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A sigh of rap to Havana

With a proposal to encourage creation and give artists of the Latin American hip hop scene a communication platform, the Movement of Latin American Hip Hop Expressions (MELAH) arrived in Havana. Forma tu Bulla, a festival that offers space to those who defend and love this culture, was a moment of leisure for those who still cannot find a place in Havana's nightlife circuit.

MELAH is a project of the Cartel Urbano Foundation of Colombia, which supports and promotes cultural expressions in the region. As the name of the event indicates, its objective on the island this time was to make noise for three days to live hip hop to the fullest. 


With the premise of the unpunctuality in Cuba -larger in the world of rap-, the festival begins. The sun is still out, and through the ranchón of the Fellini bar its rays are filtering through; however, the stage is dark, illuminated by dim blue lights that contrast with the tropical sun, and under which the last sound adjustments are being made. The patio has been customized and houses in a mural the particular way of seeing reality of artists such as Afrotaína, Afrodreak, Taiko and the Zenit Tattoo collective. Its thematic axis is women, and although one of the tasks of MELAH is to highlight female artistic creation and vindicate their role in a highly sexist society, the event did not settle the debt due to the scarce presence of women in it. 

The evening was opened by Hora de Batalla, the league of freestyle of Camagüey. Four young people and their hostunder the beats by DJ Mike Style (Colombia). The freestylers out of their comfort zone and flowed with southern rhythms, far from the classic boom bap within which they generally develop. Their battles, unlike the ones Havana audiences are used to seeing, revolved around love, improvising on brotherhood within the movement and in Latin America, because "hip hop is also about loving your opponent," says the hostJosé Alexis Gutiérrez Marrero, co-founder and organizer of the league. They were followed by Feback, one of the coordinators of MELAH, who sang about freedom, unity, resistance, and the pain rooted in her country. 

Etián Brebaje Man is the one who introduces the artists, and he does it with the magic and spontaneity that characterizes him; he improvises, laughs and connects with the audience in extraordinary ways. His presence at rap events provides a relaxed aura, he moves freely on stage, as if his creativity is not very aware of limits. 

Everything flows in the night, artists come and go weaving conversations, proclamations of love, racial, environmental, social and cultural denouncements. High caliber rappers such as Blaccsoul, Rey Osado and Sekou. The latter, along with the MELAH collective, has on previous occasions brought some artistic light to other corners of the island. Sekou was in charge of closing the rap segment that first day of the festival with an optimistic message; his commitment is with the people who love him, he walks and sings with the public, calls Etián to the stage and makes this a moment of total ecstasy for those present.

Photo: María Lucía Expósito

Next, with rock, came Mala Referenzia, defined as an artistic movement of Zenit Tattoo, because "they are tattoo artists, not musicians". What they present, says their vocalist, "is music made by drunks on the terrace" and that can sometimes be perceived, but Mr. Black's freshness and boldness take over the environment. He plays, makes a little history of the band, makes fun of himself, gets excited, sings on the side of the audience, walks, and enjoys this moment that has been created by and for them. His art is "of release, Mr. Black's goal is nothing more than to set the soul free - both his own and that of those who come to his tattoo studio - through art. 

As its organizers explain, the event not only brings together artists from the hip hop scene, but also expands its boundaries. "This year we wanted to propose and accompany a festival of different genres and expressions of counterculture, an attempt to group, connect, articulate all countercultural movements," they say. 

With a different dynamic, the second day of Forma tu Bulla featured punk, classic rock and progressive bands such as Masbirra, Manopla and Green Beans. In theory it is great to provide a space for rock bands as well, but in practice there is still a lack of unity between both genres. During the second day, one could feel the segmentation between two audiences that share certain characteristics, but are not exactly the same. There is an interaction that is brief and could become greater -as MELAH proposes-; it should be understood that they are, in a way, part of the same movement, that they should nurture, care for and inspire each other, there should be a united countercultural collectivity. 

Frank Mitchel and Páramos kick off the day with the live premiere of the EP with the same name. The voice of this young man is undoubtedly one of the greatest and deepest of this generation. With the fusion of progressive rock and poetry, he creates a performance that manages to take the listener on an astral journey through words and chords; Claudio Misifuz's flute and Oswald Cisneros' saxophone create a fascinating synergy. The energy goes in crescendo and makes this moment of the festival become a space where souls meet and emotions are released. 

Photos by: María Lucía Expósito

The second and shorter part of this day is dedicated to rap and takes place inside the Fellini bar with artists such as Canceriana; El Faraón, who the public receives with enthusiasm for his rap conscience, contesting, which remains in the nineties line, with the aggressiveness of these years; and El Opuesto, which follows this same line. 

It seems strange, then, that in this context of unity within the underground and in an era in which the evolution and fusion of sounds is maximized, young rappers like Elephanto, EIDI and Milton McDonald, who are taking Cuban rap to other levels at a time of stagnation and decadence, are left out of the event. On the one hand, in a festival of this kind there is no room -due to time constraints- for all the exponents; on the other hand, the MELAH team puts the focus on those who find it more difficult to raise their voices. However, it was important the dialogue between the "old school" exponents and the young people from more intricate places, and from them with what would be called, to categorize, a "new school", which carries the flag of rap today.

With its program, Forma tu Bulla advocated for unity within these stigmatized scenarios, offered a different way of looking at a panorama that, in Cuba, is fragmented. The festival provided a space for dialogue, exchange and free creation, on the one hand, and on the other, it was a sigh of hip hop for a Havana that has no major hip hop events left.

Photos by: María Lucía Expósito

Three days were planned, but this was not possible. The last day was canceled, leaving a bittersweet note in the public, the organizers, and the rappers and groups that were left without performing. This is a vivid example of why movements like MELAH exist, of the marginalization and censorship received by these collectives and artists, whose ability to get spaces to develop and show their art is hindered by the fact that they represent, choose and love a specific culture. In this regard, one of the organizers said: "these types of actions that try to silence the voices of artists cannot destroy us, they can never end hope, on the contrary, it has to be the reason why we unite".

Despite the challenges and obstacles, the festival organized by MELAH managed to create a space for the artists. undergroundThe event, in which unity and authentic cultural expression prevailed. Forma tu Bulla achieved several of its objectives, but there is still much to be done -mainly from the national territory-; this was a small impulse, a call to action to creators to continue striving and collaborating in the construction of a stronger community.

Laura Suárez del Villar Guzmán More posts

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  1. Abel says:

    Hey, that's very hard

  2. Betsaida Suárez del Villar says:

    Despite not being a connoisseur of the genre, I found the article very interesting, a fresh portrait of that undergraund music that is part of a country and a people who seek alternatives to make themselves known through music, a universal language necessary at all times. Congratulations to your bulla form and that the cancellation of the last night did not manage to silence voices, but on the contrary.

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