HAVANA TIMES, Feb 8 — “Hermanos de Causa” (Brothers of the Cause), the well-known Cuban rap group founded in 1997, has been a member of the “Cuban Rap Agency” since 2010. Their latest cause: getting Magia Lopez removed from the directorship of the agency. Soandry del Rio Ferrer, explains his reasons.
Soandry: I was in the meeting with the minister of Culture for the creation of the Rap Agency, whose first roster was made up of some of the top notch groups here, though our group “Hermanos” wasn’t included.
I started working as a member of the Asociacion Hermanos Saiz (AHS). Every now and then the Rap Agency would expand their catalog. So, AHS decided there were some groups that had been around for a good while and were already to become a part of the agency. I think that should have happened from the beginning. But in addition to making that decision late, Magia Lopez did her best to make it impossible for new groups to audition.
HT: Do you have any concrete proof that Magia wanted to prevent new groups from joining the agency?
Soandry: She went to the national AHS office several times and tried to stop the process by changing the dates of the auditions and things. I have that information from serious people, people who I fully trust.
Later I was able to confirm her modus operandi within the agency. During her tenure she called very few meetings, and the ones she did call were only because the president of the Cuban Institute of Music demanded she do so. Still, she wouldn’t give any information about the budget that was allocated to the Rap Agency by the Music Institute, like how much was for promotion and advertising, or what strategies were to be followed.
In my experience of having worked with independent groups — ones like Matraka and Omni Zona Franca — I know that she didn’t want to support any of those groups that worked with their own budget and organized events like the “Poetry Without End Festival” or the annual “Puños Arriba” hip-hop awards.
HT: Why do you think the Rap Agency should support these events?
Soandry: Because these efforts are doing a lot for Cuban rap and for many people and groups outside of the agency.
HT: The Cuban Rap Agency belongs to the government and is an official institution. Why should it support independent projects?
Soandry: I’m not talking about supporting independent events per se, but about everything that has to do with rap. That’s a function the Rap Agency must fulfill. We can’t forget those who are outside. Otherwise we’re creating an elite, and I think that hip hop in Cuba should become the voice of ordinary Cubans.
If we create a musical style that has elitist standards, we’re straying away from the purpose. We’ll end up like reggaeton, charging expensive admission prices at the Capri Hotel, and having people like me wearing a lot of gold chains around my neck and bragging about all kinds of things to women. In that way we’d lose the concept of what Cuban rap really is: the voice of the people.
The groups on the outside always run into problems finding public spaces to put on concerts, because those are government-controlled areas. The Rap Agency never did anything about that. Plus, I can tell you that in the three editions of the independent Puños Arriba event, they put on shows that were a lot better organized than what the agency does right now.
HT: Let’s be fair. Don’t you think that Magia would have been looking for problems if, as the director of the Rap Agency, she had supported groups that were almost always monitored and harassed by State Security?
Soandry: When she took up her career as a rapper — voicing the concerns of black Cuban women facing discrimination — she was already running risks and asking for problems – this is a racist country. When you publically express that women are discriminated against, you’re also asking for problems; it’s an issue that isn’t understood within officialdom. The Cuban government considers that some people who are qualified to talk about these issues and others aren’t.
HT: You’re accusing the government of being racist after it has done so much eliminate racism.
Soandry: What have they done? In the newspapers and TV, Cuba looks like a different country. The welcome signs at the airport show blue-eyed blondes. I’ve traveled to other countries and in the display in one airport I saw a black child hugging a white child, and the sign read: “respect the difference.”
HT: Don’t you feel that Magia — as a rapper and with the CD Disco Negro by her group Obsesion — added her two cents to the issue of racism and sexism?
Soandry: I think that to take on that kind of struggle it has to be consistent. One can’t speak out against racism and forget one’s responsibility to Cuban rap or to those who put you in office. Nor can you go around thinking about problems you might run into with State Security.
She was there to represent the interests of an entire underground movement and culture that exists in Cuba and that has had problems for years. We got rid of the previous director because we thought we’d be better represented by someone who had suffered the same things as us. She didn’t come from some school of party cadre, but from the street, like us.
As for State Security, that’s something all of us Cubans face daily. All you have to do is express yourself, regardless of your viewpoint.
HT: On the phone you asked me if I was one of the people who were opposed to the action taken against Magia, because you wanted to have a discussion with them. What would you have to say to them?
Soandry: I would like to know what their motives are…what makes them think that Magia shouldn’t have been gotten rid of or that she was doing her job well.
I already started talking about her modus operandi but I got sidetracked. We tried to meet with her before all of this. Since there were groups that were traveling to Venezuela, she said there would be a meeting. But the Venezuela trip didn’t happen, so she canceled the meeting.
It suited her when the groups were going to travel, because she would have only had to meet with a handful of people. These things were obvious. The meeting never happened. There was always a pretext. There was always an “I can’t.”
HT: Don’t you think that she was really loaded responsibilities?
Soandry: It was like when they made the documentary about the group Los Aldeanos. “I’m too busy, way too busy, way too busy,” she kept saying. What a coincidence. When things would get hot, she was always too busy.
Her first responsibility is to the artists. Without them there’s no Rap Agency. She turned things upside down. She would make you feel like you had to be grateful for belonging to the agency.
HT: You mentioned the documentary Revolution. What should Magia have said about Los Aldeanos if they don’t belong to the Cuban Rap Agency?
Soandry: We’re talking about the most popular group of Cuban rap, a controversial group that has become a big cultural phenomenon. The director of the Rap Agency who officially represents Cuban rap should have spoken in this documentary, which was important because of the controversy that it presented and the awards it won.
HT: You said that Magia had to be removed from office for not doing her job. Even if we assume this to be the case, don’t you think it’s excessive to kick her group Obsesion out of the agency?
Soandry: There were people who said that if Obsesion stayed, they would leave the agency. There’s a lot of resentment that has built up over the years for things that people know were going on.
HT: Like what?
Soandry: I think she put the brakes on the artistic development of all the groups in the agency. She imposed unjust penalties on the membership and there was a lack of accountability with the budget. She made a breakdown of what each group should charge for their performances, therefore she considered Obsesion a topnotch group that was among those that could charge the most. That wasn’t established by any law.
I think there was even Nepotism. The producer of Obsesion was the general producer of the Cuban Rap Agency. From the time when Magia became the director, all of the issues of the agency’s magazine Revista Movimiento ran stories about Obsesion or their songs, as well as an article about Magia.
Speaking of the magazine, in the last issue they had old articles written from back in 2010 and even an interview with the group Cuentas Claras from 2009. Everything in it was old, except for the review of Obsesion’s CD Disco Negro, which was released just months before the launch of the magazine.
HT: That was the album that won in the rap category at the Cubadisco awards.
Soandry: Do you know how it won the award? Did you know that the jury appointed themselves? That’s how Cubadisco works. The jury for rap was appointed by the Cuban Rap Agency, and she was the director. Here, nothing happens without her approval. Not even the deputy director is authorized to sign any documents.
Revista Movimiento hasn’t reported on any event with Puños Arriba or any of the other groups that were awarded; that’s because the name of “Obsesion” wouldn’t have appeared.
HT: In the last issue of Revista Movimiento there’s an article about Puños Arriba, written by Rodolfo Rensoli.
Soandry: Yeah, it was an article criticizing Puños Arriba, without taking into consideration that we put it on with our own money, with our own resources, without official support, and that we’re saving hip hop in Cuba. That was the first thing that should have been said.
HT: How do you think this has affected the direction of the Cuban Rap Agency and the rap movement here on the island?
Soandry: It has divided it, and the agency now has a very bad image overall, except for a group of people who have retained their prestige. By all of us rappers discussing what happened to each of us, a lot of things have come to light – like how when a delegation from the US-based Pastors for Peace organization came here between 2010 and 2011, and the only group that met with them was Obsesion. Thanks to that, they were able to arrange their trip to Canada.
One of the problems of the agency was that they would lose papers and she had the stamp at her house, something that shouldn’t be done. Because of that, I made arrangements through the AHS to travel to the U.S. for the Queloids Project.
In Pittsburgh, I did a concert that got some press coverage. In addition, I received recognition at a university by being the first Latin rap artist to perform there.
Do you know what Magia did when I got back? She prevented me from singing at the Pa’bajo concerts because of my having made travel arrangements through another institution. I’ve never been able to sing at that annual venue again.
I don’t believe in the Disco Negro. An artist should put their words into practice. I had to go months without singing, despite having a daughter. But when they called me to perform at the Rotilla Festival after it had been commandeered and virtually stolen by the government, I refused – even though they offered me a lot of money.
I’m not satisfied with the action taken against Magia by the Music Institute, which is the Cuban Rap Agency’s sponsor. It’s said there were funds and resources misappropriated. How can I ever find out how much was stolen in a country where the press doesn’t say everything?
I think there’s an attempt underway to save the image of the institute. They didn’t pursue the matter as energetically as they should have. I think there was misappropriation, but there were people above her, others who were implicated. We’ll never know the extent of the problem.
HT: You talk about the misappropriation of funds, but I was in Magia Lopez’s house and I didn’t see anything that could be called a luxury.
Soandry: We’ll never know what she did with the money. She always was strange. She didn’t go to parties, didn’t interact with people, didn’t laugh. But I have no doubt that they misappropriated resources.