Day Five: Wherein We Travel Back in Time to Meet Cuban Spitkickers
Everyone who visits Cuba tells all of their inquiring friends and family the same thing, that the country seems to be trapped in the 1950s, which is the last time most of the buildings had fresh paint.
Most of the population, including teenagers, do not even know what the Internet is.
All along Cuba's streets run dozens of classic American cars; Fords and Studebakers from the 1940s and Chevrolets from the 50s are as common on the communist island as Toyotas and Hondas from the 80s and 90s are in the free world. But, unlike classic cars in America, most of Cuba's fleet has actually been on the road for fifty years. These cars belonged to the driver’s father before the driver, and to his grandfather before his father. They have the original paint, dozens of door dings and scratches, but they still run as solid as the American auto industry once did.
From the old buildings and classic cars, 24 hours a day, music fills Havana's streets. Salsa is by far the most common sound and people are always dancing in the streets. Although walking these streets is like stepping back in time. One newer sound that originated in the United States has infected the youth: They're addicted to Hip Hop and the culture there is only a couple of years behind the music. But in Cuba, Hip Hop is about way more than money.
Sure, Jay-Z and Ludacris and other rappers who rhyme more about rims than reason are hot here too, but more for their beats and delivery since very few Hip Hop fanatics can interpret the English lyrics in Spanish. Since new music from the States is hard to come by on the island, my iPod was especially popular because it’s full of Hip Hop -- fresh stuff and the classics.
Marcos brought with him some speakers and when I translated the lyrics of Lupe Fiasco's "Hurt Me Soul," in which he touches on every topic from priests touching little boys to burning crosses, abortion to deportation and addiction to starvation, the woman who owned the house in which we were staying, Julie, and her boyfriend Aaron, both of whom are aspiring rappers, were practically moved to tears.
We were invited to go to an underground Hip Hop show up above the Plaza de Revolucion, where Fidel and Ernesto “Che” Guevara led the revolution’s victory party. We stepped into the venue and got into an elevator that actually had an attendant. When we exited, we walked up some stairs through a dark hallway and into a little bar with a panoramic view of the plaza. The first rapper was one of two non-Cubans who we spoke with on the entire trip. He's from California and actually lived in Boulder ten years ago. He apologized to the crowd for having to rap in English, but then let loose with a series of socially conscious songs.
He was followed by three rappers, (one who had a shirt dedicated to the executed Crip leader Stan “Tookie” Williams) each of whom had a sicker style than the next. I sat bobbing my head, smoking a stogie and drinking a beer with Aileen. The rappers rhymed about life in Cuba, poverty, limits on their liberty and a grim, if uncertain future. Each was careful not to dis Fidel, or the government or say anything that could be taken as disrespectful to the powers that be, or that could land them with serious accusations of counter-revolutionary activity. It's a fine line to walk, but with the microphone, the line is practically invisible.
-- Luke Turf
Westword staff writer Luke Turf traveled to Cuba for a week and encountered pimps, prostitutes and an irate mute with a nasty uppercut, to name a few. This is his tale.