By Yusimi Rodriguez
HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 18 — The following is the continuation of Part One of an interview with Cuban hip-hop artist Raudel Collazo Pedroso, the sole member of Escuadron Patriota.
HT: I had asked how you think young people can be the root of change, concretely speaking.
Raudel Collazo Pedroso: I fervently believe that young people are of an enormous and distinctive importance, inclusive of changing the history of a country, a society or whatever. I also believe that this doesn’t involve all of them but a group of those youth who are the most enlightened…those who are the most connected to ideals and with things that are concrete. Youth have a tremendous responsibility in determining where a nation must go.
So this means that your message in the song “Somos la raíz del cambio” (We Are the Root of Change) is directed specifically at young people?
Yes…to young people of the present. We should determine — with all the peace of the world, with all the harmony and all the equilibrium, with zero violence and zero intolerance — what it is we want for this nation. We can do it. It is crystal clear in human history that it can be done, but it’s necessary to be prepared. Everybody talks about change, but what change do they want? Are you sure about what you want to change?
And you are?
Yes, I’m clear. I think the first thing we have to change is our mentality. It’s been a long period of crisis and limitations that have transformed Cubans into individualistic, laconic beings who externalize violence, anger and arrogance. We’ve experienced many frustrations as our life projects drag out and our dreams go unrealized without us knowing if in the end they’ll ever be materialized. All this damages one’s motivation and gradually degenerates society, as well as individuals at the personal level. I think that first we have to wake up.
We have to give ourselves love, fill ourselves with strength, knowledge and information to begin working based on ourselves and functioning as a collective. We need to try to achieve that spiritual change; it includes economic, political and social change, but with everything in peace and harmony. I believe in ideas.
We’re not in the 1950, ‘40s or the ‘30s, when the power of ideas was expressed through physical violence. It’s important for people to work and live from their work with dignity, without having to do other things. And like I said a minute ago, there has to exist the individual freedom to express ideas. It’s necessary to think about everyone when the time comes to make a decision for everyone. In Cuba, for example, the Communist Party governs. I’m not a party member, but the decisions that the party makes also affect me and I have to abide by them even if I don’t agree with them.
When we talked on the phone, you told me that your next disk is very controversial. I’d like you to tell me more about that.
Like I always say, I’m not political, and nor is my music political. In the trailer to the CD I begin by talking about this. People view my work, and for its depth and the type of message they say, “This guy is openly political.” I want to express things. People are the ones who determine if it’s one thing or another. What I do indeed know is that it’s a CD that is more profound than the previous ones. It’s more social. It is situated between the spiritual and the social. I have songs that speak of this change that I propose, which will have to come for once and for all.
I have a song on the disk that is dedicated to my mother, who’s deeply worried and afraid with everything that’s happening with me. I tell her “mom, calm down.” I don’t think anything is going to happen to me; but if it does, it’s my turn.
In all generations there have been youth who have had to run that risk. I’m not doing this work so that later someone will have to pay me. Someone told me: “Listen, Raudel, when you get into trouble nobody’s going to step up to the plate for you.” But if I get in trouble, I don’t want half of the Cuban population to come marching in front of my prison. I feel that this is a personal commitment, a commitment to humanity, with my historical moment and with my generation…
So I have a song called “Revolucion urbana,” which is a real hot potato. Another song is titled “Reconciliation”; it talks about Cubans who are here and those over there. I believe that Cuba, above everything else, is a problem for Cubans… The song “Somos la raíz del cambio” is the title of the CD. Then there’s a song that I did with other artists that is dedicated to Haiti, as is the intro. The intro is the prettiest, the most spiritual piece on the disk.
You use the word “spiritual” frequently; I’d like for you to define what spirituality means to you.
Spirituality for me is the natural state of people. It’s when they try to squash their ego, their pride, all of that which intoxicates us and makes us act in a negative way or sends us negative energy that is materialized in actions. It’s the opportunity that God gives us to purify ourselves and, at the same time, to enlighten ourselves. I’m a guy who is concerned about the actions that I consider as positive, transparent and honest. It’s to live in truth, in your truth. I don’t connect it to religion, because I don’t believe that one can come to spirituality only through religion.
You’re telling me that spirituality is just the opposite of the ego, or at least it’s the opportunity that we have to crush the ego…to not let ourselves be crushed by it. However, don’t you feel that in this world of hip-hop, where people follow you for being so anti-establishment, there’s a certain temptation to the ego…that the more you confront, the more they’ll follow you?
I’m very careful with those things. I don’t allow my ego to get the better of me. People liking you can sometimes make you a little conceited. You can get too much attention from a lot of people. It might happen as you go down the street, especially when I go to the capital. Here in Guines people see me every day, so I’m not a big deal, though many consider me something important in her lives. But in the capital the signs of affection for my message are incredible.
People tell me things that put me in difficult situations, but I have to tell myself that the attraction is not for me. So I’m very careful that my ego, which is a mental construction, doesn’t takes possession of me. It tells you “You’re amazing – yes you; see how many followers you have.” I am very attentive to this; when I see my ego coming around the corner I try to shake it, but if it gets a hold of me (because I’m a normal human being), I tell it: “Brother, beat it, I’m not into you.” I’m very careful with that.
What’s the most important thing in hip-hop: to be controversial, to rhyme or to have a certain vocal sound? Is it what is said or how it’s said?
Hip-hop, like culture en general, has been built from different materials. In this form there are four well-defined elements, which are break dancers, graffiti, MCs (meaning the masters of ceremony) and the DJs. These have been imbued with different mentalities, intentions and interests. Some are more artistic, more responsible, more polemical or more aesthetic… Within the universe that hip-hop culture offers, you determine what you want to do.
I don’t say that I hold the truth or that I’m creating real hip-hop. When we speak of real hip-hop, we have to look at how it arose and why. It was from discontent, dissatisfaction, and we’re trying to return to the essence. But nor are we trying to say that this type of polemical hip-hop — more serious and more conscious — is the definitive one.
If you asked to me personally how I would rank them, I’d tell you that I would only want this kind to exist, the type that’s committed. But I can’t be so absolute, otherwise I’d be doing the same thing that I criticize, trying to monopolize an idea. Now that I see things more clearly and I’ve learned a little more, I realize that other things have to exist.
I was one of those who attacked the rappers who did things just to vent. I never attacked them directly, but I did criticize them in interviews. Today I’m retracting those, because hip-hop also gives you the opportunity to know that you can make a mistake and recognize it… People in hip-hop like to get into the flow, which is the pretty part of vocalizing… For me that doesn’t work, but sometimes I like to listen to it. I listen to American rap. I don’t understand it, though I’ve been told that almost no one is saying anything, but I like rap in English –I like the “flow.”
I see that sometimes an exaggerated emphasis is put on the rhyme, though this tends to sacrifice the message and idea of what is being said. This happens in free style, for example, where people almost always attack each other. How do you see that? What would it happen if you had to choose between the rhyme and the depth of what you say?
Well, no one has ever seen me doing free style. It’s not that I’m not interested in it. I think it’s one of the elements that have enriched hip-hop culture, the art of spontaneously rhyming. But I’m someone who does more building. I’m not interest in hip-hop when it’s hostile: I call you something and you call me something; that’s why I’ve never worried about pursuing that technique. To do free style where you have to instantly come up with words from your mental archives and make them rhyme involves a lot of one’s unconsciousness.
Let me tell you that free style is more a product of the unconscious mind than conscious thought, because you have to string together words on the spot. It’s a magnificent exercise in free association, but since I’m more methodical and more organized, it doesn’t work for me. And yes, lots of silly things are occasionally said. There are very few people who are able to come up with a good message in free style. Most people say things that are in their unconsciousness and without a logical order…
Maybe in hip-hop, without rhyming it’s difficult to achieve the meter, the structure of what you’re saying. That’s what I’ve done with the spoken word, but never in a song. What this involves is looking for the central idea of what I’m going to say and later looking for the form in which I can make it rhyme. I have to study the words I use so that they rhyme without losing the essence of what I’m saying. That too is an art. You can’t imagine how complicated it is.
Now I would like to get into the issue of Rastafarianism, which is the philosophy that you profess. You are a follower of Haile Selassie and of all the principles of the Rastafari…
However it’s said that Haile Selassie was a dictator, and even Marcus Garvey ended up criticizing him because he kept people in slavery in his country.
Let’s see…because now that’s another story. Let’s remember that Ethiopia, even in the contemporary world, was a monarchy. It was not determined by the current civilization…with presidents, free elections, etc. So, you have to stop there and ask: How did Ethiopia work? Well, there was slavery, black people had black slaves. Within those norms Haile Selassie was the one who held the staff of justice… Yes, he could have been a dictator, but a dictator who governed with a certain degree of justice, though with the absolute clarity that he was the highest leader.
But don’t you find it contradictory? Isn’t that what ultimately you’re criticizing about the system in Cuba?
The guidance of Haile Selassie for me is absolutely spiritual. When I reviewed the history I saw…well, that there was in fact a monarchy…but people were used to that because previously there had been another monarchy. It’s not that Ethiopia came from a democracy and fell into a state of monarchic rule, but I didn’t live in the epoch of Haile Selassie. What I received from him was his spiritual teaching.
And what did that spiritual teaching consist of?
Love, love and peace, and a great deal faith in the creator.
The message for black people from His Imperial Majesty is defining in my philosophy. It is a message of emancipation, knowledge, spiritual growth and love, in harmony with nature and with other people. The message that he left goes well with my thinking, and every day I get up and do my meditations in the name of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. Since I didn’t experience a monarchy, I have a different mentality. I live in a republic; and yes, I am questioning here what I didn’t experience there. Do you realize that?
OK. I have another question with regard to the rastafari philosophy. I read that one of the principles of the rastafari is the rejection of homosexuals. Do you share this principle?
No, no. That’s not a rastafari principle. I imagine that it’s a problem of some people’s interpretations. When God speaks of love, he speaks of love. He doesn’t say not to love homosexuals or reject homosexuals. With that premise, dictated by the Superior, I am a man on the Rasta road and I don’t hate homosexuals. In none of the documents where the rasta message is expressed does it say that it’s necessary to hate homosexuals.
I believe that this must be a problem of personal attitudes, just like there are some rastas who smoke ganja and others who don’t; or like some rastas who include fish in their diet and others who only eat vegetables and others who have a balanced diet… Love is practiced by all of them and for everyone, it doesn’t exclude anybody. Rastas are not hostile; they can make mistakes, and they can also defend themselves… I don’t include the hatred of homosexuals among my premises for the simple reason that they too are men, they are the creation of God…
And women, of course, excuse me. When I say “men,” I’m speaking of the human condition. They are creatures of God and as such it’s necessary to respect them and to love them… I look at the fact of whether a person is spiritual, transparent and honest. People might try to criticize that opinion, but that’s how I operate. Everything is a problem of position and attitude. It’s not a precept of “I say something and you have to accept it and that’s it,” because then you’re not practicing a principle of freedom. And like I always say, I have my faith in the rasta philosophy, but it’s a faith that no doubt is blind faith.
I have to admit that I had come to the conclusion that you were a guy who was a little bit sexist because you always speak in terms of men, the black man. But your song “Princesas,” from the CD “Mi testimonio,” demonstrates the opposite.
It’s possible that I still have traces of sexism. I’ve lived in a sexist society. My mother raised me with the idea that men don’t cry. But my way of thinking and looking at life is quite progressive in terms of equality between men and women. In concerts I get so moved I even cry a little.
Is there anything personal that you would like to add, something that you would like to say to the readers of this site and to those Cubans who have access to the Internet and can read Havana Times?
Yes, I believe that I’ve made an exhaustive interview and that I’ve talked like a madman… No, no, I’m just kidding… I wish them peace, love, faith, better things for everyone and that the day of liberation comes soon… That’s what I have to say in a broad sense.