HAVANA TIMES — Maikel Castillo, known as DKNO (“The Dean”) in the Cuban rap scene, tells us about his interest in the rap genre and about the “consequences of telling the truth without mincing one’s words.”
HT: Tell us about DKNO.
Maikel Castillo: I’ve been listening to Vico C’s music since I was a kid. His lyrics and music caught my attention. Sometimes, I would learn the lyrics and sing his songs around the neighborhood. I’m from Belen, which is where the rap get-together is held, in the Havana neighborhood’s cultural center (located at the intersection of Aguiar and Amargura streets at the time). I would go there regularly. I never went to music school, and I had never been in a band before. Rapping just comes to me naturally.
HT: Why this name, “DKNO”?
MC: I’ve been doing rap with that name for a very long time. I think the name refers to some of my experiences, to the older ones. I identify with the concept behind this name. Also, when you read it out loud, it inspires respect, gives you a sense of wisdom.
HT: What in particular drew you to Rap music?
MC: For me, rap is a way of singing freely. It allows you to express what you want and feel. Historically, it’s been a protest genre, a music made by the humblest sectors of society and even those who suffer discrimination. We mustn’t forget that rap was born as an instrument of protest.
HT: Is rap growing as a movement in Cuba today?
MC: I wouldn’t say so, exactly. Even though we now have the Cuban Rap Agency, very few artists are granted membership there, and let’s not forget that we have very few spaces on television that divulge the genre. We also have very few spaces devoted specifically to rap music, for a public that likes the music. Those of us at the bottom, what real options do we have in terms of promoting our work through the media? To mention a well-known example, are things easy for Los Aldeanos?
HT: What does DKNO rap about?
MC: Social issues, for the most part, problems around the world. Sometimes, I talk about feelings, like love, and write about environmental issues. I address a broad range of topics.
HT: Do you devote all of your time to rap music?
MC: No. If I did, I would probably starve. I don’t make a living out of rapping. There aren’t that many options out there, not so you can devote yourself entirely to the music and make a decent income, at least. Also, I am constantly being censored, and this closes many doors for me. Those are the consequences of telling the truth without mincing one’s words.
HT: You are one of the very few rappers who have sung next to Cuba’s folk music legend Silvio Rodriguez.
MC: It was of course an honor for me. At the time, I was in the province of Santa Clara. During Silvio’s nationwide tour, when he performed at different penitentiary centers, I was selected to share the stage with him. Silvio Rodriguez was, the voice of protest of his day, and he was punished and isolated on occasions because of this, while still a young musician. He is the greatest of Cuban songwriters, and I identify with him a lot.
HT: Is there any message you want to convey to people?
MC: The only thing that comes to mind right now is the title of the first song of my album: “redemption.”