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Posted August 17, 2007 by publisher in Cuban Music

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Inter Press Service

Hip-hop artists in Cuba are using makeshift studios to record music that goes to the heart of the country’s troubles, overcoming the indifference of record companies and the media toward their efforts.

While the hip-hop movement has a small following on the island, some residents have reacted negatively to it, perhaps afraid of hearing the country’s defects exposed in song lyrics.

“People are making hip hop music in a very basic way, that is, with a computer and a microphone. They just squeeze into a small room or a bathroom,” said Alexei “El Tipo Este” Rodriguez, a member of the duo Obsesión along with Magia Lopez, one of the few women rappers on the island.

They said they both had “a really bad experience” when they recorded with the state-owned Recordings and Musical Editions Company.

“They lied to us about sales in the United States, and people in Cuba never got to hear about the album because they handled it so badly,” said Alexei, 35, who has been in the hip hop movement for more than a decade.

“I think Cuban record companies are only looking for music that markets itself on its own, like salsa, reggaeton—dance music,” said Afro Velásquez, a member of the group Hermanazos, with which Obsesión makes up the independent recording project La Fabri_k. The project is a response to the indifference of national recording studios to including rap in their catalogs.

“Our dream is to sign a contract with a foreign record company,” Rodriguez said. “But the most radical, the most orthodox, don’t want to be bound to any recording company.”

Among the “orthodox” is Pap Humbertico, the driving force behind the Real 70 project, which produces rap discs and videos. The 23-year-old has become an almost legendary figure because of his tenacious defense of “underground” hip hop, following the rules of urban poetry and disdaining commercialism.

Real 70 emerged in 2001 as a result of the need for instrumental backing for rappers in this Caribbean island nation.

“Very few people within rap were devoted to music production, and they charged prices that were impossible at the time,” Humbertico said.

His studio is a room in the house where he lives with his family, in the town of Barreras, east of Havana. Hip hop groups either pay for a recording or background music, or get them free, depending on their aims. “If we see they feel the same way as we do, they become part of the project,” he said.

But hip hop isn’t just a way of earning a living. “I’m doing something that gives me strength to live and carry on,” said Humbertico, who was expelled from several schools before he found his true vocation. “If I hadn’t become a rapper, I’d now be involved in dogfights or cockfights somewhere.”

In 2002 his name hit the international media because of the controversy sparked by a song of his against “police brutality against young people,” which finally got him hauled into the office of a high-ranking Havana police chief.

“I see that as an achievement: I wrote that song, and it hit home where I wanted it to,” he said.

Humbertico is also a member of the Mano Armada duo. He said that the country needs to “revolutionize the political sphere and the minds of the people” through new ideas. His latest disc, “Revolution within the Revolution,” spells out these thoughts.

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