“I’m tired of your lies, of your fits of rage and your visions, of the rotating of your hand and your finger for a while. Hipnosis Colectivo. I’m sick of your shoe on the back of my neck. Ever since you were born you wanted to be a copy, the artisan’s vision, modeling clay, transformed mud. But I am sand that slips between your fingers” -from The CD Hipnosis Colectivo
An interview with Demian Rabilero, poet and audio-video producer
By Dariela Aquique L.
HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 17 — In Cuba, the generation from the 1970s is definitively unique. They were born during a decade of “collective euphoria” for some, or the birth of bitterness to others, in the first years of the Revolution.
It is a generation that didn’t experience economic shortages in their childhood, they had excellent teachers and “Schools in the Countryside, they studied English and Russian.
They also experienced the abundance of the ‘80s, scholarships in the countries of the socialist camp, the war of Angola, the acts of repudiation, the massive exodus from the Mariel port and later the balseros (rafters), and they could listen to the Beatles without hiding, though they read Kundera or Vargas Llosa in secret; it was the generation of which many left and few of us remain.
I belong to that generation, as does my interviewee Demian Rabilero. Now five decades have passed and the term has changed: “collective hypnosis.”
HT: Hip hop, rap and urban music are musical genres in vogue. They are assimilated by many and scorned by others. Damian Rabilero is a professional advocate (a lawyer) but does not advocate his profession. He is a poet basically, a video producer and one of most interesting young people who have remained in the city of Santiago de Cuba. You have become a sort of producer of a CD of rappers; how is that going?
Demian Rabilero: It’s not exactly a CD of rappers; rather, it’s a personal project. It’s a CD that might be called “Spoken word,” which is a related genre or a characteristic of hip hop. In it there’s not so much rapping as there is speaking, although rap is…let’s say…closer to traditional poetry, although it has background music behind it. The central pillar consists of my writing, almost all of which were created for this CD. They are poems created to be put to music, but more than musicalized to be shared. As indicated by the title of the CD, Hipnosis colectiva (Collective hypnosis), I was trying to undertake a collective project, with not only the presence of my writings, but incorporating rappers as well.
HT: Why rap?
D.R: Simply because since its emergence, rap is perhaps at the vanguard of the most radical poetry and has become the state-of-the-art in poetry, keeping in mind that poetry, as I see it, has wandered into a dead-end street. People write to be read by a minority and in a language that is no longer characteristic of the times and has nothing to do with people’s senses.
HT: So are you searching to create poetry that reflects today’s individual, today’s being?
D.R: Sure, poetry definitely comes from the troubadour, from that person who walked from town to town telling stories, singing their feelings. Poets were always popular, but I’m not dumbing down of poetry, but figuring out how you embellish it, to present these poetic forms so that they can be grasped and heard by people. It’s said that we live a dizzying time, and that’s why I had the idea of breaking out of an atmosphere of a small audience in which works are read with a certain cadence (now transformed into cliché). It’s also a way to present poetry as a show.
HT: So you build on the highly popular origins of poetry, without elitist or snobbish pretenses of some people in recent times?
D.R: Absolutely. I sympathize with a generation that has made me give up on utopia. I increasingly champion the simplification of my poetry. All of the discourse on Hipnosis…, is conceived using the language of people in the street (this is not anything original, it’s been done before). For example, the phrase “you’re looking pretty on the mound” comes from popular sports jargon, and it’s no more than a metaphor referring to the performance of a baseball pitcher. I try to use things like that a lot, guarding the language and not using strange or archaic words.
HT: You were born in ‘72?
D.R: Yes, in 72. I’m a part of an intellectually prepared generation that was educated fairly well, that had full access to a cultural world, despite the censorship, with a very cosmopolitan vision since childhood. I always use the example of cartoons to demonstrate this assertion. This is to say that there was no other country in the world (without falling into the Cuban chauvinism that we’re always the best), but really in the context of my generation, there was no one who saw cartoons from so many parts of the planet as much as we did.
We saw US cartoons, from the old black and white animations of Betty Boop, Woody Woodpecker, etc., we watched Japonese manga (even at a time when it was not so popular), as well as animations from Cuba, Latin America, Europe and the socialist camp. In the US, for example, no one saw cartoons from the socialist camp, and nor were US cartoons seen in the USSR. So this gave us a multicultural vision from the time we were very young. What was paradoxical was that after growing up with this cosmopolitan vision, they then wanted to make us believe that the world was Cuba, and that nothing else existed beyond its borders.
I not going to give all the examples of the absurdities they told us, but it’s enough to say that this is the point of departure for Hipnosis colectiva.
HT: Many people believe that urban music is only cheap and sensational form of protest. What do you think about this?
D.R: What has happened is that that type of urban music is what’s promoted the most. Hipnosis colectiva is not a part of such bitterness or hate, or of anger. I don’t believe that one can do anything basing themselves on bitterness, or on hate or simplicity. Notwithstanding, there’s something here that’s logical. Cuba is a country where there’s a great deal of censorship. If you crack a joke about homosexuals or use a bad word in a movie or a social critique, something so banal, these sometimes quickly succeed at connecting with the public, because it’s something like “Uh-oh, you can’t say that. You must be brave!”
Fortunately times are changing; people’s sensitivity is changing and I believe that people are now becoming interested in other things (this is without trying to speak on behalf of anyone; it’s only a perception). The public is less and less interested in this kind of bitterness, this game of vulgarity, which speaks to and stays at the epidermal level. People are entitled to be happy and it’s is necessary to contribute to that with art – “without messages,” but with an optimistic spin, a pleasant spin.
HT: There are people who think that the daily agonies of individuals, the precarious conditions of life, among other things, have caused Cubans to lose a social model to follow, that the Cuban model has disappeared. Therefore many say that this is why we appeal to imported models of dressing, speaking and of course of music, of which urban music is the most exemplary.
D.R: Well, independently of where they were born, musical genres are universal. Rap is universal, reggae is universal. I believe that these genres called “urban” arise out of a need to speak, beyond preset models or forms, then comes all the rest, but it emerges from the need to speak out, to express oneself, and this doesn’t happen in Cuba. I believe the world is going in the direction it has to go, there’s no other alternative than a globalized world, beyond the criticism and what might be generated – negative or not.
“We don’t play violins because it’s European!” Or “son music is exclusive to Cuba!” – that’s absurd.
HT: TNT is the group of rappers that you invited to participate on the CD that you’re producing. In fact producing in Cuba is a paradoxical term, because it refers only to the aspect of execution, not the financing. How did you accomplish this latter?
D.R: Well, right now we’re in the process of making the demo. It’s a group effort. Music producer Kiki Pro, from Santiago, is the one who works with all the rap and reggaeton groups here in the province. It’s worth adding that he has made some very good suggestions and that he has great sensitivity; he doesn’t have a closed idea. There’s lots of space for people to get involved, participate and include their ideas in the CD.
TNT is a group of young rappers with whom I’ve been collaborating on the writing and have produced a video. They have concerns and want to say things. They have…we have…things to say.
HT: How can a CD be produced independently in Cuba and especially in Santiago de Cuba?
D.R: Girl, with will power. There are people with a lot of talent here and new technologies, which governments are increasingly making more difficult to access. Every time I run into a critic of technology, I’m terrified. It’s undeniable and without it human beings wouldn’t be where we are today and there wouldn’t be a way to save the planet without technology, to mention one burning issue. I base myself on the idea of making this demo, in which perhaps we missed some things, but it’s necessary to do it rigorously, looking for whatever way to finance the production of the CD. Fortunately the tools for making the demo are quite accessible now.
HT: Hipnosis colectiva, the name of this demo, is really very suggestive. How were you able to deal with the levels of censorship?
D.R: Right now, I can’t begin to think of the levels of censorship. Obviously the CD is developed in a manner whereby it’s necessary for me to check the things that are said. I leave space for ambiguity. For me art is ambiguous, it’s not that it criticizes the messages directly. People are entitled to express themselves, but to me I’m not interested in producing a CD that will be heard only in Cuba. I want a CD that they put on in Spain, in whatever place where it can find listeners.
HT: Why “collective”?
D.R: I called it Hipnosis colectiva because historical and social responsibilities are always collective. It’s always easy to blame people. I always think of the phrase by Tengiz Abuladze in his movie Arrepentimiento when he said, “Stalin is nothing if he’s compared to Stalinism…” Likewise, Castro is nothing if he’s compared to Castrism. He’s simply a man in power.
That’s why I believe responsibilities are always collective. The images are there; there are 300,000 people applauding in Revolution Square, but I’m not speaking on behalf of the people, I speak from my perception. These days everyone claims the right to speak on behalf of the people. Politicians speak on behalf of the people, when they should speak only on behalf of their voters. Athletes speak on behalf of the people, instead of speaking on behalf of their fans. Musicians speak on behalf of the people but they don’t speak on behalf of their audience. It’s a tendency, but I’ll always be the last of the democrats.
HT: Santiago de Cuba is an interesting city, the birthplace of enviable cultural and artistic patrimony. However, with the passing of time it has lost its charm and its children. Everyone wants to leave Santiago; they speak of it as a city that offers no opportunity, that doesn’t forgive talent. But you’ve stayed – why?
D.R: At first it was because I didn’t have any real way to leave. But I admit, though I’d like to be far away from here, I love Santiago. I’m more a Santiaguero than Cuban. To be a Santiaguero is a phenomenon. I don’t believe that anyone in the country displays more of a regional character than us. We are characterized by our surprising solidarity. When we run into each other in any part of the country or the world, identification is immediate.
Santiagueros symbolize a peculiar humanness (but not in the sensationalist sense of the word). We are sarcastic, cheerful and confident in short… Santiago unfortunately suffers the battering of architectural deterioration; it suffers the loss of a cultural life, of a night life that always characterized it; but it’s a magical and beautiful city, despite its vulgarity. Right now its best people don’t remain. However, despite the circumstances, here we are. And I also believe that the day we’re not here we’ll always miss it.
HT: Well, good luck with the demo and with the production of the CD.
“I am not a worm / or a pink butterfly / I am the thick mud / where I take a bath daily /(People lie) / Take it easy kid, / take it easy my old man, / and let me dream for a little while / Take it easy kid, / take it easy my old man. / Leave the armchair for an instant / Relax, go for a boat ride / Get yourself two whores and go for it / Bounce and rebound, don’t complain to me / Take it easy”