed among young moneros, who had a tremendous oral ability and linguistic creativity. At the beginning of establishing Rap in Cuba rap like rock was perceived as a foreign import and while it was never forbidden, neither was it promoted or encouraged” The Cuban government changed its perceptions about hip hop during 1999 when they declared it as an authentic expression of Cuban culture. In addition the government formed the Agencia Cubana de Rap (The Cuban Rap Agency) that provides state-run record label and hip hop magazine, and began supporting the annual Cuban Hip Hop festival. Cuban rappers injected a renovating energy into Cuban music that was taken from hip hop culture. Rap in Cuba began to emerge precisely during the gangsta rap period in the United States which included artists like 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G, Ice-T, Snoop Dogg and many more influential gangster rappers.
Gradually this began to change as raperos began to express their own reality and make use of traditional Cuban culture. One sentiment expressed involved how Cuban politics were not keeping pace with social reality. All Cubans are discouraged from visiting government-designated 'tourist zones,' such as the fancy restaurants and night clubs in Old Havana, and police will ask most who show up there for ID. But statistics show that the police arrest Afrocubans all over the island more often than Whites. Many Afrocubans believed government assumes Blacks are more likely to be involved in criminal activity. [http://www.angelfire.com/pr/red/cuba/cuba_anti_racism.htm] This exclusion from night life led to the importance of house parties where raperos were able to establish their own "underground" hip hop scene. The financial constraints of tourist geared night clubs that only accept dollars or venues that cost up to the equivalent of a standard monthly Cuban salary for entry also aided in the significance of house parties in the Cuban hip hop scene.
The small, underground gatherings or house parties were referred to as bonches. The bonches were for the true hip hop fans who were into the less accessible rap in Cuba. "These bonches can be considered the seeds of today's Cuban rap community." As bonches gained popularity, they became too large for private homes, so aspiring DJ Adalberto Jimenez found a public space in Havana, which he called La Moña. The venue did charge a small fee, but it stayed more of a social than commercial club, remaining loyal to the underground scene. Many moneros were interested in creating their own rap, but lack of equipment prevented the formation of professional Cuban hip hop groups until the establishment of the Havana Hip Hop Festival.
In 1995, a group of rappers organized a Hip-hop festival. The annual Hip Hop festival consisted of 50 Cuban and 12 foreign groups: Mos Def and The Roots have supported the event as well as many others. As Hip-hop became more popular, it reached the youth of Cuba and many other countries. As a result, several thousand people globally have attended the festival in previous years. [https://web.archive.org/web/20160304230546/http://www.siafu.ca/story/59]
In the mid-1990s, the music scene was one of the most promising for Cubans to meet tourists and gain possible access to much needed hard currency. Hip-hop developed new dance moves involving the 'solo' female body: the despelote (all-over-the-place) and tembleque (shake-shudder) and the subasta de la cintura (waist auction). These moves define a solo female dance style which involves fast movement and turning/swirling of the area from below shoulders and chest to pelvis (as if one was hula hoop-ing or belly dancing). Often accompanied by hand and body gestures mimicking self-pleasuring, it constituted a noticeable change in dance style, of women dancing to be 'looked at' both by their partners, by other prospective partners, and by other spectators, using their body as a major asset. This was in contrast to traditional dancing such as normative couple dancing.
Birth of a Cuban scene
The change in both attitude towards hip hop and the move towards home grown expression was in part facilitated by the involvement of New Afrikan Revoluationay Nehanda Abiodun, a U.S. Black Liberation Army activist in political exile in Cuba. The U.S. is the birthplace of hip hop, so of course played a major role in the birth of hip hop in Cuba. U.S. hip hop artists continue to be hip hop's most important innovators and are very influential to Cuban rappers. Cuban rappers admire the success of U.S. rappers and desire to achieve the same amount of success, so they begin to model themselves after them.
Hip hop's transfer to Alamar (the birthplace of rap cubano), a suburb east of Havana (with the best radio reception to Miami radio stations 99 JAMS and HOT 105), was so successful that in 1995 Rodolfo Renzoli, a rapper from Alamar's original hip hop collective, Grupo Uno, organized Cuba's first hip hop festival with the aid of the Asociación de Hermanos Sais(AHS). Despite poor promotion and the remote location, the first festival, organized as a friendly competition among the growing group of rap artists in and around Havana, became a huge success with moneros' and 'raperos'. 'Rap cubano emerged as a distinct genre when Amenaza (now known internationally as the Orishas - France, EMI) incorporated Afro-Cuban bata percussion into their performance at the 1996 festival, winning them first place in the competition. The same year, Cuba's first all-female rap group, Instinto, secured second place for their energetically charged rap flow and performance. By 1999, through the aid of the Hip Hop Manifesto (written by DJ Ariel Fernandez), rap cubano and rock music (another marginalized musical genre in Cuba) was declared "an authentic expression of Cuban culture" by Abel Prieto, Cuba's Minister of Culture. Fidel Castro deemed hip hop music to be at the "vanguard of the Revolution" because of its revolutionary message. This resulted in the formation of the Agencia Cubana de Rap (The Cuban Rap Agency). The Agencia Cubana de Rap is the state's organization that runs a record label and hip hop magazine, Movimiento.
Upset with what she saw as blind imitation of commercial US rap culture with its depiction of thug life, violence, and misogyny, Abiodun began working with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in the US to bring progressive US hip hop artists to Cuba. This led to the Black August benefit concerts held in New York City and Havana.
The project has featured progressive artists such as Erykah Badu, David Banner, Common, dead prez, Fat Joe, the Roots, Jean Grae, Les Nubians, Chuck D, Gil Scott-Heron, Dave Chappelle, Tony Touch, Black Thought, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, La Bruha, Imani Uzuri, Jeru and the Coup. [https://web.archive.org/web/20080126075336/http://www.mxgm.org/blackaugust/what-is-the-black-august-hip-hop-project.html]
The Black August Collective that was formed, and the concerts these progressive US artists gave in Cuba, played a key role in expanding and raising the profile of conscious, politicized rap within Cuba. Many Cuban rappers felt an affinity to the revolutionary aspects of the work these artists created. The Black August Hip Hop Collective Statement of Purpose offers that "Our goal is to bring culture and politics together and allow them to naturally evolve into a unique hip hop consciousness that informs our collective struggle for a more just, equitable and human world". Despite the movement's association with an identity other than Cuban, the government supported The Black August Collective and allowed the rappers to perform as they were supportive of the revolution. The youth of Cuba were fascinated not only by this style of music, but also by the Black Pride of the performers. This consciousness of struggle and achieving the goals of revolution are a key characteristic of a majority of Cuban hip hop today. In the US, early hip hop was a DJ-based music: it was the creative transformation of the turntable from a mere playback device to a full-fledged percussion instrument that established "break beat" music as a new cultural form. Cuba however, had neither turntables nor black vinyl, making it impossible for these exotic new sounds to be duplicate within Cuba. Due to a lack of sophisticated equipment in Cuba, the hip hop that has emerged features simple beats which naturally leads to an emphasis on the lyrical content. Just like earlier American hip hop, Cuban hip hop has developed as an outlet to convey politically charged and socially conscious messages. These messages, over a simple beat, create a raw "old school" sound which draws the underground and alternative hip hop crowd such as the artists mentioned above for some authentic inspiration. Some say that Havana, host of the Hip Hop Festival, is the new home of old school.
Another contributor to hip hop's recognition as authentic Cuban culture was Grupo Uno, a collective from an East Havana cultural center, and rock promoter Rodolfo Renzoli. In 1995, with the help of the Asociación Hermanos Saíz (AHS), an offshoot of the Communist Youth Organization that promotes young artists, they began an annual hip hop festival, known as the Festival de Rap Cubano, in the Havana district of Alamar, seen by many as the birthplace of Cuban hip hop.. The event aimed to provide a public arena for Cuban rappers to display their talents in the center of a poor, black neighborhood teeming with youthful energy, creative spirit, and cultural pride. In an effort to spurn political criticism that Cuban rap was not nationalistic, the festival teamed with the Asociacion Hermanos Sais to help jump start the project. The greatest boosts to this movement came from the Hermanos Saiz Associations support, the Orishas phenomenon, the foundation of the Cuban Agency of Rap and an increase in public appreciation. The aesthetics and style of the Cuban rappers draw from Afro-Cuban rhythms and roots, the influences of jazz, reggae, funk, soul and rock and roll, and social consciousness. Among the premier bands participating in this festival are Obsession, Doble Filo, Hermanazos and Anonimo Consejo. Attracted to the social themes embedded in the lyrics and the energetic, rhythmic beats, the festival was a hit. Hundreds of rappers converged on the stage and for the first time were publicly able to share their words and ideas. The winner of the festivals rap contest was a group by the name of Primera Base, a name that made reference to both Cuba's national sport, baseball, and that a base for rap in Cuba was being established. – Cuban rap had arrived. In Music, Space, and Place, ed. Whitely, Bennett, and Hawkins, 89-107. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004. Ariel Fernández of AHS compares Cuban hip hop with the Nueva Trova of the 1960s - a revolution within the revolution. In his words, "The social role it is playing is very important, Cuban rap is criticizing the deficiencies that exist in society, but in a constructive way, educating youth and opening spaces to create a better society." previously to hip hop, protest music in Cuba have been growing a heritage of three decades; adopted from the tradition of Nueva Cancion, emerged the Cuban protest songs of Nueva Trova. many parallels connect those two styles Nueva Trova and hip hop in Cuba, where both were "misunderstood by state" in the beginning then they became adopted by the Cuban government. Nueva Trova, became the formal representing genre for the Union of Young Communists of the early revolutionary Cuba, same as it is the case for the Cuban hip hop scene, where in its early stages, was adopted by AHS, streamed from the Communist Youth Organization, to become a form of protest songs that the president himself would have a hand in its development. Harry Belafonte is credited with explaining hip hop culture to Fidel Castro at a luncheon. Fidel was so impressed that he called hip hop "the vanguard of the revolution" and was even seen rapping alongside the group Doble Filo at the opening of a baseball game.. Fernandez claimed that the founders of Nueva Trova "showed the direction for how to make revolution with the music... those musicians explored how, as a revolutionary, you talk about the things that are bad within the revolution" (Foehr 2001:35)
Hip hop and rap clubs, while scarce today in Cuba, have emerged as an open and affordable gathering space for lower and middle-class Cubans who are increasingly excluded from other forms of Havana nightlife due to rising prices, dollarization of popular clubs and increasing segregation on behalf of tourists and the wealthy Cuban elite. Under these divisive socio-economic conditions, hip hop and rap concerts have now come to represent a space of open debate and social and political discussion for many young Cubans. Topics such as racism, tourism and police harassment are often addressed openly in these spaces through music and performance as well as through participatory discussion.
Many Cuban rappers use their music as an opportunity to speak out against problems within Cuba or on global issues including war, racism, and pollution. Many Cuban rappers refer to the subjects of their rap as temas sociales or social themes. By involving these social and political themes, they try to make their music constructive and influential to their listeners. Two important themes that are manifested in many of the songs involves the global issue of AIDS and the destructiveness of war. Although these themes may be useful to the listeners in Cuba, many people speak against the governments use of music to influence people. Politics is so deeply rooted in the hip hop scene in Cuba that the revolutionary image of Che Guevara is frequently seen, as the late figure represents the early stage in the Revolution and embodies youthful idealism. According to Geoffrey Baker, the history and legend of Che allows artists to practice “safe radicalism.”
The United States was such a big influence due to the close economic relationship between the United States and Cuba, as well as the successful U.S. intervention in Cuba's War of Independence (1890–1899) against Spain. Due to a corrupt history of U.S. involvement in Cuban affairs, which culminated during the reign of Cuban Dictator, Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro's Revolution was created as anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist. With the ongoing issues between Cuban and the US, including numerous assassination attempts on Fidel Castro by the U.S. government, a cultural revolution within Cuba denied citizens from listening to U.S. forms of music, resulting in the formation of a small underground music community within Havana. In the First Havana Rap Festival in 1996, the Orishas won first prize and signed their first record deal. In the article Music, Space and Place, the authors cite Ice-T, Ice Cube, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, 2Pac, and the Notorious BIG as models and favorites among the artists in Cuba. In Katie Millbauer's article Hip Hop Fridays: Hip Hop A Lo Cubano, she writes about the US rap scene's effect on Cuban rap, "A generation of people born after the revolution are expressing themselves through art, expressing their African identity through culture—doing a lot of things that hip-hop initially started out doing here in the United States."
Probably the most successful rap group to come out of Cuba was the Orishas. Starting off under the name "Amenaza" or "Threat," the group was the first to deal with issues of race and challenge Castro's idea of colorless, or "color-blind," society. However, the Orishas relocated in Paris in 1998, Same year 1998 TheJuniorClan from Canal del Cerro winner the black august festival and best lyrics Gran Premio recording intro demo Ojala Studio"Los dioses" by delabel edition Paris France "La Crema Del Hip Hop Cubano " landing a record deal with a European label and Hip Hop Protesta Venezuela The Junior Clan founder of E.P.G.&.B. . There, they produced rap and hip hop with the classic Cuban sounds of salsa and rumba. This sparked criticism for submitting to commercial influences and abandoning the anti-materialism message adopted by most Cuban rappers.
Cuban hip hop thrives while it is contingent upon Fidel Castro's maxim "Within the revolution, everything," an idea that allows for critical debate as long as it is not seen as counter-revolutionary. Inevitably, as an art form based on individuals' expressions of everyday life, Cuban hip hop often finds itself at the cutting edge of this boundary. As with all industries in Cuba, music production is closely monitored by the government. However, due to publicity campaigns run by hip hop zealots such as Havana University Professor Pablo Herrera, Cuban hip hop has been accepted by the authorities as "an authentic expression of cubanidad" and as such has elicited funding from Cuba's Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, for the annual rap festival. Every day is a social and political balancing act, however, and rap cubano faces increasing encroachment by reggaeton, a music with less political and arguably more misogynistic lyrics that is "easier" to dance too.
The AHS and ACR continue to represent only a handful of the islands estimated 200 rap groups (according to Herrera in 2007) and the current Director of the national rap agency (ACR), Magia Lopes (a rapper in mixed-sex rap group, Obsesion, with her husband, El Tipo Este or Alexei Rodriguez), has organized all-female rap showcases. This 'feminism' in rap cubano is predominantly aimed at denouncing the machista attitude prevalent in Cuban society in spite of tremendous strides for women's rights by the national, state-run Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). Much is written about these Cuban 'hip hop feminists' by scholars Marc Perry (2004), Margaux Joffe (2005), Dr. Sujatha Fernandes (2006, 2007) and Dr. Tanya Saunders (2009). While many female rappers exist, the lesbian trio, Krudas Cubensi, have received a lot of attention in numerous documentaries and dissertations for their open homosexual identity. Las Krudas went on to form Omega Kilay (a female rap collective) in 1999 with fellow female rappers (raperas), I-n-I, DJ Leidis, DJ Yary. The majority of these women have left Cuba, however, along with many other male rappers due to ongoing censorship and lack of performance opportunities. The female group Explosion Femenina (or Oye Habana) combines sex appeal with wit to captivate its audience. Other female rappers like Mariana and Telmary have broken out of all-male crews to establish their own voice and talents.
Although Cuban hip hop challenges certain norms, bands must be careful not to offend the government with their edgy lyrics, and a careful balance of the two has ultimately led to state-run promotion of various bands, i.e. Cuban stars Anonimo Consejo, and funding from the government for tens of thousands of dollars of audio equipment through the Young Communist Union's cultural arm, Asociacion de los Hermanos Saiz.
While rap, as stated before, has played a huge part in giving marginalized Afro-Cuban youth a voice to express their discomforts with ongoing racism in an "egalitarian" society, the “underground” rap scene is increasingly at odds with more mainstream Cuban hip hop and reggaeton. According to Geoff Baker, rap artists “deride reggaeton for being trite and mindless, for promoting pointless diversion and for dancing over social commitment and reflection.” One popular rap group Los Aldeanos has been particularly vocal in their critique of reggaeton. The lyrics of “Reparticion de bienes” express the popularly held beliefs in the rap community about the reggaeton genre being for sell outs while rap is “for maturing the mind of the immature.” This ongoing debate is also reflective of Cuba's particular struggle with the growing prominence of capitalism since the start of the Special Period and the disconnect many Cuban hip hop artists feel between the current state of society and its more collectively focused roots.
As such raperos often find themselves harassed by the Cuban police, whose job includes guarding against counter-revolutionary acts. However the perception of what is and what is not counter-revolutionary is a debate unto itself.
To illustrate the dynamics of the situation, during one instance of police trying to shut a hip hop event down for being subversive, the minister of culture arrived to insist that what was taking place was vital to the revolution and must go ahead.
La Moña in Cuban hip hopIn the early stages of Cuban hip hop there was minimal technology to record their beloved hip hop. This made it virtually impossible to duplicate the exotic sounds in Cuba. This lack of technology led to the private gatherings of very devoted fans called, bonches. “These bonches can be considered the seeds of today’s Cuban rap community.” Only the most dedicated fans would be in attendance and they would receive an understanding of raps evolvement and fame outside of Cuba. Eventually, these bonches attracted too many people and they were forced out of private homes. In 1994, rap entrepreneur, Adalberto Jímenez was able to get a public space for these amazing hip hop gatherings. This public space was known as, el local de la Moña. This place would be a spot to find beautiful women, great drinks, and innovative Cuban hip hop. Moñas were so popular that it became the Cuban word for rap and Moñeros for rappers or rap enthusiasts. This is not a place for tourists, but mostly for young, black Cubans. La Moña moved around a great deal and became a sort of traveling party in Old Havana. La Moña charged a 5-peso admission charge, which would have translated to about 20 cents. In January 1999, La Moña moved to a tiny club called La Pampa and they had raised the price of admission to 20 pesos. This price is too high for a lot of the destitute Cubans in Havana. La Moña still remains the only place for moñeros to hear the latest underground rap in Cuba.
In the underground scene of Cuba, freestyle becomes a manifestation of a communal establishment (usually the community of rappers and audience come to form a cycle) where those who are not rapping provide vocalized "backing track", opened for anyone to jump it for a freestyle. as it mentioned in Geoff Baker's study, who relates his word to Firth and Martin Stokes; that those music-making circles, "enable the community to generate(rather than simply embody) a different social order and a distinct set of moral values: Rap Penas-a communal interactive performances in which a number of artists share the space, collaborate, creating a space for freestyle, which challenges the social order, where speaking about sensitive issues in the community, are limited or even banned.
Criticism of Cuban hip hopMany have criticized the new movement of Cuban Reggaeton and hip hop artists for their recent change in meaning of the music. Cuban rappers attack social and political issues concerning Cuba such as racism, class struggles and police harassment etc. But as pressure for commercial success increases, some artists have toned down their political or socially conscious content, and instead have focused on tropes common in commercial rap. Many of the grass roots artists do not understand the recent change of rapping about partying, cars, and women. "Hip-hop in the United States started out as a voice of protest, an alternative voice for urban, inner-city youth to voice their grievances, to talk about their living conditions, their hopes and aspirations," said Abiodun, a member of the Black Liberation Party before fleeing to Cuba 14 years ago as a U.S. fugitive facing racketeering charges. "But now what we see in terms of rap in the United States, for the most part, it's really not talking about anything." Also many criticize the objectification of females in the dancing and in videos. Some see it as dominant if the women dance in front of the men in a "doggy style" position, but critics see it as a way of letting the male take initial control over the female. Also many argue that the females in those music videos are objectifying themselves to seem lower than men.
Music videos are becoming more explicit. To gain a following of their music, Cuban hip hop artists are continuously using provocatively dressed females. This sexual image in their videos is taking away from the audiences ability to actually listen to the lyrics and understand them. The lyrics being addressed recently by Cuban hip hop artists stand as a rebellion against the many downfalls, such as poverty and racism, that their nation is currently fighting. It would benefit all of Cuba to take the time to understand the lyrics and not just watch the images of the videos.
Sexually charged dancing (like grinding and "doggy style") often associated with hip hop, are not the only things criticized. In recent years, Hip-hop has merged with Cuban culture to the point it can be heard in parades, school dances, and clubs. This has given rise to the problem of children, 16 or younger, hearing and singing the lyrics found in Cuban hip hop and reggaeton, which often make reference to sexual activities.
Cuban hip hop that addresses political issues, however, are not widely commercialized. These types of music that can be listen to by all Cubans of any age, tend to stay underground and are suppressed by the government, leaving a majority of Cubans no choice but to listen to salsa, reggaeton, or mainstream rap.
Merit of Different StylesAccording to Geoff Baker's interpretation of the “Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana (CIDMUC) in Havana,” found in “The Politics of Dancing,” rap promotes social awareness better than reggaeton. Since rap is verbally expressed with a lesser focus on dancing the artists can more easily convey their messages. In contrast reggaeton places a larger emphasis on movement expression than vocal expression. Dance creativity does have definite merit. However, lyrics are more capable to express opinions. Furthermore, Baker attributes a lack of originality to reggaetone because only a single unchanging beat may be heard throughout a whole track. An article from a major Cuban social change news source, “Cubanet,” reinforces the opinion that rap motivates change while reggaeton inspires merely dancing. The article quotes Cuban rapper Cabera, aka Papa Humbertico explaining that rap talks “about the reality of a Cuban's life in our songs, what happens to us in the street.” In contrast Cabera believes “"All reggaeton does is make people stupid.” The author of the article assumes that Cabera's statement derives from the “preoccupation” with dance of reggaeton. In summary, some believe that rap is more easily expressive while reggaeton conveys its message less understandably through dance.
Marketing of Different Styles
The dissemination of reggaeton in Cuba is altogether peculiar and familiar. The guerilla marketing of reggaeton with its homespun production value, bicycle taxi advertising and the informal mass distribution in urban areas has led to its accessibility to the Cuban community at large. This rings familiar with US music industry marketing strategies. The peculiarity of reggaeton's dissemination is raised when contextualized within the nationalistic Cuban hip hop scene. Socially conscious hip hop was nationalized into Cuba "as a process of engagement between artists and audiences mediated by the state, rather than by the music industry or by recording technology." This stark contrast between the sources of support and means of dissemination is just one of several reasons of conflict between the two genres in Cuban popular music.
Nationalism in Cuban hip hopThere are many ways in which Cuban hip hop artists achieve a sense of nationalism through their music. Many Cuban hip hop artists attempt through the musical backing track arrangements and sounds. Rhythms borrowing from traditional Cuban music style have been incorporated in hip hop music. Native instruments such as bata drums, maracas, and guaguanco have been part of the indigenization hip hop music in Cuba.
In addition to musical instrumentation, language also plays a large part in the shaping and nationalization of Cuban hip hop. Language barriers between the US and Cuba allowed for Cuban hip hoppers to embrace the musical aesthetic of the music, but leave behind the lyrical content. This can be seen through similarity between Cuban and US hip hop beats; and the differences between lyrical content performed over the US songs and Cuban songs. Additionally, the distinct (Cuban) Spanish dialect used to deliver the lyrics contributes to the nationalistic value of Cuban hip hop, and is viewed as characteristic which sets it apart from other Spanish-speaking countries and the US alike. The lyrical content, in and of itself, also speaks to the struggles and hardships experienced by Cubans in impoverished inner city areas of Havana. The harsh Cuban reality, in this way, provides a lens into the unique inner-city experience of Cubans suffering from socio-economic hardships. According to Marc Ramirez, hip hop has acted as tool for youth in Cuba to speak out. Here, Ramirez pinpoints the importance of hip hop in Cuban culture—even more so than other native musical styles: “In Cuba, where teenagers and young adults see their world torn by social ills including street hustling and racism, there are worse things to worry about than power outages. And it's hip-hop - not salsa or rumba or the Buena Vista Social Club - that sustains the disillusioned” (Ramirez). Additionally, political and historical events are resonant in the music making, it a unique expression of Cuban culture. For instance, the group Instisto incorporates texts about the Afro-Cuban deity Obatala. Additionally, the rap duo Anónimo consejo frequently expresses their love for Cuba through their politically and socially conscious lyrics.
At the same time that Cuban rappers have used the genre to speak out about the realities of their daily lives and issues that are often politely overlooked in Cuban culture, they also walk a fine line since so much of the hip hop scene is supported by the government. When the state and its nationalist perspective plays such a large role in the production and promotion of Cuban hip hop, artists must make careful decisions about how much criticism they really want to offer of the regime. When they rap about the realities of race or the sense that poverty and economic hardship are not being alleviated by the state, they risk breaking the close ties they have to the government and thus put their success on the line. Some groups have gone too far and faced sanctions or censorship However, many Cuban artists seem to have reached a consensus with the state's involvement in rap, accepting that the government's role may lead to better production, more support, and more commercial exposure. On the other hand, the government seems to accept and respect the revolutionary nature of hip hop and embrace that it is a means for the marginalized or downtrodden to speak up. In fact, many Cuban rap groups openly criticize the government, and many others openly assimilate to the government's nationalist ideals. The relationship can be characterized as encompassing both censorship and assimilation
In 1995 the first Festival de Rap Cubano was held in Alamar, a housing Project in East Havana. This event was initially set up as a contest for the dozens of emerging rap groups all over Cuba. One of the Festival's organizers Rodolfo Rensoli, a member of Grupo Uno, decided that the only way that hip hop would not be attacked in Cuba the same way Rock was to avoid the same political pitfalls. This even went on to help legitimize some of Cuba most prominent performing raps groups like Primera Base. The festival has grown to include some American stars such as Dead Prez and Blackstar. Erykah Badu, a U.S. singer and Grammy award winner and one of the best singers of the "un-soul style," is among the biggest attractions of 2003's rap festival.Although rap Cubano clearly adopted many musical techniques and stylistics characterized by rap in the US, the artists do not take such an adversarial role against the Cuban government for several reasons. First, the state supports hip hop culture as a vehicle of progressive revolution which is openly accepted in the midst of a polarized socio-political shift from Communism to Market Capitalism. Secondly, young Havana artists realize that their government provides free health care and education, as well as a generally more equitable distribution of resources. In contrast to US rap, rap Cubano's economic, and socio-political support elucidates a stark discrepancy in the motivation and ethos of the genres. While the foundation of gansta rap is rooted in histories of state abandonment and discrimination, rap Cubano formulates a less polarized musical expression that lyrically portrays the realities of a new generation of Cuban artists searching for identity.
Cuban slangYuma is a Cuban street slang word for foreigners in general. Originally this word meant “Yankee”, a person from the United States. [http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FPMU%2FPMU25_03%2FS026114300600105Xa.pdf&code=54047d3104855d9b5695a37a3d8fa71f] Cubans use this word only for people from the U.S., but U.S. people are not the only visitors to Cuba. A song was made named "A ti te gustan los yumas." [https://web.archive.org/web/20080213115621/http://www.cubamania.com/cuba/showthread.php?t=16208] There were a couple reasons why this song was made, including the thought that Cuban women prefer foreign men for money. [https://web.archive.org/web/20080213024809/http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tw/2001-07-12/review2.html]
Recent eventsIn 2002 the government formed the Agencia Cubana de Rap (Cuban Rap Agency) with its own record label and hip hop magazine to help promote the art form on the island. Weekly radio and TV shows were launched. With the creation of the Cuban Rap Agency by the Cuban government, this group encouraged and endorsed various rappers and created their albums. However, there was a down-side to this agency that affected the popularity of the CRA. Getting artists and bands radio time and fame, came at a slight price; there were limits as to how artists could express themselves. Thus, the CRA would only endorse groups that were willing to change their lyrics and music styles to those that were accepted by the government and community. As a result, not many groups or artists were willing to give into the CRA expectations. In a way, the CRA interfered with the originality and creativity of the artist. The CRA, seen as a threat to the hip hop community, silenced voices and the true messages of lyrics, inventive thoughts, and new ideals were never actually heard.'''
With official sanction and resources the Alamar Rap festival was transformed into an annual international hip hop festival held in August. The event has attracted many international artists including from the US amongst others, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Common and Dead Prez. Workshops, film screenings and talks are held in conjunction debating culture and lyrical content.
It is estimated that there are some 500 hip hop groups in Cuba. However, whilst there has been much academic and media interest in Cuban hip hop, few Cuban groups have managed to be heard outside of the island.
The first group to achieve international success were Los Orishas, who are now based in France.
In 2002 the album Cuban Hip Hop Allstars, produced by Pablo Herrera, was released in the US featuring some of the best groups at that time.
Another group to be released internationally via Italy is Clan 537 who found fame with "Quien Tiro La Tiza" (Who Threw the Chalk).
In 2003 Europe based female Cuban singer Addys Mercedes released her innovative album "Nomad" mixing her Cuban roots with elements of hip hop, house and R&B. In her 2012 released 3rd album "Addys", which was mainly produced in a singer/songwriter atmosphere, Addys Mercedes in the song "Alma Latina" was rapping about immigration from Cuba.
Many other groups resort to free Internet MP3 providers to get their music heard.
Most recently, the term "underground" has become appropriate for rap. The most popular urban music in the country is now reggaeton. Recently, there has been an explosion in popularity of reggaeton, particularly among Cuba's 5 million people under the age of thirty. Reggaeton –whose lyrics emphasize Sensuality, Individualism and sex, in graphic and sexually explicit terms– stands in sharp contrast to the tradition of Cuban underground rap, the content of which is more often characterized by social commentary on inequality and injustice. Reggaeton versus Cuban rap has become a contentious debate in Cuba. It's driven many within the socially - conscious rap scene to paint reggaeton as the "enemy" due to its focus on mindless dancing rather than community reflection. Furthermore, critics of reggaeton condemn the genre as lyrically and musically deficient ( It is ironic however, that Engineering a Cuban Reggaeton song is drastically more complex in contrast to Cuban hip hop) and morally questionable as well as too commercially oriented. Nehanda Abiodun, an American living in Cuba to avoid charges of racketeering, who has advocated strongly for Cuban hip hop and rap, said of the move towards reggaeton “There is an element of commercialism that’s creeping in…You cannot blame these young people for wanting to see the fruits of their labor, but will they be able to maintain that responsible, intellectual rap and still get paid?"
Women's role in hip hop and reggaeton in Cuba is constantly growing. However, women in hip hop in Cuba face a difficult dichotomoy of both acting as the powerful female or as the sexy perreo dancer. For example, Las Kudras, who describe themselves as feminists and do not participate in the nationalized Cuban hip hop scene, are comfortable questioning “hegemonic notions of femininity and Black female sexuality”. Yet, female rap groups such as Animo Consejo who have an interest in broader, national appeal have a more difficult time managing between their role as a sexy performer who will be judged by their onstage look and as rappers who are interested in changing the racialized role of women in Cuba. Magia serves as one of the most popular female Cuban rappers who has been able to mediate this dichotomy into some success in the country.
Contest, co-sponsored by Wal-Mart and Sheets Energy Strips, began on June 18 and runs until July 15. It promised the most-liked store would receive a visit and concert by Cuban rapper "Pit Bull", [https://web.archive.org/web/20120715080119/http://latinotimes.com/show/31589-rapper-pitbull-to-alaska-wal-mart.html prompting an online campaign to send him to remote Kodiak, Alaska].