Friday, April 30, 2010

Cuba's underground rappers test free speech

Cuba's underground rappers test free speech
By Isabel Sanchez (AFP)

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."

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