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Hip hop in Cuba: political pressure and stagnation

The Cuban Rap Agency barely even represents those who make up its own catalogue, its artists complain.

La Habana

For Cuba's hip hop community the last three years have confirmed that the aim of the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT) is to silence those who are critical of the regime and seek independent alternatives, in the face of the Cuban Rap Agency's (ACR) rigidity.

In the opinion of many rappers, the ACR barely even represents those who make up its own catalogue. Its current director, the rapper Rubén Marín, a member of the group Primera Base and the fourth person to direct the entity, attached to the Cuban Music Institute (ICM), has repeatedly refused to give interviews on issues related to the scant promotion and support for hip-hop activities.

"Under the current leadership almost nothing has happened in the rap world, not even the completion of the conference room at the first headquarters the Agency has had since its foundation. Several workers from the headquarters even collaborate on independent projects," said a member of the group La Alianza.

Projects managed by hip hop activists and figures, such as "El potaje urbano", with Pedro Zulú, in Matanzas; and "Rima, amor y poesía", with Giorvis Frómeta, in Havana, are not supported by the ACR.

"The Agency is not interested in participating in alternative actions through which we seek to publicize rap projects across the Island," said Frómeta, a rapper and specialist with the Provincial Directorate of Havanan Culture, who, through this project, promotes artists from the eastern region of the country.

At the beginning of last March the digital magazinePa'la Música Underground (PMU) ceased operations. Activists from the hip-hop movement and collaborators with the site denied that the PMU's closure was due to censorship by Cuban cultural authorities.

On its website, the PMU states that its closure is temporary, "for a few months".

Elier Álvarez Arcia, "El Brujo", a representative of spoken word, organizer of the Caminos de Palabras festival and administrator of Yosotros-Hip Hop Cubano, a Facebook site for social discussion about the musical genre, lamented the dilemma of the PMU, which he described as a platform that promotes and publicizes independent artists and carries out activities.

"Since at least 2012 the PMU has been an established space that has legitimized hip hop and rap in Cuba, more than the Agency has."

According to El Brujo, in a setting such as Cuba, in which the government limits independent work, the closure of the PMU "has changed the lives of many of those who collaborate there almost weekly."

"Several of us contributors that wrote for the PMU managed to include almost the entire universe of Cuban hip hop there," he said.

An email sent to the PMU to inquire about the reasons for its closure was never answered.

No books, or magazines, or rap movies

Rapear una Cuba utópica: testimonios del movimiento hiphopero, (Rapping a Utopian Cuba: Testimonies from the Hip Hop Movement), an essay by the graduate in Social Communication Alejandro Zamora Fuentes, edited and printed by Guantanamera Editorial, Seville 2017, were confiscated at the 27thedition of Havana’s International Book Fair.

This incident was recently condemned by the author, who said that he did not wish to make any public statements at this time, pending a response or official meeting with MINCULT officials to analyze, "carefully," what he considered "a regrettable event."

"One of the consequences has been the publication, on platforms openly opposed to the Cuban Government, of works that speak of censorship, and the absence of freedom, among other things (...) Rappinga Utopian Cuba: Testimonies from the Hip Hop Movement has been utilized in discourse that is far from the genuine aims of its author and the exponents of this culture," stated Zamora Fuentes on May 2 on theYosotros-Hip Hop Cubano page.

The author also indicated that, "with total conviction", he did not consider himself "either an opponent or a conspirator".

According to Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, director of the last two editions of the magazine Movimiento, before it was finally canceled by the ICM, the so-called hip hop culture "is one of commitment".

"I thought that Movimiento had been cancelled because of the editorial line that I followed as editor--in-chief. Now we are able to corroborate that it was, is and will be due to the political will of the MINCULT and the Government," said Rodriguez.

"Hip hop is an authentic expression of the social and cultural values ​​of Cuban society," he added, and criticized the Communist Party's pressure on institutional structures and cultural policies.

To what extent does the Party restrict the legitimation of hip hop culture and its representatives?

This is the question that Rodríguez thinks the hip hop movement should reconsider, although he pointed out that it is not just the cultural and governmental authorities that should be held responsible, but also the resignation of the movement itself, which has not been constant and persevered to exert pressure within and outside the institutions.

The documentary Esto es lo que hay (This Is the Way It Is), by the French director Lea Rinaldi, is about the lives of rappers El Aldeano, El B, El Urbano and Silvito El Libre. In none of their presentations on the Island, managed independently, did the ACR's management participate, despite having been invited by the organizers.

In the summary of the 12th Cuban Hip Hop Symposium, in 2016, one of the conclusions of the participants was that hip hop in Cuba was not respected, either socially or institutionally.

"Cuban hip hop needs to change, with exponents and activists that are responsible, committed and representative," said speakers at that time.

"But I don’t see the Agency, or the ICM, or the MINCULT, having the political will to make that effort," said El Brujo.

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