Rock, Rap & Reggae: Three Different Connections

Regina Cano

The reggae band Remanente.

Generally, preoccupied with actions in the present, we tend to forget some of the past, changing our collective memories and references to what we now are.  For this reason many of us islanders, who sometimes try to cast our fishing pole backwards, say “Cubans have bad memories” or that “if it wasn’t this way we’d all go crazy.”  Decidedly, it’s part of the great artistry of the human brain.

This has happened with three cultural events that used to be held in the capital, and that circumstances have now changed. These were:

– “El Patio de María”, a community center in the Vedado neighborhood, which reserved its space solely for rock music.

– The “Festival of Rap” in Alamar, which was organized annually by “GrupoUno” and was becoming an international event.

– The “Festival of Reggae” (as some people called it) that was carried out every year in the  Mariana Grajales Theater, located between the Cerro and the Centro Havana municipalities of the capital.

These events marked part of a necessary diversity as minority tendencies among the abundance of salsa, pop and later reggaeton music.

In “El Patio,” starting at the end of the 1980s, youths converged to listen and dance to rock every weekend.  It was a small place that was considered by many to be the underground, where even concerts were given with cover charges and everything.

One day, with the emergence of the “Operación Coraza” (Carried out by the Cuban police to curb drug abuse and trafficking in Cuba), there appeared the pretext for its being shut down.  This pressure continued until a shift in public opinion allowed the reestablishment of a new venue for rock at the current “Maxim Rock,” an old cinema.  What also returned was the “Cayman Rock Festival, as well as the creation of the Rock Music Agency.

In the case of the Festival of Rap, which arose in 1995, this was the first event that made that phenomenon visible in Cuba.  It was held in the outlying Alamar community for six years and made known the efforts many pioneer groups that became experienced, maturing in their thematic and musical demands.

With the arrival of 2001, what occurred was what some called a coup d’état; three rappers and one of the organizers decided to take control of the festival from its founder, Rodolfo Rensolis, and they sought the protection in an institution to achieve this.  These people, who were members of the Agency of Rap (subordinate to the Ministry of Culture) at the beginning, reduced the festival to a series of activities that wound up leaving rap in a condition that led to its current marginal state.

In terms of the so-called Festival of Reggae and Rastafarians, this annual encounter would occur with the true cultivators and fans of the genre from around the entire country attending; this included one community (who people say was from the city of Cienfuegos) that produced their own outfits and footwear.  One fine day, and without knowing why, the celebration of this yearly gathering was canceled by the powers that be, and without a single word of explanation.

Reggae groups continue playing, but you never hear anything about possible concerts or performances.  It could be that clandestinity is now welcoming them.

The Agency of Rock (subordinate to the Ministry of Culture) is more faithful to the followers of that genre and consistently works to maintain it.  The Agency of Rap supports a few groups within its ranks, though with little promotion of that art form.  Reggae however —which has not had anyone to stand up for it— continues as the black sheep.

One thought on “Rock, Rap & Reggae: Three Different Connections

  • Because of the nature of human animal biology, it is important, socially, that collective events be held regularly — in order to reinforce their presence in our collective consciousnesses, and invoke the vital re-cementing of human social bonds. These processes are undertaken daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and otherwise, depending on what we are talking about. And certainly, music festivals are among those events which are best reprised yearly. However, *who* controls such events also determines their evolution (or lack of it) over time, and the focus and intent of such gatherings.

    If the state controls such gatherings for reasons other than their original purpose, of course they become debased over time — and probably quite quickly at that; but not invariably so. Clearly, the people and organizations involved in originally making such events a success should be allowed, by democratic praxis, to be allowed input into the process further — barring unfortunate developments there. It’s only fair — not to mention probably vital to the further development of the process. But, again — not necessarily so.

    However — the staging of coups doesn’t seem to be a good way to build up positive social cohesion and praxis, does it now..?

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