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Photo: Courtesy of La Reyna y La Real

I just hit you with flowers

Luyanó is a neighborhood, like many others, that begins right in that suffocated border of Havana that is the periphery. It was given its aboriginal name by a river and since then it rebels against the dynasty of silence and calm. And although there is a wide and widespread architecture of giant horns, although the music somehow integrates the soundscape of the neighborhood and makes symbiosis with its joys and misfortunes; it is difficult to think of Luyanó and associate it with hip hop culture.

"Within the music scene, there is a lot going on in El Vedado. It's where most of the concerts are scheduled, the big parties are organized and the important artists perform. But in Luyanó there is nothing," says Cuban rapper and composer Milton McDonald.

"It is our space, that of the commoners of always: the Havana of Mantilla, La Víbora, Los Pinos, Lawton, Luyanó, Buenavista, Regla and San Miguel del Padrón, the neighborhoods so often and for so many years forgotten, without which, needless to say, Havana would not be Havana," writer Leonardo Padura told the BBC.

"In Havana everything is already bad, so I wouldn't make a special distinction. It is a marginalized neighborhood in that in poverty-stricken communities violent behavior tends to develop, but I would prefer to refer to Luyanó as a marginalized neighborhood," adds EIDI, a young Cuban rapper.

Luyanó has a lot to do with the genesis of one of the manifestations of Cuban hip hop, explains EIDI. To the north of there, where the Lawton neighborhood is located, the moña emerged in the mid-1980s. In the testimonies of his research Rapping a utopian CubaAlejandro Zamora states: "The parties were called paris (parties). Later it was called moña, which we made it for the first time. We were the ones who brekeros we did the bun dance for the first time at the policemen's park, located at Lawton Falls. It was like a dance, a disco. Instead of saying: let's go to the disco, we used to say: let's go to the bun".

But now that decades have passed, Luyanó seems a land emptied of memories. The urban music consumed by young people is centered on the same discourse perpetuated by some forms of reggaeton and trap.

"The first time we did it, many young people were surprised. Their reference of rappers are the new generations that do reggaeton. They did not conceive that there existed in Cuba young people with the particular improvisation skills required by the freestyleThey didn't know about the possibility of engaging in dynamic, emotional and friendly competitions," says La Reyna, of the popular urban genre group La Reyna y La Real, about the first experiences of the Rap pa el Barrio community project, which has been running for five years.

Rap pa el barrio, according to the artists involved, convened its first show The project is run by La Reyna and La Real," says EIDI, "and it's quite spontaneous. "The project is run by La Reyna and La Real," says EIDI, "and it's quite spontaneous. They created it as an initiative [to] put on a community show that mixes elements of hip hop culture and popular genres for an audience that doesn't always have access to the stage. To bring to a community that's a little out of the way the art that [its] inhabitants don't usually enjoy.

Before Rap pa el Barrio there have been other music events that have approached the reality of the communities. EIDI recalls the Festival pa abajo, supported by the Cuban Rap Agency, which took place in the capital's basketball courts. Rapper Etian Arnau claimed that it was a social project open to artistic interpretation of all musical genres. And more recently, he also speaks of his experience as a guest at the Jesús María Jazz Session, a project designed to offer the audience in Old Havana another type of music, an alternative to the one they usually consume. Rizo, on the other hand, within the awakened ingenuity of his age, recalls as a possible antecedent the bonches: neighborhood parties that, although they include artists, sometimes "end badly, with violence and stabbings".

Photo: Courtesy of les artistes

In the background of this temporary scenography, in a privileged place, are the concerts of Silvio Rodríguez when in 2010 he began his endless tour of the neighborhoods. In the documentary Neighborhood song, directed by Alejandro Ramirez Anderson, the troubadour and poet describes it as follows: "The need for a tour in very sensitive places, in the most affected, hardest hit, most humble places in the city of Havana. In those problematic neighborhoods and where there is much need is where we are doing our tour now; because I feel, for an institutional problem, for a problem of being Cuban, of being of my time and of my time that is what I have to do. It seems to me that I have to come and sing to them".

"If you ask me why go to Luyanó with my music? I would tell you that precisely because of the characteristics of those neighborhoods I prefer to go there to sing, where the people are in need of something different, something constructive. Artists should focus on bringing culture and good art to those areas where the main problems of children and adolescents of our times are rooted," says Milton Mcdonald.

La Real says: "With Rap pa el barrio we have not set any goal, but we assume it as an idea that walks on its own and will last as long as people want it to. It is an event that is not defined as formal but continues to surprise the public at each concert, without much more pretension than [being] a space for artists to present their music. Musicians who come, we have in each edition someone on the cover for promotional purposes, but almost always anyone who arrives can come up and sing".

In the middle of Luyanó street, in the vicinity of the second floor where La Reyna lives, the presentations take place. To refer to the place, Rizo, freestyler the 17-year-old, places the Esquina de Toyo as a guiding point. "It's unique to have such a renowned artist do a show at your doorstep and invite people from the new and old school," he says.

"Ideally we try to do it once a month, but convening the project sometimes becomes difficult because we have to request a series of permits from the block delegate, the sector chief, the police... We have even been forced to postpone with the audio conditions assured and all the artists confirmed because they have not authorized us at that time. That is why it has not been consecutive every month, because we have been told no", comments La Reyna.

The rapper explains that the official reasons for this refusal of the institutions is because they claim that the request must be made fifteen days to a month in advance. "Because of the nature of our work and the capacity of the community event, with a month in advance I can't set aside a specific day to do it, maybe with a week I can. And I just want to come to an agreement that they know that once a month we will do it and that we can set the date when everything is arranged and the artists have space in their schedules."

Of the edition of Rap pa el barrio held in January of this year, EIDI comments: "La Reyna and La Real set up a drum set in the middle of the street, it was an informal set up but it had everything in terms of audio that you see in big events". In Rizo's words, the drumsThe audio and microphone of the event are the perfect vehicles to support their interpretations and recreate "a super different atmosphere, a mixture of genres and many emotions".

Photo: Courtesy of les artistes

But how can we diagnose the musical interests of the new generations? What songs are in dialogue with their weaknesses and their dreams and their sorrows? What is most popular now is the urban genre: morfa, repa. People don't pay attention to hip hop. That's why we have to mix what we do with what they listen to," adds Rizo.

"It's necessary to bring rap back to the barrio and not because rap should stay there and stay, it's because it's not in good health right now. We perform in the peñas for the audience that already knows us and identifies with us, but we need to expand to new audiences," admits Milton Mcdonald.

He comments, echoing the uncertainties of many others, that rap has no space in today's Cuba and does not exist on big stages. EIDI refers to this phenomenon, explaining that his work is on the right track "within all the good things that can happen to a rapper in Cuba, which is not much".

The biggest and most prestigious place where the movement can develop right now is at Fábrica de Arte Cubano (F.A.C.), says Milton McDonald. "We sing in spaces that belong to other genres because we have to admit that F.A.C. is not a rap club. In this panorama there are no bars directly defined for rap or interested in hosting it in a systematic way."

Rizo, on the other hand, assures that the freestylers take as natural spaces of the subgenre busy areas of urbanity. Exhibitions of freestyle in the Máximo Gómez Park, in Prado, in El Vedado and more seriously on the stages of the Riviera cinema, the Salón Rosado of La Tropical and La Madriguera. Other alternative venues for regional competitions sometimes fail to provide confirmation.

"At F.A.C. people know what to expect, they pay for access to the show. In the neighborhood the dynamic is different. Whoever passes by sees what they are doing on a makeshift stage in the middle of the street and stays even if they don't know what is going to happen. The audience is waiting to find something they can admire and that will move them without knowing a thing about this world. They open their minds to that possibility," he says.

In January of this year, La Reyna and La Real estimate that the street concert was attended by at least 15 Cuban artists, among six groups that explore very diverse subgenres of the hip hop spectrum. La Reyna and La Real, Milton McDonald and EIDI, Rizo, freestylers such as Gonki, Atrida, JB, Titan, other rappers like Rose man, Afroman, RL, Charly Ya and Wampi, the surprise of the evening.

"Despite the historical rift between rappers and reggaetoneros, we thought of Wampi, who is a well-prepared musician. Modestly when we told him that we had this event he agreed to participate. From minute zero he said we could count on him. We did not announce it in the flyer in case his schedule commitments prevented him from coming at the last minute and also so that the neighborhood would not only be attracted by Wampi's presence, but also by the general proposal we were offering them," says La Reyna.

"Wampi is a super humble guy, who brought his talent to people who can't afford to pay the cover of a bar, with a huge and very centered DJ," says Milton.

Rizo, for his part, says: "I was quite impressed with Wampi's presentation because he rapped for a short moment and did it very, very well. If now he starts to do freestyle with us he could beat many because of his musical ear and his ability to flow with the beat."

Wampi was just a moment, he threw it out and left, and that shows the great humility of that guy," acknowledges EIDI. First, because that event was totally free, he didn't charge a single peso, and doing a show without remuneration is not something that many artists accept; and secondly, because it wasn't a very big infrastructure. Wampi was grateful for the invitation, it was the neighborhood that invited him".

"We rappers have adapted to the fact that if you can get paid, you get paid, and if not, we assume that for the music we perform and the life we lead, Cuba does not have a conditioned platform," explains Milton McDonald.

The owners of private and state clubs are not interested in the genre, Milton assures. They always question if the rapper's presentation is not accompanied by some instrument or musical format, or if they do not insert other forms of contemporary music in their songs.

"I feel good in Rap pa el Barrio gratified by the applause of the public, there is no prize comparable to that. Or when you finish a song and you leave the microphone at the foot and some kids come up to take pictures with you. That only happens there, in the neighborhood space," he notes.

EIDI remembers the street clogged with people cutting the circulation of cars, also the energy given off by the audience and the tribe of heads peeking through the bars, doors and windows. "Rap is not usually a crowded genre because of misinformation, stigmas, the absence of effective promotion plans. But we don't make music for people who like rap, but for all kinds of people. Any cultural manifestation that takes young people out of this decadent reality is essential in our context. Rap has a conscious element that helps many young people to get out of the bad path. It allows people to re-dimension the social reality of difficult environments and to get ahead by taking refuge in music".

Photo: Courtesy of les artistes

Most of the audience was made up of children. I hope what happened to me in 2002 happens to them," says Milton, "when I was 10 years old, I went to a rap club and fell in love.

"The neighborhood is to blame for us being rappers, we feel very organic here. Now we just want them to approach the event even if it's one or two people. Changing the perspective at least for them is a huge accomplishment. It feels like a thousand people are present," explains La Real.

Rizo perches for a while on a fragment of cloud. His private piece of cloud are the minutes in Luyanó during which he sang his drill Neighborhood does not kill neighborhood and that those present loved it. Narrating their experiences inside a terrible building in Colón: "My mother preparing the snack/ for my brother to go to school/ My father lying in bed thinking/ about looking for money without having problems".

"The other night near two bars near my house, in Galeano, you could hear the noise of fights, stones, knives, sticks. And I asked myself, why are they wasting their time on that, with so many family problems and things to solve, to be wasting their time like that," he says.

Rizo confesses that a piece of his art stayed there, in Luyanó. "It's using the same aggressive modality they use. It's hitting with flowers, I just hit you with flowers. You feel comfortable because you say 'What I can do, I can do it beautifully, without hurting you!

Lorena Alemán Massip More posts

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