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Reviews Concert by Chezca Zana, Ilumi and Unedukated. Photo: Lázaro Saavedra. Concert by Chezca Zana, Ilumi and Unedukated. Photo: Lázaro Saavedra.

An alternative block party

  • On September 25 Chezca Zana and Unedukated published a post set on Instagram with the following message: 

"Chezca Zana, Unedukated and Illumi present: BØNCHE

From the marginalized for the marginalized.

For the lost souls of Havana 🩸".

One comment on the post complained about the appropriation of elements of fringe culture these guys are doing, and questioned why "alternative music" takes the identity of reparto to define itself. "Don't take a culture with tweezers. Because other people do love real block parties," the user said.

While it seems to me that there is indeed an act of appropriation in their gestures, I like to approach it more positively, to read it in terms of recognition of the reparto's impact on youth culture. Moreover, believer as I am that culture is forged through permanent alloys, I like the blends between the aesthetics of reparto and the alternative scene.

***

At 10 p.m. on the night of September 30, several groups of teenagers were hanging around 28th and 25th in El Vedado. There was no one feature that particularly distinguished them, except for their youth and a certain air of the declassed that one could perceive in the urban tribes that congregated a few years ago in G Park.

From the garage of house number 353 on 28th Street came the echoes of a party. A bonche, in their own words. Diverse reggaeton (Villano Antillano, Snow Tha Product's session with Bizarrap, lots of Bad Bunny, old songs of reparto, Young Miko). I wonder what the neighbors will say about these "hood vibes" in their high-life neighborhood. I may find out later.

I have arrived here following the trail of Chezca Zana and company, the local musical phenomenon that most intrigues me in recent times. I want to see what their stage projection is like and, above all, the relationship with your audience. I stand a few feet away from the door, waiting for the show to start so I can get in. I don't have the heart or energy to socialize with a bunch of teenagers. I barely did that when they were my peers, now it would feel awfully strange. I wonder what they would think of this guy (mummy?) standing in the corner, unaccompanied, and making no effort to blend in, typing away on his phone. Most likely they'll think I'm some dude from the political police, I imagine it's funny.

I watch them interact, dance, sing. I find it curious that their hymns are not my hymns, although we move under the same codes of urban music. The remix by Change yourselfby El Chulo, chanted by them, sounds retro, even though the song is only four years old. Like when we thirtysomethings nostalgically sing Luny Tunes, songs that remind us of our first years of puberty (of freedom?).

I love the promiscuity of styles, the lack of prejudice with which punk aesthetics coexist, mikisThe confirmation that reggaeton now belongs to everyone and no one, a lingua franca that brings together the Caribbean people.

An hour later they still haven't started, they are still chatting in different groups, and in one of them I spot a couple of familiar faces, among whom I discover the artists César and Lázaro Saavedra Jr. and their father, the legendary visual artist (later I find out that this is his house, and I guess then that the neighbors are used to some eccentricity or other).

When I thought I would be the oldest guy at the party, the arrival of Athanai Castro and his wife Gaby save me from ostracism. We talk about what encouraged us to get there; about our shared enthusiasm for the scene, and Athanai tells me that he invited them to his next concert, but that he hasn't seen them live either. 

After 11 p.m. we are crammed into a garage with a hundred kids devoted to perreo and electronic music by Asen, the music producer who also runs a podcast that has featured several of the artists of the alternative scene. The heat is suffocating, forcing me to take off my glasses because the steam makes it impossible to see with them. A few minutes later, after an incomprehensible -for me- performance in which Chezca and Ilumi (aka El Chicle) passed each other a thong from the balconies of the second floor of the house (the next day, reviewing El repa es el nuevo punkI suspect it is the thong that Chezca Zana wears in that video clip), and a person with a mask like a psychedelic pataki began to play a dense music, with a bass that made the room and our bones rumble, and led us to theor some of the kids into a trance-like state. Chezca Zana's entrance, like everything that will happen in the next two hours, is chaotic. "We are in the real undergroundHe jokes, referring to the level of the floor where the garage is located.

Concert by Chezca Zana, Ilumi and Unedukated. Photo: Lázaro Saavedra.

Concert by Chezca Zana, Ilumi and Unedukated. Photo: Lázaro Saavedra.

 As he describes himself in one of his songs, he is a "white boy from Vedado". Twenty-something, athletic build, red wine-colored hair, necklace reminiscent of punk, earrings, rings, he wears a shirt that he will soon get rid of. His mannered gestures contrast with the heternormativity of the lyrics of his songs, which also cover versions of Chocolate MC and Bebeshito in a rock style, which talk about boredom in a city where nothing happens, the spite for a frustrated love, or a girl who drank his heart like Zuko de uva, acid. 

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People vs. Chezca Zana: Is repa the new punk?

Carlos D. Quiroga Morejon14.07.2023

He ends this first block with a post punk version of Hachathe hit of the summer courtesy of the delivery man Bebeshito.

Chezca Zana was followed by El Chicle, the most bizarre character I have seen in a long time. He is a gangly mulatto with shaggy hair and brightly painted nails, with a projection as murky as it is androgynous. There is something in his physiognomy, I don't know if it is accentuated by the makeup, that reminds me of the Michael Jackson of the 80's and makes me suspect that at some point he was an imitator of the king of pop. "CANTO BAILO SINGO COMPONGO VIVO," can be read in the description of his YouTube channel. His Instagram account is filled with videos of acidic, load, uncomfortable humor, lambasting any institution (John Lennon, Jesus Christ, Public Health, love), and his performance is an extension of that. Since I didn't know his music, I understand even less what he sings, but his playful projection is what seems to matter to the audience, who shout along and have a good time with his cantinfladas. Whether all that humor will evolve into a more comprehensible work is left hanging in the air, but at midnight on that garage the pThe question is of absolutely no importance.

The chaos of El Chicle was actually nothing more than the prelude to EL CAOS. Unedukated is a DIY artist who composes and produces his music and audiovisuals. The first one combines trap with rock hardcore and the result cannot be plus haunting. As soon as he breaks away from his characteristic raspy, throaty tone, the spirit of the slama cathartic dance to expel the inner demons. So much for me, watching the scene from outside the garage, where I've been for a while now. But the energy exuded by all those bodies is inspiring.

The show ends with the return of Chezca Zana and El Chicle to sing the "classic" they share, El repa es el nuevo punk, a statement that scandalizes the Tyrians and Trojans, but which contains a truth that they, more than knowing, intuit. 

Concert by Chezca Zana, Ilumi and Unedukated. Photo: Lázaro Saavedra.

Concert by Chezca Zana, Ilumi and Unedukated. Photo: Lázaro Saavedra.

Strictly speaking, the presentation is a disaster: as far as the singing is concerned, most of the time they just follow without much effort the track reproduced in playbackThis does not prevent the audience from singing along to the songs rabidly, with that dedication with which you sing when what comes out of your throat is a reflection of you. On the other hand, the sense of performance is brutal; now I understand better the The Saavedra's fascination (during the whole night Lázaro Saavedra Sr. will be taking pictures with a professional camera, documenting everything, I wouldn't be surprised if some of this ends up in one of his works). I am particularly happy that someone as transgressive as him manages to detect the points of contact with his own work and to trace and promote a line that connects his work with what these young people are doing today (kudos to his children, who I suspect were the gateway).

At the end I talked for a while with Athanai, who was as delighted as I was. We talked about the cultural impact of reparto, and we agreed that you have to be very deaf and very blind not to realize the tremendous force that this is imprinting on Cuban society, and especially to reject it and not try to understand its keys. Athanai told me almost with frustration that he regrets not being 20 years old now, to be part of this scene. 

The songs by Chezca Zana, Ilumi and Unedukated are the confirmation that we are citizens of the world, that the urban genre in Cuba can also be approached from and towards more experimental areas. For the rest of the planet at this point that is not a novelty, but here it is still a minority experience. In a country where, now more than ever, everything seems to be dead or dying, these guys, who mix hedonism and existential agony in their songs, are the most alive I have seen. We will have to see if the lost souls of Havana think the same.

Avatar photo Rafa G. Escalona Father of a music magazine. Professional procrastinator. His goal is to be a DJ for a station at dawn. Prince of random. More posts

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