To me, walking on stilts always seemed like something one would want to do in their early years of life. However through their street performances, the well-known group “The Zanqueros of Old Havana” showed me just the opposite.
The Zanqueros — who we see walking among groups of people through the oldest part of the city — owe their existence to the motivation of “Las Crudas”, a rap trio made up of Odaymara, Olivia and Odalys.
One of two or three groups of women with the most female feeling and a peculiarly trenchant style, these women used to do rap in Havana during the 1990’s when that movement spread across the country. Over the last several years, this trio had demonstrated their maturity and fine work as evidenced in their lyrics and music.
When these three women (“Pasita MC,” “Fluff” and “Wanda”) first entered the Old Havana streets walking on stilts, they attracted a group of youth around them who formed a collective that called itself “Tropa Zanco Cubensi.”
Wearing outfits and caps in a range of colors, playing musical instruments and dancing a yard or two above the heads of pedestrians, they attracted the looks of everyone. People were surprised by the varied designs, the blaring music, the processions and congas that signaled their location. Never before had anyone seen such diversity in the old Havana streets.
The group would wander down certain streets and through the Plaza de Armas, stopping to perform plays, dance and juggle.
Within the group existed a great sense of friendship and unity, as well as a lot of work because their performances were created by themselves and presentations were made in neighborhood primary schools. In addition, they were concerned about doing things to solve the serious issues facing the individuals in the collective.
All this changed after the departure of the original creators, as the group suffered a gradual and deeply deteriorating transformation from what it was.
However, some time prior to the departure of the rappers, a new group had arisen: “Giganteria.” This group is led by Roberto Salas, an artist who was previously in Tropa Zancos and has a style different from the Zanqueros. The designs of their outfits are more artistically combined in form and color, as is their make-up, the performers, living statues and competing musicians. This group has sought to make this type of work more professional and has had extraordinary results.
At the moment, these two groups, Giganteria and Zanqueros, share the same space but on different days of the week, just as their styles and performances are markedly different.
Nonetheless, those of us who remember the original rappers of the first group — the Zanqueros” — still miss them deeply.