Cuban rapper dedicates new song with biting lyrics to those fleeing
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
The immigration experience served as the inspiring force behind a new
album by Bian Oscar Rodríguez, better known in the Cuban hip-hop scene
as El B.
He co-founded Los Aldeanos along with Aldo Rodríguez Baquero (no
relation). The duo rose to become one of Cuba's most popular underground
hip-hop groups in the past 15 years, with more than 30 albums laced with
powerful, controversial messages critical of the Cuban government and
social problems on the island.
Two years ago, after being censored in Cuba, Rodríguez decided to try
his luck in Miami with a solo career.
His new album, titled "Luz" (Light) and produced by his own ZenStar
Productions company, "is like a new beginning, a new stage of my life,"
the artist said.
Although the album contains songs about human feelings, Rodríguez has
not renounced his characteristic direct style of calling things as he
sees them and reflecting on Cuban society.
"I am Cuban; I can't disconnect myself, even if I wanted to, from the
Cuban reality and I talk about these issues because I'm interested,"
Rodríguez said by way of introducing his song "Emigrante" (Emigrant),
dedicated to previous and current exoduses of Cubans to the United States.
"In the midst of these supposed changes that are occurring with the
opening of relations between the United States and Cuba, that everything
is supposedly good, now more than ever Cubans are eager to leave the
island by all possible means — by sea, crossing borders, however," he said.
The issue of immigration is close to his heart, not only because of his
own experience, but also because offriends who have boarded flimsy rafts
or traveled across thousands of miles by land to make it to the United
"I am concerned because more and more people are risking their lives and
I can't be detached, no matter how much people think that once you're
out of Cuba it's not the same. For me, what is important is what I feel,
what I think and representing my people wherever I am," Rodríguez said.
Like with any other immigrant, these past two years have put him to the
test, leaving behind family, friends and customs. In Miami, he has found
a city in which many cultures converge and experienced the warmth of a
Cuban community "that has treated me well."
But his heart remains on the island.
"What I miss most about Cuba is my son," he said. "My son is still
there; my wife and I are in the process of bringing him over here with
us. I miss my family, my friends and, of course, Cuba; it's my homeland
and wherever I am, it's going to be there."
The rapper has found a loyal audience among Cubans who listened to his
music on the island and now live in the United States. El B also is well
known in Latin America, especially in Colombia and Venezuela, where Los
Aldeanos built an audience of followers of their underground rap.
However, he said, "nothing compares with the energy of a hip-hop
performance in Cuba, which is done practically without any resources and
people pack the arena and feel what you are singing about."
Rodríguez is grateful to fans from the island who comment on his
Facebook and Instagram accounts, connecting to the internet via wifi
spots set up by the government.
"There are people who pay for their wifi connections and set aside a
little bit of that time to get on my page and comment, and I appreciate
that very much because I know how economically hard it is to get a card
and do that," said the rapper. "But music always gets to the people. I
released an album and within two days it was playing in Cuba."
The reason rappers and many artists leave the country is "cultural
politics," he said. "Artists can't be artists; they have to be artists
with a politically correct message, according to the dictates of the
Ministry of Culture and the government, and nobody wants to live tied to
those things. Nobody wants to have their creations committed to
something they don't really believe in. That is why people leave and why
it is so difficult to grow artistically with those restraints."
Book author and scholar Sujatha Fernandes said the rap genre has served
as an outlet for dissent, particularly among the island's younger black
"Hip-hop culture has provided a vehicle for black youth to address
important social and political issues of racism and widening
inequalities on the island, and to make their diverse voices heard at a
time of marked changes in Cuban society," said Fernandes, professor at
the University of Sidney and author of the book Cuba Represent!
But emigration has relocated the production of Cuban hip-hop, which in
recent years has felt the effect of both the departure of its main
representatives from the island and the co-opting and
institutionalization of those still there who claimed to be "independent."
El B's new production illustrates the fluidity that characterizes
today's Cuban music: "There are many people outside who are representing
stronger than many inside the island. There are people inside who are
representing hard but can only do shows or presentations outside of
Cuba. What I believe in is truth and hard work."
At the same time, Rodríguez expressed skepticism about the effect the
closer ties between the U.S. and Cuba could have on the local hip-hop
scene, which used to attract many foreigners.
"The same thing is happening that always happens, at least with rap:
Foreigners who go to Cuba, either from the United States or anywhere, go
to film artists, do interviews, make documentaries and take photos for
themselves. None of that benefits the artists," Rodríguez said. "That
happened to me many times. You are there with no place to perform, no
way to promote your music and then someone shows up and you see that as
the opportunity of your life. Then these materials are sold to
television channels, or sold to YouTube channels and rappers don't get
Rodríguez said that he is now receiving legal advice to regain control
of his music and expose people whose names are registered to songs he
composed for Los Aldeanos. While in Cuba, Los Aldeanos, who could not
record in state-run studios, produced their music in home studios and
would distribute it themselves, usually for free. With his new
production company, ZenStar, the rapper dreams of achieving success and
helping other talented artists from the island.
Meanwhile, his music does not waver from encouraging social change in Cuba.
"That is very difficult — to get people to rise up in a country that is
sick with a sense of apathy, fear and conformity," Rodríguez said. "But
I'll continue to work on that."
Source: Cuban rapper El B of Los Aldeanos dedicates new song to
emigrants | In Cuba Today -