While everyone else is rushing to board a Carnival cruise to the island, I’m excited to learn more about Cuban music. After seeing the footage of the now historical Diplo concert in Havana, I wonder how wild a crowd of Americans would get if a Cuban act touched down. I can imagine there would be a migration of very cultured fans that would come out and support the show. However, I don’t see the same level of excitement that took over Havana a few weeks ago happening here.

Why? You might be thinking language is a barrier, but that didn’t stop those Cuban concert-goers from turning up. So what’s our excuse for not jumping to enjoy new music by artists who look like us? Why wouldn’t we want to listen to stories that sound so much like ours?

My curiosity prompted me to take a step to improve U.S.-Cuba relations in my own mind. Hip-hop being my genre of choice, I wanted to find out what Cuban hip-hop looks, sounds and feels like. According to Tanya Saunders, Cuban hip-hop has been a vessel of social protest since the early 1990s. In her book, Cuban Underground Hip Hop: Black Thoughts, Black Revolution, Black Modernity, Saunders explores the activism that spawned the Cuban Underground Hip Hop Movement (CUHHM). Saunders believes the CUHHM was most active between 1995 and 2006 and had a significant feminist presence.

Photo: Frederick Shavies
Photo: Frederick Shavies

In further research of the CUHHM, I learned a little about Cuban history and began to realize that this hip-hop looks a lot like black American hip-hop. If you’re wondering what you have in common with the average Cuban hip-hop fan, you should consider what you have in common with the average Afro-Cuban individual.

Cuba is commonly referred to as a non-racial nation. As a result, people might assume that black Cubans don’t face the same issues as black people in America. However, issue of race was a problem prior to the Cuban revolution. Much like America, Cuba has denounced racism but failed to recreate institutions built on racism. In both countries, it’s clear that simply declaring equality does not erase the disparities created by years of injustice.

Though I might not be bilingual, I have a feeling that I would be feeling what Cuban emcees are saying. I found that there are a host of places to learn about and experience Cuban hip-hop right here in the U.S. However, I am interested to see what it’s like to experience Cuban hip-hop in its native land. I might be hopping on a Carnival cruise pretty soon after all.

cuban hip-hop
Photo: Shyamanta Baruah

What about you? Are you down to witness some live Cuban hip-hop here in the U.S. or would you rather travel abroad? Comment below! 

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