Friday, April 30, 2010

Cuba's underground rappers test free speech

HAVANA — Cuba's underground hip hop duo "Los Aldeanos" are boldly grooving where no Cuban has gone in five decades: criticizing the communist government loud and proud for the first time to a sell-out crowd.

"They tell the truth, say the things we feel, the things that a lot of Cubans cannot say. The freedom that we do not have," explained Yoelvis Fonseca, a 27-year-old construction worker, as he sweated and swayed to the beat of the rhyming twosome that recently packed the Acapulco movie theatre with more than 2,000 rabid fans.

True, this event was not advertised in state-controlled media.

And even the sign in lights outside the Acapulco disjointedly read "Today, Sherlock Holmes."

But the word was on the street, and the under-30s were in the house for the first major show by the dissident duo who have been around -- stealthy and not wealthy -- for seven years.

They called the show "Seven years with the village," and maybe because the venue was huge, they held off singing their underground hits most critical of life in Cuba.

Los Aldeanos -- which means villagers, but is a riff on one member's name -- have come a long way, baby.

In the only communist country in the Americas, where confronting the government can be a ticket to prison, they have hit it big taking on the government, corruption and giving voice to Cubans' everyday frustrations.

Their rhymes -- they sing in Spanish -- are direct and pull no punches, with lines like: "I can't stand one more lie," and "All of this/one day will change/for the good of the people."

And it gets hotter in this country with a one-party regime and a leadership dominated by officials well over 70: "I'm from a chilling society/that listens with piety/to the same people who have gagged it/with a bag of fake freedom," one Los Aldeanos line goes.

Another classic for fans: "So many are dead/or in jail/people would rather die for the American dream/than live through this Cuban nightmare."

Tattooed friends Bian Rodriguez (El B) and Aldo Rodriguez (El Aldeano) first got their act together back in 2003, playing mainly in Havana's dingy underground rap halls as well as parks and the odd cultural event.

But the Acapulco theatre gig was a landmark, as the group and its fans pushed the envelope. For now, the government did not push back.

"This concert is breaking the silence," the duo's representative Melisa Riviere told AFP.

For the Aldeanos, however, the crux of the group's political viewpoint is that they need to speak out, to say something, but they are not interested in leaving Cuba.

"Talking about what is happening here is the way that we take part in the Revolution," El B says. "Criticizing in Miami makes no sense; this is where the (expletive) is hitting the fan."

Riviere went out on a limb insisting that "Miami and Washington have tried to manipulate what Los Aldeanos are. We have spent a long time explaining that they are not counter-revolutionaries."

Aldo himself insists in one line, "I am not a communist; nor am I a socialist; nor am I a Leninist; I am a Revolutionary." It is a masterful spin on the everyday wordplay of the government which constantly implores everyone to be just that -- "revolutionary".

The duo are rhyming as if to see if there is any reaction to their not being communists, as long as they are with the Revolution -- the regime that has been in place since 1959 and was led by Fidel Castro for more than 40 years.

And their 18 CDs -- such as "Censored" and "Viva Cuba Libre" -- are sold widely on the black market in Cuba.

Though some clubs refused to let them play, Los Aldeanos also have played with the likes of mainstream artist Pablo Milanes, and won some national prizes.

Occasionally a radio station will play one of their less critical numbers.

"I am a fan because they sing about what the people are going through," said Yamel Gonzalez, who at 26 is getting ready to start at university. "People's words cannot be a crime."

Among the 200 people unable to get into the concert was a young man in a black T-shirt, jeans and earrings who asked not to be named.

"They are really ballsy," he said, referring to the rappers, "because they talk about the way things really are: that there is a dictatorship."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Guest Blog - Maritza Aldir's Reflections on the Cornell Cuba Conference

I had an amazing weekend. I also woke up late for work [Monday after the conference] on the worst week to do so, but I never felt so good rushing late, and not really caring! I am on this cloud from Cornell. I'm ignited by the remarkable people, panelists and family we have. I truly needed to spend time with you all. It quenched my thirst, and desire to raise the bar. I want to reignite my world in Raices and soak in all that I can be - both professionally and personally. Los quiero mucho. We are an awesome family, and see y'all at our office!

Maritza Aldir is an alum of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. She works in advertising at SapientNitro.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

10 Premier Cuban Bloggers

Last Friday Yoani Sánchez served as the keynote speaker at the 2010 Cornell Cuba Conference hosted by Cornell's CASA and Raíces de Esperanza.

Internationally, she is the best known blogger and has been covered extensively by the international press. As she highlighted at the Conference, she is not the only blogger risking her life on a daily basis to achieve the freedoms of speech and of the press.

So who are these other bloggers? Fresh off the press is a list of the top 10 premier Cuban Bloggers. I encourage you to follow them and disseminate their information so that they too can have a voice. By spreading knowledge about these bloggers we can create a space for their views to be shared with Cubans and the world.

10 more voices; 10 more pockets of light.