“Krudas Cubensi” in Havana – 2014

“And that’s where we’re at, bringing our richness to Cuba and shaping it” – Odaymara Cuesta, AKA “Pasa Cruda”

Regina Cano

HAVANA TIMES – People… “Las Krudas!” Female rappers, who have become part of the Cuban diaspora, but who remain in good standing in their native land, reconnect with their memories to tell us about who they were, and who they are today.

Dynamic Hip Hop musicians; Afro-Caribbean poets, with the lesbian and vegan perspective of queer activists; pro-feminine combatants for respect for others; raw as the essence with which Mother Nature brought them onto this earth.

Why that name – Las Krudas?

I’m Odaymara Cuesta, alias “Pasa Kruda” [“raw raisin”], founder of the Life Project “Krudas Cubensi”, which has been in existence since 2001.

Olivia and I came together in 1996. We were concerned about what was happening in Cuba with women, with lesbians and with black people.

I had studied at the Pedagogical Institute, and she complemented my knowledge of art with her expertise in theater and music. We began to create street theater with the “Cubensi Stilts Troupe” in 1999, mixing it later with Rap.

I hadn’t been a very typical person, even before becoming one of the “Krudas.” I was always breaking the rules in the political, ideological, artistic and creative sense.

I’m Olivia Prendes, also known as Pelusa Kruda [“raw fluff”]. I came into the world with an artistic bent, and even as a child I wrote poems for my native Guantanamo. I studied in the National School of the Arts in Havana, where all of the musicians from the countryside received their mid-level studies in music, a music that was generally bland, Eurocentric and colonial. I later studied theater in the Superior Art Institute.

There was a fascinating movement in the city towards music from Africa, led by the group “Synthesis.” I worked with the theater group “El Puente” (The Bridge).

And then I met…. Odaaaymaaara! She was deeply involved in a movement of young activists for alternative, Afrocentric and specifically Afro-American music.

We became acquainted with Funk and with a very forceful and alive Hip Hop. Odaymara herself had a lot of music. I introduced her to experimental and creative writing, and she showed me her world of Art and Queer Activism.

And very importantly – she is modest – she was in the movie “Gay Cuba”. To me she was a movie star. All of this brought me a new gamut of possibilities, feeding my art and my life.

We fell in love, against the backdrop of the beautiful and powerful nature of this island which taught us so much about ourselves and our cultural storehouse.

Queer activism in Cuba?

Pasa: Well, in the 90s we formed a group with Pepe, Lisbet, Amaury, Yoel, Yane and other people who were with us for short periods. It was called “Gales” [Wales]

In 1993 we met with Mariela Castro Espín to create a group of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, intersexuals that..”would be authorized..to form a free association and to work as such with the Institutions…” More than resembling a “party”, we wanted it to be an educational project – “to write our own history of the Movement…in Cuba and…shed light on issues that had been put aside after the revolutionary triumph.”

But she merely said to us: “You know what? The Cuban people aren’t ready for the things that you’re talking about.” We told her: “But of course they are – aren’t we part of the people?” She then continued: “There’s a lot of homophobia and lesbophobia in Cuba and the people don’t…” In other words she set herself up as the People and she told us “No.”

We continued carrying out our activities independently, clandestinely, however you want to say it, and there came a May Day when we said, “Let’s go, we’re workers here too.” We had a gigantic Rainbow flag, and we fought to be in the parade.

It was intense, because the people around us – the “aware and militant people” wouldn’t let us move forward. They pushed us, they mistreated us, they dealt us a lot of blows, but despite that we managed to unfurl our flag.

Each time an organization passed the podium, they would announce their name: “And now -.here’s Public Health” or “Here comes the ANAP”. But when we passed by there was a sudden silence “and now tha…”

We went by rapidly. At that moment, a bunch of people accosted us. Civilians, police, I don’t know what they were. We stashed the flag, we dispersed and from that moment on each member of the group had to undergo periodic checks by State Security. They would enter our houses and take us with them, and they’d have us seated there in their offices for hours and hours. Or we’d be in some place and an official of the State Security would pass by; like they were trying to break us down, or make us stop meeting. Eventually all the people from that group chose to leave the country.

Now it’s different. There’s a Center for Sexual Education that Mariela directs. There’s a Day against Homophobia, with a parade, and they even perform surgical operations. There are “parties” almost every day where you pay to enter, and they make money from them. Everything has changed. They say that there are different governmental groups of lesbians and…whatever. Everything looks really good.

At that time it was rough, but it strengthened us a lot.

The history of the LGBTI movement goes back well before “Gales”, when the UMAP [Military Units in Support of Production] were in force and they were throwing us in jail: it would be a good thing if one day someone would chronicle all of the things that happened.

In those moments, we participated in an exchange with groups of homosexuals from Germany, England, and the U.S. – more specifically New York and San Francisco. The documentary “Gay Cuba” with the testimonies of Cuban men and women came out of those meetings.

We went with this group to the Sanatorium for AIDs Treatment. They had brought serum, needles and medicine from the United States: pills, vitamins and the so-called “AZT” treatment that was very expensive, so I don’t know if many Cubans were able to use it.

It was important to help out with whatever we could get, but at the same time the official attitude was overwhelmingly one of: “It doesn’t matter – No! Even if you’re here to help, the people aren’t ready.”

They also brought literature in Spanish which we donated it to the library in Güinera where “Fifi” ran a refuge for Transvestites. She was more or less in charge of a Construction Micro-Brigade, and they performed shows in the worker’s cafeteria on Saturday nights and people came in from the community.

At that time Güinera was a strong focus of homosexual “presence”, breaking up established beliefs. All of us did a lot of volunteer work there, because it was the place to be.

And within Hip Hop?

Pasa: Rensoli of “Grupo Uno” (Group One) invited us to the Rap Festival in Alamar as “Cubensi” We went with Yoel Fear and Odalys (“Wanda”). We rapped lyrics that were more infantile than for adults, but with the style that the streets demanded.

That interaction with that public made us grow. We performed all around the amphitheater, doing theater dynamics, some songs, and improvisations. It was lovely.

When the male and female Rappers sang, people were fascinated. We discovered that we belonged there. We wanted to be part of that culture and decided that we would do everything possible to become one of the Hip Hop performers in Havana.

When we speak of our influences, Cuban Hip Hop is in first place. It’s been the most wonderful artistic arm and instrument that I’ve been given.

Pelusa: We began with a cajón [a six sided, box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru, played by slapping the front or rear faces” and chequerés [“shaker-like percussive instrument, originally from Africa”] improvising and inventing songs for the Street Theater, until we realized that we could work with all types of publics.

We did Hip Hop with Vegan activism, for Lesbian feminism. We absolutely rejected what we had learned of Cuban art in the Euro-centric and North-centric Academy, and the results that came out of this. I forgot about the majority of the strict structures, in terms of tuning, harmony and melody, but I tried to let flow more of the natural and positive feeling that Odaymara and Wanda had nailed so well.

So it never came out as refined, but as raw, as the people are, and we said, “Wow! This music sounds really raw [in Spanish “cruda” ] and Kruda was a great word that tied us in to the Theater. And that’s how it was born, adding rawness to Cuban Hip Hop.

How Raw are these young women?

Pelusa: We have grown close to the purest raw veganism without having any type of information to go by. After so much Experimental Art and Vegan Life Projects, we tried to convert our own families to veganism, but the Oppressive System is omnivorous and from the time that you’re born imposes the eating of meat as an absolute truth. We understood that, even before we met.

Pasa: I feel a sense of liberation from not eating meat and other products of animal mistreatment. I don’t have it inside. You’re not perfect, but many fears and insecurities disappear and our minds flow in a more artistic way, more creatively, with more direction.

It gives you understanding, patience, more compassion and a practical analysis to resolve situations, even when they’re intense. It’s an awakening, a discovery. It’s the greatest!

You let go of one more chain of mental slavery at the expense of tradition: “our ancestors ate this;” “It’s our national dish;” and the more you cut yourself loose from the system of hetero-patriarchy, racism and classism, the more you’re free to transgress, spontaneously and wonderfully from the inside out, and you will harbor better sentiments.

To be vegetarian, vegan, raw has given us impetuousness in making the decisions for our life work and careers. Those are the tracks, and our lives the train where everything flows.

Pelusa: Also, when you cook your food you kill the enzymes that can help our antibodies. When we don’t give them what they need, we wear out our reserves, and from that comes illness or unnatural aging. All of the vegan activism that we do is important. It’s our little opposition to that great World System with its battles against racism, and against gender, age, border and national discrimination.