Cuba's rebel rap roars
for 'revolution within the revolution'
Backed by a modest home recording studio,
Humberto Cabrera has joined Cuba's rappers
who rhyme and roar for change in a country
whose communist regime usually quiets dissent.
Hip-hop artists have some of the most critical
voices on the island, and many flock to
Cabrera's home in Barreras, a hushed town
outside Havana, to record their plight and
pleas for a better life.
One song complains about harsh life in
Havana, "where there is no hope, from
where the savvy leave."
"We try to talk about the reality
of a Cuban's life in our songs, what happens
to us in the street," Cabrera, 23,
Cabrera, whose stage name is "Papa
Humbertico" (Daddy Little Humberto),
formed the rap duo Mano Armada (Armed Hand)
with Yoandy Gonzalez, "El Discipulo"
One of their songs, "Revolution within
the Revolution," talks about the need
for "things to change" and for
"life to improve" in Cuba, which
has been led by Fidel Castro's regime since
The duo talks about their ideas in a short
documentary they made with a borrowed camera.
"We have lived under the same political
doctrine for a long time and changes are
still lacking," Gonzalez says in the
"There is a need for young leaders,
young ideas," he says. "We don't
want the Americans to come take charge here
and privatize things. We want everything
the way it is but with new ideas."
The walls of Cabrera's studio are splashed
with graffiti. He records on a computer,
copies onto discs and distributes homemade
demos by hand.
Hip-hop made its way to Cuba in the 1980s
over radio broadcasts from Florida, less
than 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of
the Caribbean island.
Today, there are about 500 rap groups in
Cuba that sing about racism, the people
who flee the island seeking a better life
and everyday problems.
Only a handful who abide by certain political
and aesthetic requirements receive help
from the Cuban Rap Agency (ACR), which the
government created in 2002.
Edgar Gonzalez, 22, and known as "Edgaro"
cooperates with the agency and said there
are different concepts for being "anti-establishment."
"To point to a problem resolves nothing,"
said Gonzalez, whose group is named "Doble
Filo" (Double Edged).
"Rap owes it to the people to go beyond
what they already know," he said, adding
that rappers should offer solutions.
"Armed Hand," despite lacking
a medium to promote their music like most
Cuban rappers, is not interested in joining
the rap agency because they want their music
to be "from the street" and not
"I think I'm one of the rappers heading
the black list," said Cabrera, who
wears loose Bermuda shorts and shaves his
"There are places where we haven't
been able to perform because they know our
history," he said. "Radios have
told us, 'I can't play you because they'll
kick me out, because it will put me in trouble'."
Cabrera said they were invited to perform
in Mexico two years ago. But two days before
their trip, the government lifted their
exit visas without explanation, he said.
Cabrera and Gonzalez are members of Saiz
Brothers Association, a branch of the Culture
Ministry for young artists to explore "the
most audacious and revolutionary levels
of a vanguard art."
The association promotes "an art within
the revolution, completely within its political
beliefs," said Claudia Esposito, one
of the program's managers.
While rap has found a voice in Cuba, it
now faces fierce competition from reggaeton,
which mixes rap, reggae and Latin rhythms
but whose main preoccupation is getting
people to dance sensually.
"All reggaeton does is make people
stupid," Cabrera lamented. - AFP