Cuban rap
Posted: 07 February 2008 03:58 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Ed Morales | Newsday.com

Chris Murphy is a 53-year-old Australian best known for managing international rock stars INXS, but in 2002 he found himself in a confrontation with a Cuban government official in Havana. He was negotiating to continue to record the hip-hop artists that appear on “Liberación” (Petrol/EMI), a DVD that has been nominated for best long-form video at Sunday’s Grammy Awards ceremony.

“The chairman of the Cuban music institute became extraordinarily aggressive towards me,” said Murphy in a phone interview. “He said in this country, people have to become qualified to become musicians, and go to a conservatory for five years.” Murphy, who had his partner Mark Edwards clandestinely record rappers like El Médico, Kuva Man to Man and Fresca in a home studio in Santiago, felt himself in the throes of a dilemma.

“Your mind is flickering between what is morally correct and what a fantastic thing [it is] that these young people can be trained for five years on government money,” Murphy said. “After he finished ranting I looked him in the eye and said, ‘If your philosophy was correct, we wouldn’t have had Michael Hutchence, Bono or Elvis Presley. They didn’t have a single day of training in their lives.’”

Murphy then traveled to the southeast coast of Cuba with a freelance BBC cameraman and recorded the performances on “Liberación” during the Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba, celebrated in July. The MCs rap about quotidian life in Cuba over backing music that varies from reggaetón-style beats to more traditional hip-hop breakbeats. The video mixes layers of carnaval footage of wildly costumed revelers and families celebrating in their houses and on the streets, giving Santiago a dreamlike quality.

The performers in “Liberación” are talented, enthusiastic, and display strong technique and lyricism. “El Médico was very disciplined and had a star quality about him,” Murphy said. Other impressive moments are provided by Resurrection’s performance of “Guapo” and Lady Ragga’s “Come and Get It.” The DVD’s theme song is a reggaetón cover of T-Rex’s “Children of the Revolution.”

Murphy is thrilled with his Grammy nomination, since the project took almost five years to be released. His Petrol Records label has had success releasing a series of world music compilations using graphic representations of fruit on the cover (Cuba’s features an orange), as well as last year’s “Che Guevara: A Soundtrack to Life,” an exclusive deal with iTunes. Now that “Liberación” has finally been recognized, he’s thinking of returning to Cuba to do a documentary about where the rappers are now.

“When I arrived back in New York from Cuba, I told my daughter, I’m a wee bit confused about capitalism vs. communism,” Murphy said. “People need more food on their plate, but every single person I saw was dancing and had a smile on their face, and music was in their blood, and there was a happiness and good vibe about the place. In New York, I walk down the street and nobody smiled at me, and I went to a restaurant where the serving was for four people instead of one, and I thought, who’s really happy here?”

E-mail Ed Morales at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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