I learned just one week prior that the group Los Aldeanos would give their first concert authorized by Cuban state institutions. This meant that I would have a chance to attend and to see their performance, the public’s reaction and how those institutions and authorities would respond to all this.
This —the first concert by the rap duo in one of the city’s theaters— was to be organized by the Raspadura production group and was sponsored by the Asociacion Hermanos Saiz (an organization of young “cultural creators”).
The truth is that opinions concerning Aldo and El B, Los Aldeanos and their music are distinctly controversial.
On one hand, many youth and adults alike follow them, listen to their songs and hum their tunes at home or in whatever public place. On the other hand, there are people who work in the fields of music, theater, cinema or painting, as well as intellectuals in general, who sometimes reject them; they think the group either makes facile critiques using only vulgar language riddled with “bad words” or that they’re subversive and radicals. Then to, there are still those people who haven’t found out that the Aldeanos even exist.
Certainly the short film that has just come out on them (which people are passing around from hand in hand on USB memories) has tipped the balance in their favor given the direct, sincere and assertive way with which they gave their interview.
The great majority of those who have heard them in Cuba feel that the lyrics of their songs say what these listeners themselves dare not say openly concerning Cuban society and the political system. The musicians push their polemical aggressiveness to the limit of what the public arena allows.
The Aldeanos are part of the first generation of Cubans who as children suffered the changes resulting from the island’s economic crisis of the 1990s. They were witnesses of this society’s worst parts, which previously had not been evidenced. They are not like those who were born after the crisis, with an absence of certain hopes and having never thought of doing anything to affect change – other than emigrating.
Having continued to perform rap as a vehicle for expressing their beliefs and defending their principles became a sharp struggle against institutional rejection. That had been sustained for seven years and was complicated by the unfavorable atmosphere created by the appearance of reggaeton, which established a base of resistance for them and other rappers in the country.
For years I’ve gotten news of clandestine concerts by these rappers, the first ones in outlying neighborhoods of the capital and later in the contiguous Havana Province. Then, finally, I was able to attend one in the nearby town of Santa Cruz. Performing there were Los Aldeanos, Papa Humbertico, Soldados de la Calle, Articulo 53 and others. This was a sign that rap was not dead, despite the lackluster performance of the state-allowed Rap Agency, with its few members and its uninspired promotion of the genre in Cuba.
Instead of such vehicles, Los Aldeanos had had to form a front of resistance, a cimarronaje [escaped slave resistance], at all costs. Without ceasing to compose and without stopping to introduce new songs to the public, this battle would have to be fought underground, without institutional support and at their own risk.
The surprising unveiling of the short film on the group provided them the opportune moment for the above-ground concert. Notwithstanding, it’s necessary to wonder: How much of this is behind-the-scene maneuvering by state institutions in allowing this newfound visibility, and to what degree are they letting Los Aldeanos serve as another safety value for ordinary citizens, who need one so urgently?
To be continued in part two…