HAVANA TIMES, Feb 1 — Sekou’s advice may be anonymous, but his complaints are written and signed.
The rap group “Anonimo Consejo” (Anonymous Advice), founded in 1996, is one of the most recognized of such groups in our country. Its members “Sekou” (Yosmel Sarrias Napoles) and “Kokino” (Maigel Entenza Jaramillo) are founding members of the “Cuban Rap Agency”, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.
In late 2011, a group of Agency-member rappers wrote to the Minister of Culture requesting the removal of the organization’s director, Magia Lopez, who herself is also a member of rap duo “Obsesion.” Sekou, the leader of Anonimo Consejo, was among those who signed the petition.
Sekou: Actually we wrote two letters. The first was sent sometime around April of last year and was signed by Doble Filo, Brebaje Man, Hermanos de Causa, Hermanazos, Cuentas Claras, Mano Armada and Anonimo Consejo. The second we sent two months ago, joined by additional rappers like Reuben (from Primera Base, one of the pioneers of rap in Cuba) and Yimy from the group Klase.
HT: What complaints did you have about the work of Magia Lopez as the head of the Cuban Rap Agency?
Sekou: At first we thought the best thing that could happen to us was to have Magia as the director, since she was a rapper and had experienced the same things we had, from the inside. That gave us total confidence in her. Time demonstrated to us that, at least in this case, that it’s not necessary for a rapper to hold that position. We had a lot of trouble with her, with her attitude towards us and towards rappers who aren’t in the Agency.
Sometimes we needed to take care of paperwork, but Magia would take the official stamp home with her. I think that’s something that should be kept at the Agency in case she’s not present; that’s something she could have delegated to another person.
Also, when several rappers were about to join the Agency, she questioned their quality. We’re talking about rappers with a lot of time in the Cuban rap movement – artists like Hermanos de Causa, Cuentas Claras, and Papa Humbertico. Anyone who knows rap in Cuba and in Latin America knows who these artists are.
HT: But those are subjective points of view, not reasons for demanding the resignation of someone.
Sekou: Lots of things were mixed in with this. Occasionally, someone was handling a trip and she got things wrong in the paperwork, so they had to be redone. This kind of thing delayed things for people.
When an artist from the Agency wanted to do a concert, it was very complicated to get things done, like the promotion and advertising; but when her group Obsesion was preparing for the release of the CD El Disco Negro, most of the people working at the Agency were actively involved with that.
At first, Magia had her own DJ working there as her assistant director. In my opinion, she was organizing her own inner circle that could take care of her interests, and that’s what a lot of workers demonstrated to us. On top of that, lots of folks — each through their own way — found out that while they were paid a certain amount of money for performing, Obsesion was paid double that amount for a similar show. We felt every right to send this letter (calling for her resignation), because it all seemed too much to us, and everything was being done blatantly. We got together and each one of us presented our point of view. Each person has their story with respect to her.
HT: And yours? What’s your story?
Sekou: Several years ago, when the Rev. Lucius Walker [of Pastors for Peace] was still alive, an event was organized with artists from the Agency. Other artists from the US also came and we all played at the Casa de la Amistad (The Cuban Friendship House that receives support groups from other countries). Our group performed a number of songs, including one called “Ojala,” which reflects many of the things that we experience here in Cuba.
I don’t think the song was so alarming for Lucius Walker or the other artists, because they would express themselves freely when they wanted to say something. But it seems that someone in attendance didn’t like what we said. Isnay and Magia called us the next day and sanctioned Anonimo Consejo. They said we would be prohibited from singing for two or three months.
HT: But maybe that was part Magia’s job as the Rap Agency’s director.
Sekou: Yes, maybe if the people from the Casa de Amistad had gone to her, but she was the one who thought she had to do that. However, the sanction was never valid because I never signed it. I didn’t do anything outside of what I normally did. Everyone here knows what rap is. Rap is about love, politics and social issues; it comes from the earth, from people’s experiences. If she knows what I do — which is also what she does — then she should defend her artists.
If I were telling lies in my lines, then she could come and call me a liar and maybe I’d have to shut up. But there wasn’t a single lie in what I was saying. People don’t forget those things.
Also, I think she’s taken advantage of much of her power to strengthen Obsesion. She allocated a large amount from the budget for activities in which her group was playing, which is not what happens with other artists. That hurts people because some of them have kids and other projects. She would give artists maybe 1,000 Cuban pesos (about $50 USD) for a concert, but for her people she would give 10,000 pesos (about $500 USD), for example. We saw that things weren’t equal.
HT: Perhaps she was allocating large sums of money to things like the Hip Hop Symposium, for example, which is a pretty big event.
Sekou: Yes, but what if Agency artists were getting paid 800 pesos in this big event and she was getting paid 5,000?
HT: Do you have proof of all this?
Sekou: There’s evidence — on paper — that Magia and the group Obsesion were taking advantage of activities to make certain amounts of money.
HT: Did this evidence surface in the meetings that you all had to determine what would happen to the leadership of the Agency?
Sekou: Yes. The problem was that we begin to complain about her behavior and the things we didn’t like. What came to light were things like how Reuben (of Primer Base) would give shows and make a little bit of money but how her partner Alexei (from Obsesion) would come along and make a large amount of money – even though we all do about the same number of shows.
We talked about all of this, and of course some investigation was done to see if we were mistaken. It would have been different if she had a negative opinion of us but if everything was fine in terms of the economics. But that wasn’t the case. It was proven that there was abuse of power regarding money and that they were being favored.
HT: You weren’t bothered that Magia was a woman who was directing a lot of male rappers?
Sekou: That’s not the case. We’ve always had female directors at the Rap Agency. If another woman director comes later, that’s fine. I think men have held more than enough management positions in the world for more than enough time. If a woman is leading and doing the job, at least in my personal case, that’s not a problem. But it’s a problem if someone is in that position to carry out certain responsibilities but they don’t fulfill them as they should.
If tomorrow they make another woman the director, that’s fine. But as artists we want them to do their job for us. We want to have a director who facilitates things for us. I want someone who will help me if I want to do a concert that requires a lot of logistics. I want someone who will support me with the expenses. However, if you can’t help me but you can spend money on yourself, then what’s up with that? Those are things one might suspect and comment about, but when you go through the paperwork you realize that it’s an objective fact.
HT: I thought that, independently of the complaints from all of you, Magia stepped down from head of the Agency because she needed more time to devote to her own group.
Sekou: She may have submitted her resignation request a while ago, but what’s never going to be ignored is that fact that the letter we wrote succeeded in achieving what we wanted, that she not be in that position because she didn’t meet her obligations.
HT: You’ve told me about two letters. What was the response to the first one?
Sekou: The person who knows the most about that is Edgar (from the group Doble Filo), because he was the one who presented it to her. At times they told us that we had to wait, that they were reviewing the situation. But the fact is that I left the country shortly after that.
HT: Why then was it necessary to write a second letter and for it to also be published on the website Penultimos Dias?
Sekou: It could have been that during this time the letter was taken into account, but not with the depth that we wanted.
HT: Do you think that the appearance of the letter in Penultimos Dias may have expedited this whole process?
Sekou: I think so. The last time when we met at the Cuban Music Institute, they had been investigating the situation for the previous two months. One of the things that we made quite clear was that we wanted her to be sanctioned. We don’t want her as the director and nor do we want Obsesion in the Agency. Alexei is the head of the group, and therefore he had signed all the papers concerning the money they received, so he was more than aware of what she was doing. She’s no longer the director, and her group is going out of the Agency.
HT: What do you think of Obsesion as a rap duo?
Sekou: Both of them are very good. But we’re not talking about Magia and Alexei on stage; we’re referring to what they did within the Agency.
HT: Does the Agency now have a new director?
Sekou: Not yet. Right now there’s a person from the Music Institute mediating all the different matters. There’s also the assistant director, but we told him that we don’t trust him or the majority of the workers there because they blindly supported Magia and Obsesion. None of them supported us as artists though they witnessed the injustices that I just described.
HT: Don’t you think that any rapper who might wind up leading the Agency would use their position to benefit their own group?
Sekou: That’s why we don’t want a rapper to head the Agency. We want a person who can lead the Agency forward, someone who can facilitate things and is flexible so that we can grow, because in reality we’ve been able to support groups through the Agency that aren’t members of it. Anonimo Consejo gives its shows and this has given opportunities to other groups to perform that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to do so.
However, another person coming along and taking advantage of the situation isn’t something that occurs only in Cuba. If you read news from around the world you’ll realize that everywhere there are those who try to profit from situations.
Concerning what might happen with someone else, I can’t speculate about that.
HT: Why does the Cuban rap movement need the Agency if was born as an autonomous effort? I’m referring to the epoch of Grupo 1. To what extent do you that feel it’s necessary and that it has helped the movement?
Sekou: At first we were out in the street, that’s how most of us began. Then we joined the Asociación Hermanos Saiz. Then some people — myself included, and also Obsesion and some other rappers — we had the opportunity to meet with the minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, and to accept this new opportunity for Cuban rap. They gave us a tremendous amount of support.
However, there was a dilemma that’s real here in Cuba: We want to do our thing, but we also want to get paid for our work. The way that things are handled here in Cuba is that it has to be through a company. So we had the opportunity to have our own company, to change things that had already been set up.
Until then, work had never been done with rap artists (DJ’s were also included as artists). All this was made possible through the creation of the Agency. We wanted to have it; nobody had to convince us of its need. In the same way that there existed the Benny More organization, which is for salsa groups — ones like Ignacio Piñero, Clave Cubana and others — we thought: why shouldn’t we have an organization that specializes in rap and why not also get paid for our work?
We know this doesn’t exist outside of Cuba. Each group struggles for what they can get on their own, and some of them are able to get contracts with record companies. Each one has to come up with a way to survive. But I think being in a place doing what you love and getting paid for your work — without anyone imposing what you can or cannot do — is also a liberating way of doing your own thing; plus you have the ability to help other artists and to put on shows.
We’ve done concerts on basketball courts, in places that are little more than shanty towns and in school courtyard. And we did this completely independently, renting the sound systems with our own savings that came from our work with the Agency.
HT: So, groups outside the Agency can’t get paid.
Sekou: I suppose that legally, no, they can’t. But I think everyone comes up with their own way getting things done. There’s something that is real; there will never be the situation in which all the groups are members of the Agency. Not all of the rappers who are outside of the Agency need it. Rap is something totally free and everyone who is involved in it does it according to their own interests. Rap wasn’t born with a recording company on the side, just as outside of Cuba not all rappers are on major labels.
HT: Thank you, Sekou.
Sekou: Wait, there’s something I want to add. I think that any person and any worker who disagrees with their director has every right to do what we did. It’s something honorable among serious people who work.