Movimiento, #3
La Revista Cubana de Hip Hop


By Antonio Paneque Brizuela

A CubaNews translation by Ana Portela.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.

Rap, a multiple sonorous melody, replicate discourse, controversial, catching for some, difficult for others, breaks the barriers of the ethnic identity that gave it birth during the seventies in the Bronx, New York, conquers new artists, gains space among a diversity of public and – more so during the early 21st century – is conquering space among the international rhythms. A rightful place in live.

It is not strange that this rhythmic modality is born in friction against the environment, if we consider the complexity of this style in the United States and several parts of the world. But, also, the critique of its words is not entirely new taken in the context of the historical determination of universal song to complain always about something, although that something could be the ills of the heart.

Today, as its fans and performers have agreed, this music should occupy its rightful place in television and radio programs; public entertainment and festivals should include their songs while these groups and interpreters take off, jump and reach higher on the pentagram, prose, rhymes and tastes.

The diffusion of rap that, at times gives the impression of true musical fever, has reached the limits of infecting artists of other genres and styles and extends to diverse manifestation of creation finding, in this form, a viable means in which to channel their discourse. Some, more cautious, are not completely caught up but introduce in their themes fragments rapped or – as Susan Garcia Amorós, director of the Cuban Rap Agency (CRA), explains – “they have rapped their own way (to say it somehow, fusing different musical styles.

A bulletin issued by this agency illustrates with concrete examples: in 1991, Irakere put out Bicycle Rap while Adalberto Alvarez y su son boosted his theme, Y que tu quieres que te den; while NG la Banda circulated with Picadillo de Soya. Closer in time, in 2000, Maraca popularized La Pelea and, in 2002, the Orquesta Aragon released Cha Cuba, accompanied by a rap group, 10’% Original.

Not long ago, the Studies of Animation of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television revealed that it is doing an animated film for adolescents with the participation of the rap groups: Primera Base and Doble Filo. In passing, observe that many of the groups of this genre tend to be daring and uninhibited, another characteristic of this movement, at least in Cuba.

For this purpose, the CRA can affirms “there is a good future for this expression in Cuba, more so if the rappers are searching for new sonorities, showing their talent and, incorporate, as like guests of their subjects, known Cuban musicians.

On the other hand, the presenters of Cuban rap – a kind of intellectualized and daring advance group – act as outspoken persons speak out about their virtues, criticize the obstacles that still persist, are scholars of the theoretic bases of this modality and define the strategies thereby strengthening, even more, their place in music and the

Among these, artists who have become analysts (or vice versa) such as Rodolfo Rensoli have taken up the work assaulting the press and platforms, including theoretical events on the subject and boosted a coherent discourse on Cuban rap and its roots, components or international alternatives, be they British, US, African, Latin American or Caribbean.

It can be truthfully said that, yes today, there is a rap philosopher and this person is Rensoli (“Poet, promoter of rap festivals in Cuba” as his colleagues call him). A person of sound judgment, analytical, of jongleur oratory, but inquisitive, almost scientific, with a curious origin as a career officer who later took to promoting performances. Finally, this artist has become one of the main activists of the rap genre in the country, to such a point that he directs one of the main promotional mechanisms, the GRUPOUNO.

This mechanism was brewed in 1995 during the First Rap Festival in Cuba, conceived by him and, certainly became the great systematic institutional impact in the country and whose organized festivals, held during the half of every year, continue to date.

GRUPOUNO calls itself the Community Cultural Project, or “action and promotion” group and its function is to organized and artistically direct this type of events. However, if we refer to the study of this phenomenon, the main theoretical study of rap has been, basically, in the debates in these festivals. They say that this investigative element surpasses the limits of these meetings.


Rensoli explains the “sociological” origin of why these events are held in the East Havana municipality and, mainly, in the plazas of the Antonio Guiteras and Alamar barrios – why they are held precisely there. Guiteras was the first Cuban community to organize a rap festival.

For some, to use a plaza of this locality for the rhythm meetings, may seem strange, even paradoxical, specially for those who only know this site for its architectural elegance and privileged location, between coast and city, tunnel and countryside, doorway to the Beaches of the East, Varadero and East Cuba.

This constructive project that was initially capitalist and later was socialist granting housing to workers and other social classes never favored before, Alamar was added to East Havana through the movement of micro–brigade construction. Also, due to its proximity and ties to Guanabacoa, one of the traditional locations of Cuban folklore, this region receives another important cultural influence.

As a result, according to Rensoli and his partenaire in GRUPOUNO, the artistic director and promoter, Balesy Rivero, East Havana, the new part of the city with its modern style (one of the most advanced architecturally in the country) as well as other construction characteristics of the seventies, and its vigorous youth (only know is aging registered) is a very receptive community for all contemporary cultural influences.

The use of East Havana as the center of this function, we must recall that it has, also, been the birthplace of “cultural alternatives”. In a neighboring barrio, Camilo Cienfuegos, there were clear expressions on the style of “rastafari” (reggae), some times under “a permanent influence of Saxonism” (Jamaica, United States and, behind these two, Great Britain) that coexist with the Hispanic–African that influenced genres such as the trova and one of the first rock festivals in the country was held in Alamar.

This cultural amalgam, certainly, from countries that had an industrial revolution, syncretized with the Americans together with other forms of expression of the capitalist world system that promoted new ways of saying things, Rensoli links to the art movements generated since the Cuban Revolution and other educational–cultural and political phenomenon at the end of the sixties.

A revolutionizing movement, scientific, technological, social and ethical–moral would give the final touches to the infrastructure that has led to rhythms such as rap: the creation chips, optic fiber, the travel of man to space, new sexual concepts, the hippie movement, the development of television, radio, computers, young and political movements in Latin American, African, European, the symbols of Ernesto (Che) Guevara and Fidel Castro…a true global “protogenesis” that boosts the arts and particularly music.

Although the first Cuban recording produced by GRUPOUNO in February of 1996, for its promotion in the Museum of Music, the studios Ojalá of Silvio Rodríguez, open their doors that same year for the Doble Filo grand prize for its music work: Around the corner and other numbers. Also, through collaboration with Ojalá recordings were made in the EGREM studios on 18 and 1, Miramar. The number Caliente, caliente would become the symbol of the national festivals of this musical movement.

“It was the result of years of practice by Silvio – Rensoli considers –. We found him to react rapidly and without bureaucratic hang-ups to our request to make this recording. These things have a price and he did it free of charge.

We consider that, like other times with other themes, Silvio has known to garner the social importance of rap. We recorded three times with him, spending many hours with state of the art technology. It was the same with Pablo Milanés, we spent a week in his studios.

Was I surprised? No, because I come from the theater world, from the rock and roll of that world, of the trova, of the literary workshops. I know that a socio–political conscience is implicit, and understanding of respect to certain factors of culture that, perhaps, do not have the right people to take charge of pure politics.

Radio and television have been conquered, to a certain point, other areas of art have been invaded, spaces like painting exhibitions and programs on TV like La otra geografia – that seems to have has nothing to do with rap , and under classic concepts – the same has happened in Cuba in films.

In spite of actions that, at the time, led to filming in Alamar by Danny Hoch from the United States, sponsored by ICAIC for a documentary on rap groups: Doble Filo, Obsesion, Instinto and Primera Base, rap does not seem to have conquered the seventh art form.

There has been no follow up of documentary films nor are then broadcast on television nor reports of the festivals. But, there is one piece of good news for future projects: The films taken at the festival have been saved. Perhaps, some day someone will do something with it.

Rap is certainly advancing in the Island, in two ways, from the capital promoters and creators to the provinces and from these to the rest of the country.

It is almost amazing how the emissaries of the promoting group – also artists but fore runners of the ideas and their followers have triumphed– have left a rap mark everywhere they have performed.

New styles of rap, have organized festivals, for example, in San José (the first municipality) and Artemisa (1999). In each event, performance or concert a recording has remained for the local or national stations who take the opportunity well.

Promotional tours to provinces, such as the one to Sancti Spiritus in 1999 of the Primera Base group or concerts in municipalities such as San Jose de las Lajas connect to a network of broadcasting initiatives. These actions also look to the future in the international scenario. This occurred with the broadcast during the IX Ibero–American Summit in Havana in July of 1999.

Special note must be taken at this point in the crusade to boost rap where there is a high degree of prejudice, the Hermanos Saiz Association (HSA) has taken on the role giving institutional backing to a rhythm that cannot be enclosed within an organic framework.

Regarding the internal situation, Sancti Spiritus was the first province to have its own rap movement (1997) Followed by Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, the second city with the most force internally “with a vigorous rap movement –Rensoli would say – organized around the Ateneo of the city with the support of the HSA”.

Although, at first, it was considered that the development of rap was a privilege of Havana, the movement has been surprisingly strong in the provinces. Even with local characteristics. Efforts are made in the Special Municipality of the Isle of Youth as well as in Las Tunas and one of its municipalities, such as Puerto Padre.

According to GRUPOUNO, Pinar del Rio has been the last to have rap and, nevertheless, it has had its advances. “The person promoting it there” – they say – “is Quique, a musician, a far seeing rocker who also directs the provincial branch of HSA”.

Matanzas had its importance since the beginning to the point that it as a “disco rap club”. After Havana and before Santiago de Cuba, it was the most forward province. La Habana also has a provincial branch of HSA that has made its mark, primarily, in San José de las Lajas.

The rap movement is characterized for being self-taught. In reference to a true formation, there can be cases of dispersion to obtain the necessary instruments for its practice. But, what do they do with their promoters? A special initiative has taken force from they themselves that installs it as an element of general culture.

According to this, special effort has gone into acquiring more musical education, particularly Cuban music, and, to some degree on foreign roots. At first it was thought to approach persons who, being close to rap, were qualified to write texts, on subjects on body and scene movement, typical Cuban rhythms. But, nothing has come of it yet in a stable manner its seems that this is one of the Achilles heels of rap in the Island.

It is well known that neither rap nor any other form can totally break from other rhythms (such as music from the other art forms). They need each other; they are linked and are interwoven, they move in and out in a permanent spiral, in time and space; they love.

The Cuban son owes to its predecessors but bequeaths to rap that takes its part. The creations of Guillén and Matamoros formed a marriage that gave many offspring with dialogues and discourse, colloquial and lyrical, there is a clear heritage with rap.

For the scholars on the subject, Cuban rap is closer to Luis Carbonell or to Harry Lewis and Caribbean music than to US influence. In Cuba, country music, aside from giving rise to other music forms, has improvised controversies by repentistas, a form of expression similar to rap. Did Osmel Francis want to tell us that by donning a palm leaf hat, also covered rap with the palm leaves?

However, referring to the convergence of rhythms in rap, “it cannot be denied” – Rensoli explains – “that there is a rhythmic beat that gives a sound guideline that revolutionized contemporary music.

“Sonant influence of the world of the sixties that gelled in this experiment that was The Beatles, where they never expressed a prejudice to Black or White music, from here or there. Antillean influence can be found in there music, s well as Celt, or Elizabethan and all the Afro music that spread as a result of the Diaspora throughout these lands of America and ended up in rhythms such as jazz, blues or soul”.

ut let us leave Resoli behind, those spirited promoters and modern scholars and go back to older sources who, since then, tried to light up several dark corners of the subject.

“The musician” – Sergey Eisenstein said – “uses scales of sound, the painter scales of colors, the writer a row of sounds and words and all these elements are taken, to some degree, from nature (…) But when they are joined the lose all visible signs of ever being combined, appearing as an organic unity”.

Abt Vogler, quoted by Eisenstein, used a different definition to explain the unexplainable about music that can be applied – I believe – to all forms of rhythms or harmony that is born or suffers adolescence: “Each tone of our scale is, in itself, nothing. It is everywhere in the world; high, soft and everything has been said. Give it to me to use it! I mix it with two in my mind: And there! You have listened and have seen: think and bow your head!”

Do we bow our heads to rap?

Rodolfo Rensoli: Rap is an interesting, revolutionary and energetic socio–cultural current that expresses the anxiety of important social groups in the entire world. It has the capacity to assimilate other tendencies and mix with them. It has been a powerful weapon in defense of many dispossessed groups on a global scale.

It is also a cultural symbiosis that respects its codes and defines them and its most essential element confronts crushing mercantilism and de–personalization of genuine popular cultures. For this reason, it can be considered to defend the original cultures under contemporary expressive codes. In Cuba, it has been a means of an adequate understanding between different currents and thoughts.

Balesy River: Rap is a necessary responsive blow for convulsive moments where the human being communicates and expresses; at the same time it is a living and spiritual form that, through this shot, can give a new philosophical concept to daily life without disregarding the most common forms of expression, with more capacity, using this art as a means of reaching the community.

Regarding Cuba, there is much talent, but their composers and interpreters need to approach much more Cuban musical history without ignoring the musical influences that have come into Cuba and through this acquiring a greater creative capacity.