A journey to rap in the profound
I remember that just 15 years ago, hip hop in Cuba was surrounded by big questions. How can a culture of resistance, prophetic and rebellious by nature, have its place in and contribute to the transformation of society under the umbrella of the Cuban Revolution? How can it project revolution and have the capacity for debating among its exponents internal issues such as violence, machismo, and homophobia? Those were the old school times, with emblematic groups like Explosión Suprema, Doble Filo, Anónimo Consejo, Las Krudas and Obsesión. Hundreds of rap groups throughout the country, along with graffiti artists, dancers, producers and activists, attracted national and international attention as a possible movement. An identity that made a connection with the anti-racist testimony of black people on our island and an artistic (and political) agenda for channeling its art. After various collective efforts, however, that history appeared to have succumbed to many internal and external pressures.
At a certain point, all of these questions ended up becoming one alone: what happened? Rapear una Cuba utópica [“Rapping a Utopian Cuba”], a book by Cuban journalist and researcher Alejandro Zamora, may the boldest effort to date to trace the cartography of more than 20 years of hip hop in Cuba, and fill in those blanks along the way. Zamora aimed high. He went to the major leagues of investigative journalism with his questionnaires, multiple previous studies and interwoven considerations. The result is an enviable collection of interviews with key figures essential to this history.
These include the voices of the founding trinity of Cuban hip hop — Rodolfo Rensoli, Ariel Fernández and Pablo Herrera; Cuba’s first queer group, Las Krudas; Alexei and Magia, of Obsesión; Edrey, of Ogguere; promoter Balesy Rivero; Miguelito “La Peste,” a pioneer of street dance in Cuba; DJ Jigüe; graffiti artist Yulier P.; Hefzi-bá, champion of Christian rap; the two leading figures of the shake-up represented by the Filtering Commission in 2007 — Silvito El Libre, and Aldo of Los Aldeanos; Ministry of Culture officials such as Susana García, the first director of the Cuban Rap Agency, and poet Alpidio Alonso, president of the Hermanos Saíz Association at the time; as well as musicologist Grizel Hernández and intellectuals related to hip hop, such as Roberto Zurbano, Tomasito Fernández Robaina and Víctor Fowler. Some are probably missing, but Alejandro Zamora has constructed an ecumenical book that promotes dialogue and collective reflection. And through its 434 pages, you come to understand that Rapear una Cuba utópica is not just a recreation of the collective memory of what existed, but also a concrete opportunity for Cuban hip hop culture today to reconsider itself in new ways, and gain a second wind.
Rapear una Cuba utópica, by Alejandro Zamora
Editorial Guantanamera, 2017
Editor and poet. Responsible father Ability to gather sensitivities. He often dreams that he is a shaman who makes snakes sing.