Cuba – Saviour of Hip Hop?

This article by (don’t worry, I’ve never heard of it either) has a pretty informative examination of the Cuban hip hop scene. Like many places, young Cubans have always identified with the pretty revolutionary and socially critical nature of hip hop.

Tanya Saunders (pictured at left) is a researcher at Lehigh University who’s been studying the growth of underground hip hop in Cuba. She makes a point of calling it underground, because she wants to make sure you know it’s not the commercial stuff that you sometimes hear coming out of these countries.

She goes on to make some pretty strong claims about the strength and nature of Cuban hip hop. I do find it fascinating that she speaks to the theory that Cuban hip hop has much more to do with race theory than anything else. It’s a method for Cubans to identify with [some of] their black roots.

Apparently, in her words, race has not had much discussion in Cuba. There is a lot of black heritage in a lot of Latin/South America, and it’s interesting to me that it hasn’t been until now that it’s really begun to be deconstructed.

Here’s a little quote from the article:

Interestingly, the Cuban hip-hop movement began through that government’s unique approach to culture. Says Saunders, ”The Cuban government has a strong leftist segment that is adamant about freedom of speech and the importance of culture and art. Cuba’s art education system is highly respected throughout the Americas. Art is decentralized at the local level — every neighborhood has a ‘casa cultura’ where all materials needed to do a community art program are provided.”

”This encourages independent artists to do their work through their local ‘casa cultura,”’ continues Saunders. ”So you can actually disagree with the government, yet still be provided with amplifiers, microphones and a space to perform. The equipment might not be the best quality, but you’ll still get it. Compare this to the poor inner-city neighborhoods of the United States — those kids have no place to go, no place to learn art or anyone to teach them to think critically.”

Never having been to Cuba, I can’t speak with any firsthand experience about how true this is. Since my knowledge is limited to whatever the media has spun, I must say that this is a bit of a surprise to me. Considering the…restrictions that Cuba has placed on expression in other forms of expression and political protest, I find it hard to believe that they’d really allow such strongly political statements.

Now to the good stuff. Saunders goes on to say that a lot of countries look to Cuba as the “rebirth of the hip hop movement”. Since they take their cue from very early, socially conscious hip hop, and apparently really emphasize and support female hip hop, it seems more progressive than in America itself. Apparently Cuba was the birthplace of the first openly lesbian hip hop group, called Las Krudas.

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