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Fear of a Black Nation: Local Rappers, Transnational Crossings, and State Power in

Contemporary Cuba
Author(s): Sujatha Fernandes
Source: Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 76, No. 4 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 575-608
Published by: George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3318281
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Fear

Local

of

Rappers,

Crossings,
in

Black

and

Nation:

Transnational
State

Power

ContemporaryCuba

Sujatha Fernandes
PrincetonUniversity

Abstract:Thisessayanalyzesthe relationshipsbetween culture,power,and politics in contemporaryCubathroughthe lens of hip-hop.Inparticular,I lookat the


interactionsbetweenCubanrappers,the Cubansocialiststate,and diversetransnational networksin a moment of economiccrisis,increasingracialdisparities,and
Cuba'schangingglobalposition.Theessayexploreshow the Cubanstate has harnessedthe energyof the growinghip-hopmovementas a wayof bolsteringits popand collaborationbetweentransnational
ularity;I highlightformsof appropriation
culturalforms and the nation-statethat have generallybeen absent from accountsof culturalglobalization.But I also suggestthat Cubanrappers'participation in transnationalnetworksallowsthese rapperssome autonomyto continue
promotingmessages of racialegalitarianismand to develop alternativestraterace,hip-hop,
gies in a moment of decliningoptionsfor blackyouth. [Keywords:
Cubanrappers,transnationalnetworks,state power,culturalresistance]

appropriatetransnaThisarticleexploresthe waysin whichyoungAfro-Cubans

tional imaginariesin orderto frame local politicaldemands and strategies.


Transnationalrapnetworksconstitutea vehiclethroughwhichAfro-Cuban
youth
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Fearof a Black Nation

negotiatewith the state and build strategiesfor survivalin the difficultcircumstancesof the contemporary"specialperiod"1 of crisis.Attractedbythe blacknationalistpoliticsof certainAfrican-American
rapperswho have coined the term
or
Cuban
rappersoffer strongcriticismsof ne"underground" "conscious"rap,2
oliberalglobalizationand they proposethe notionof Cubaas a blacknationstrugglingfor justicein an inegalitarianworldorder.But rappersalso highlightcauses
of racialjusticewithinCubaand makedemandsforthe inclusionof marginalized
sectors in processesof economic and politicalchange. Moreover,given the opportunitiespresentedby increasedtourismand a limitedmarketeconomy,some
rapgroupssuggeststrategiessuchas hustlingand consumerismthat constitutealternativeoptionsfor blackyouthin a periodof crisis.Inthisessay,Ianalyzethe relationship between the diverse strands of the Cuban hip-hop3 movement,
transnationalforces,and the socialiststate, lookingat how globalflowsof culture
providea means for contestationover localdiscoursesof powerand race.
Scholarsof culturalresistanceand globalizationhave analyzedthe potential
for popularcultureand transnationalculturalexchangesto challengedominant
formsof powerby buildingand sustaininga criticalopposition(Scott1985, 1990;
Gilroy1987, 1996). Forinstance,PaulGilroysees the contemporarymusicalforms
of the Africandiasporaas buildingspaces that can "meetthe oppressivepower
of racialcapitalism"(Gilroy1996:365)and maintain"controlof a field of autonomy or independencefrom the system"(Gilroy1996:366).But how can we understandthe role of blackculturalforms in a contextwhere the state has taken
on the projectof securingthe autonomyof expressiveculturesfromthe market
(Garcia-Canclini
1995), and where popularcultureproducersworkfrom within
state institutions?
Someanthropologists
1991, Berdahl
1991,Abu-Lughod
(Verdery
have
to
the
in
which
cultural
resistance
is enmeshed
1999)
begun explore ways
in historicallychanging relationsof power.These theorists have providedsophisticatedaccountsof the many levels of criticalresistancethat existand their
relationshipto formsof power.Byaddressingthe roleof rapmusicin Cuba,I build
on the workof these scholars,demonstratinghow culturalproducersnegotiate,
subvert,and reproduceaspectsof state powerin the contextof a socialistsystem.
In this essay, I seek to trace the complex and contradictoryformsof negotiation, accommodation,and alliance between rappersand the state in the special period. On the one hand, I argue that diversetransnationalrap networks
facilitate the efforts of Afro-Cubanyouth to contest emerging racial hierarchies, frame their demands for social justice, and create alternativestrategies
for survivalsuch as hustlingand consumerism.Onthe other hand, I suggestthat
the Cubanstate has harnessedthe oppositionalforce of rap musicto maintain
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

its hegemonyin the face of growingracialand economicdisparitiesduringa periodof crisis.But,Iarguethat rappershavealso been able to resistsome aspects
of state cooptationbecause of their participationin transnationalrap networks
of African-American
rapand the global music industry.
In the firstsection of the paper,I outline the dynamicsof race in Cuba,the
changingcontoursof race relationsin the contextof the specialperiod,and the
relatedemergence of Cubanrap music. I look at the evolutionof distincttendencies in Cubanrapthat are generallyassociatedwith the US-deriveddichotoand "commercial"
and I explore how these categoriesare
my of "underground"
in
complicated the contextof Cuba.The nextsectionexploresdifferentstrategies
of culturalcontestation in the special period. These strategies roughlycorreand "commercial"
spond to the blocs of "underground"
rap:those rapperswho
as
with
seek
to
the state, demanding
identify undergroundgenerally
negotiate
that it fulfillsocialistidealsof racialegalitarianism,while rapperswho identifyas
commercialpredominantlyevoke alternativemeans of survivalsuch as hustling
and consumerism.Inthe thirdsection,I lookat the waysin whichthe Cubanstate
appropriatesCubanrappers'counter-dominantexpressionsto fortifyits position
in a new global context. Byidentifyingthe interdependenciesbetween transnational culturalformsand the nation-state(Ong1999), I providenew insightsfor
globalizationtheory,which has tended to focus exclusivelyon the ways in which
nation-statesare recedingas pointsof identification(Appadurai1990). Inthe final section, I look at the contradictoryspace of Cubanhip-hop,which is both
shaped by,as it resists,capitalistconsumerism.I show how a militantblacknationalismcoexistswithstrategiesof consumerismand Iarguethatthe optionsprovided by multipletransnationalnetworksallow rappersa degree of autonomy
that was not possiblefor earliermusicalinnovations.
Inthe absence of any organizedpoliticalmovementsor formsof association
youth, Cubanrap providesan avenue of expressionand culamong Afro-Cuban
tural resistancein Cubansociety. Inthis historical,ethnographic,and semiotic
study of Cubanrap music, I seek to examine how rap musicianshave opened
dialogue with the state about issues of race duringthe special periodand how
the state in turn has exerted influence over the direction,strategies,and politics of the Cubanhip-hop movement.

The Context and Emergence of Cuban Rap


Cubanrap,as a unique musicaland poeticgenre, distinctfrom both Cubanoral
traditions4and Americanrap, began to develop in the mid-ninetiesand cur577

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Fearof a Black Nation

rentlycomprisesa fairlybroadand diverse movement that spans from the urban areas of Havanato the easterntowns of Santiagode Cuba.Forthe firstfive
years of its evolution in Cuba up until 1991, hip-hop culture was produced
and consumed within the specific social context of the local community or
neighborhood.At parties,people would playmusicfromcompactdiscsthat had
been brought from the US, or music recorded from Miami radio, and they
would pass on recordedcassettesfrom hand to hand. The periodfrom 1991 to
the present has involved the institutionalizationand commercialization of
Cubanhip-hopculturein severaldifferentways.Asthe art form has developed
its own Cubanstyle,as it has become distinctlymore complex,and as it has begun to garner large levels of support among Cubanyouth, rap music has simultaneouslybecome intertwinedwith Cubanstate institutions,transnational
recordcompanies, and hip-hop movements in the US.Here I explorethe conas a socialcategoryand I identifythe
ditionsthat have given riseto the "rapper"
and recontextualizecategoriesof
in
which
Cuban
musicians
interpret
rap
ways
"underground"and "commercial"that derive from the context of American
hip-hop.Fromcertainsocial, historical,and institutionallocationsemerge the
commitments and solidaritiesthat are crucialto the framing of political demands and the articulationof desire in Cubanrap.
Rap music in Cubais shaped by a highlyspecificset of social and economic conditions, includingthe demographicrestructuringof the urban metropolis and increasing racial inequalities in the special period. Rap music and
hip-hopculturegrew rapidlyin relocativehousing projectssuch as Alamarand
other areas of high density housing, occupied by mainly black,workingclass
communities such as Old Havana,CentralHavana,Sancto Suarez,and Playa.
Untilthe collapse of the SovietUnion, blackand workingclass communities in
Cubawere relativelyprotectedfrom neoliberalprocessesof economic restructuring. However,the crisisof the special periodforcedthe Cubangovernment
to adopt policies of austerityin order to increasethe competitivenessof the
Cubaneconomy in the global economy. Althoughpolicies of austerityand restructuringhave affected Cubansociety as a whole, Alejandrode la Fuente
(2001) argues that there have also been various raciallydifferentiatedeffects.
The legalizationof dollars has divided Cubansociety accordingto those who
have access to dollarsand those who do not. Familyremittancesare the most
importantsource of hard currencyfor most Cubans,and since the majorityof
Cubansin the diasporatend to be white, it is white Cubanfamilies who benefit most from remittances(De la Fuente2001:319).Otheroptions of survivalin
the special period,such as opening paladares,or family-runrestaurants,are al578

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SUJATHAFERNANDES

so less available to blackswho tend to be based in more densely populated


housing and do not have the space to carryout entrepreneurialactivities(De
la Fuente2001:321). De la Fuente (2001:326)also argues that racialprejudice
has become increasinglyvisible and acceptable in the special period.
It is not within the scope of this articleto give a detailed historicalaccount
of racerelationsin Cuba.However,some backgroundis necessaryto understand
the changes in the contemporaryperiod. Racerelationsin Cubadifferconsiderablyfrom experiencesof race in the NorthAmericancontext. In his workon
race in Columbia,PeterWade(1993)pointsto two processesthat define race relations in LatinAmericanand Caribbeancountries. On the one hand, Latin
Americannationalist and revolutionaryleaders in countries with significant
blackpopulations,such as Colombia,Cuba,and Brazil,have held up an image
of the mestizo or mixed race nation, where nation subsumes race as the main
form of identification.To talk of "Blacks"or "race"in LatinAmericais problematic because race relationshave not been historicallyperceivedas primary
markersof identity.On the other hand, blacksin LatinAmericahave not become dispersedinto the largercommunity,but they maintaindistinctpractices
of congregationand culturalforms. Accordingto Wade(1993:3),race in Latin
Americais characterizedby a complex interweavingof patternsof discrimination and tolerance,which cannot be understoodby referenceto formsof racial
identity in the NorthAmericancontext. De la Fuente (2001:335)corroborates
this account of the contradictorynatureof race relationsin Cuba,arguingthat
while discoursesof racialfraternityminimizedclaims for justice by blackpopulations,the more fluid understandingof racethat such discoursesmade possible also opened avenuesforthe participationof blacksin mainstreamcultural
life. But, it is particularlyin contexts of crisissuch as special period Cubathat
racialinequalities,stereotypes,and prejudicesreemergein ways that promote
racialconflictand restrictthe optionsopen to blacksforworkand advancement.
Ina periodof increasingracialtensions and racialinequalities,Afro-Cubans
find themselves deprived of a politicalvoice. Drawingon discoursesof racial
democracy,the Cubanrevolutionaryleadershipattempted to eliminate racism
by creating a color-blindsociety, where equality between blacks and whites
would renderthe need for racialidentificationsobsolete. Whiledesegregating
schools, parks,and recreationalfacilities,and offeringhousing,education,and
healthcareto the blackpopulation,the revolutionaryleadershipsimultaneously
closed down Afro-Cuban
clubs and the blackpress(De la Fuente2001:280). De
la Fuente(2001:329)sees the possibilityfor raciallybased mobilizationemerging fromthe contradictionsof the currentspecial period:"Therevivalof racism
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Fearof a BlackNation

and raciallydiscriminatorypracticesunder the special period has led to growing resentmentand resistancein the blackpopulation,which suddenlyfinds itself in a hostileenvironmentwithoutthe politicaland organizationtools needed
to fight against it."Afro-Cubanreligiousforms such as santerraand abacud
have begun to gain popularsupportin this period, but rap music has taken on
a more politically assertive and radical stance as the voice of black Cuban
youth. Althoughsome older blackCubanscannot relate to the militantassertion of black identity in Cuban rap, it is becoming increasinglyrelevant to
Cuba'syouth, who did not live through the early period of revolutionarytriumph and are hardesthit by the failureof the institutionsestablishedunderthe
revolutionto provideracialequality in the special period.
Cubanrap has emerged from a local, grass roots phenomenon to a statesponsored genre with multiple transnationalconnections. Duringthe 1990s,
the Cubanstate began to provideinstitutionalresourcesfor the promotionof
Cubanrap. In 1991, there were organizedconcertsor pehfasin the Casasde la
Cultura(CulturalCenters)of M6nacoand 10 de Octubre.A radioprogramcalled
LaEsquinade Rap(RapCorner)began on RadioMetropolitanaand there was a
space on televisionwhichstartedpromotinginternationalrapartists(Fernandez
2000a). In summer 1992, the Asociacidn Hermanos Saiz (Brothers Saiz
Organization,AHS),the youth culturalwing of the officialmass organizationof
Cubanyouth, Uniondejovenes Cubanos(Unionof CubanYouth,UJC)createda
space for rap in LaPiragua,a largeopen air stage by the Malecon.In 1994 this
space ceased to exist and the movement began to dissipate,until DJAdalberto
created a space in the "local"of CarlosIIIand Infanta. Rap producer,Ariel
Fernandez(2000a), says that up until this moment there was no real movement of rappers,only individualsimprovisingor "freestyling."Fromthe local
emerged the pioneersof Cubanrap:SBS,PrimeraBase,TripleA, Al Corte,and
Amenaza.Anassociationof rapperscalledGrupoUno(GroupOne),relativelyautonomous fromAHS,was createdby a promoterknownas RedolfoRensoli,and
this networkwent on to organizethe firstfestivalof rap in June 1995.
NorthAmericanrap music is the originalsource of Cubanrap music, and
from the early days Cubanrappershave maintainedclose ties with rappersin
the US. Whilethe early waves of hip-hop music to come to Cubawere more
commercial,by the time of the first rap festival in 1995, Cubanswere hearing
African-American
"conscious"rap music. The visits of these African-American
rapperswere crucialto the formationof Cubanhip-hop,particularlythrougha
networkknown as the "BlackAugustHip-HopCollective."BlackAugustwas a
networkestablished duringthe 1970s in the Californiaprisonsystem as a way
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

of linkingup movements for resistancein the Americasand the hip-hop collective seeks to draw connections between radicalblackactivismand hip-hop
culture. In their statement of purpose,the collectivedefines their goals as "to
supportthe globaldevelopmentof hip-hopculturebyfacilitatingexchangesbetween internationalcommunitieswhere hip-hopis a vital partof youth culture,
and by promotingawareness about the social and politicalissues that effect
[sic]these youth communities."BlackAugustconcertsheld in New Yorkraised
money for the Cubanhip-hopmovement, includingfundingfor an annual hiphop concert,attended by Americanrappers.
activistswho visited Cubaduringthe 1960s and
Likethe African-American
1970s from Stokely Carmichaelthrough to Angela Davisand Assata Shakur,
who is currently in exile in Cuba, African-Americanrappers such as Paris,
CommonSense, Mos Def and TalibKwelispoke a language of black militancy
that was appealingto Cubanyouth.Whilea blackradicalsuch as MarcusGarvey
enjoyed little support among Afro-Cubansin the 1920s (FernandezRobaina
rappershave
1998:125),the black nationalistaspirationsof African-American
been received with considerablymore enthusiasm by a population of AfroCubanyouth increasinglyfeeling the effects of racialdiscriminationin Cuba's
special period.Ananalysisof the ways in which "underground"hip-hop music
promotes and extends identificationsbased on race has been mostly absent
from importantscholarlyattempts to addressglobal hip-hop. In his introduction to a volume on rapand hip-hopoutside the US,TonyMitchell(2001:2)argues that global hip-hop movements are disconnected from what he
atrophied,cliched,and repetitive"
homogeneouslydescribesas an "increasingly
African-American
hip-hopcultureand most of the cases in the volume focus on
non-Blackappropriationsof hip-hop.5But in countries such as Cuba, Brazil,
Columbia, and Venezuela, as well as in several African countries, such as
communitiesdraw
Senegal, SouthAfrica,and Mali,Africanand Afro-Diasporic
on African-American
rap musicto addresslocal issues of race and marginality,
howeverdifferentlythose relationshipsmay be constituted.The importanceof
transnationalflows based on race, particularlyas promoted by the more black
nationalist African-American
rappers, must be viewed somewhat independof
cultural
flows
related
to the popularmusic industry.
ently global
Nevertheless,the global market,via multinationalrecordcompanies, has also been an importantavenue of transnationalparticipationin Cubanhip-hop.
Whilehip-hopin the USstartedas an urbanundergroundmovement, it is now
a majorcommercialproduct,distributedbyfive of the largestmultinationalmusic labelsincludingUniversal,Sony,BMG,EMI,and WEA(Valdds2002). Recordsare
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Fearof a Black Nation

judged by their Sound-Scannumbers,or the numberof recordsthey sell in the


firstweek, and in terms of the industry,it is sales that count more than artistic
quality,creativity,or politicalmessage.Accordingto MimiValdes(2002),in North
Americanhip-hop,rapperswho are gettingthe airplay,videos, and recordsales
are those who have embracedthe "bling-bling
formula,"usingthe imageryof exclothes
and
exorbitant
pensive cars,
lifestylesas a demonstrationof the new
wealth of the hip-hopgeneration.Inthe Cubancontext,the multinationallabels
with their promisesof videos, discs,and largecontractsare temptingto Cuban
rapperswhose resourcesare scarce.Attimes signinga deal may mean leavingthe
country,such as happened with the CubanrapgroupOrishas,who signed with
the transnationalrecordcompanyEMIand currentlyresidein France.
Cuban rap has been influenced by these diverse networks of AfricanAmericanrap and transnational record companies. Fernandez(2002:43) argues that the movement of Cuban hip-hop is divided by a major polemic
between those who see themselvesas "underground"
and those who see themselves as "commercial."
He describes"underground"
groupsas havingtwo main
maintain
an
radical
stance along the lines of
orthodox
and
qualities:first,"they
the originsof the genre and they distancethemselves from whatever possibiland second, "theyfocus much more on
ity of fusion for its commercialization;"
an integrationof politicallycommittedlyricswith the socialcontext"(Fernandez
2002:43). "Commercial"groups are those who, "incorporatepopular Cuban
rhythmsin orderto be more accepted, achieve authenticity,and become commerciallyviable"(Fernandez2002:43).Inthe contextof Cuba,"commercial"
rap
are
somewhat
defined
their
to
reach
audiences.
While
groups
by
ability
larger
most "underground"
rap music is limitedto smallpehfasand shows, the biggest
gathering being the annual rap festival attended by up to 5,000 youth in the
large stadium at Alamar,a "commercial"group such as Orishashave reached
the broader Cuban public, and the sounds of their latest disc entitled A Lo
Cubanocan be heard in discos, privatehomes, and parties,as well as blaring
from carsand on the street.
Categoriesof "underground"and "commercial"have some resonance in
the context of Cubabecause they reflectreal contests over access to resources
and divergingideologicalpositions.Forsome Cubanrapgroupswho self-identhere is hostilitytowardsthose groupswho attractforeign
tifyas "underground,"
funding and attention because they are willingto dilute their politicalstance.
Intheirsong ElBarco(TheBoat),LosPaisanoscriticizethe more commercialrappers who are funded because they have compromisedtheir politicsand dedicationto the purityof rap:"thosewithoutshame who say they are rappers,but
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

who are patronizedbecause of their mixtureof rhythm."The rappervents his


anger againstthose who choose the commercialpath:"Ishoot wordsat them,
I don't killthem, but I detest them and I don't silence the truth, but I bringit
to the text."The group LosPaisanos,whichstartedoff with three members,lost
one member who left the group for a foreign deal to make more commercial
sounding rap mixedwith salsa, forsakingboth the group and his participation
in the hip-hop movement.
Groupssuch as Orishas,now generallyseen as commercialbecause of their
mainstreamsuccess both in Cubaand abroad, and because of the nature of
their lyrics,were previouslypartof a group called Amenazathat was centralto
the evolution of the Cubanhip-hop movement and which did address local issues of race. AlthoughOrishasmaintain close ties with Cuban rappers,and
have spokenabout returningto Cubato workwith the hip-hopmovement,they
are also viewedwith a degree of contemptby some Cubanrapperswho feel that
Orishashave abandonedtheir earlierpoliticalstanceand "soldout."Cuban"underground"rappersare criticalof the unqualifiedcelebrationof consumerism
in the lyricsof commercialrapgroupssuch as Orishasbecauseof what they perceive as interventionsinto Cubanhip-hop by foreign music labels who seek to
sell Cubato western audiences through stereotypicalimages of rum,tobacco,
and mulattawomen. Some Cubanrapperswho identifyas "underground"
feel
that those groupswho relinquishtheir hardcore politicsand purityof form to
attain commercialsuccessare compromisingthe values and the orientationof
the movement.
But even though some Cubanrappersmay self-identifyas "underground"
or "commercial,"these labels cannot be applied unproblematically in the
Cubancontext. Whilethe distinction between "underground"and "commercial"in the USderives from a perceptionof authenticityand commercialsuccess as diametricopposites, Cubanculturalproducersare often attributedan
automatic authenticity or "underground"status by their Americancounterparts,particularlygiven Cuba'simage as a successfulrevolutionarygovernment
among sectionsof the African-American
community(Gosse1998:266).Attimes,
Cubanrappersthemselves acknowledgethat the distinctionis somewhat less
relevant in Cubathan in the US.In a song called "Idon't criticizewhat is commercial,"rapperPapo Recordsuggeststhat undergroundand commercialare
all the same in Cubabecause there is no market.The label of "commercial"is
also somewhat of a misnomer because not all groups that mix salsa and other instrumentalformswith rapare funded by recordcompanies,some just enjoy those styles. In Cuba,the dichotomy between authenticityand success is
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Fearof a Black Nation

further complicated by state promotion of "underground"rap. Due to the


structureof cultural productionwithin Cuba,Cubanrapperswho maintain a
politicalorientationare more likelyto receivestate sponsorshipthan the commercial rappers,disruptingthe association of "underground"with exclusion
from the mainstream.
Despitethe problemsassociatedwith applyingthe labels of "underground"
and "commercial"in the context of Cuba, it remains that Cubanrappersdo
identifywith these. In the followingsection, I suggest that strategiesof cultural resistanceroughlycorrespondto these differenttendencieswithinCubanrap,
although, as argued in the last section of the essay, the boundaries between
them remain permeable.

Strategies of Cultural Contestation in Cuban Rap


Racial Egalitarianismin the Special Period
Afro-Cuban
youth have used rapmusicas a meansof contestingracialhierarchies
and demandingsocialjustice.Gilroy(1993:83)sees the transferenceof blackculturalformssuch as hip-hopas relatedpartlyto its "inescapablypoliticallanguage
of citizenship,racialjustice, and equality,"a discoursethat speaks to the realities and aspirationsof blackyouth globally.Throughtheir texts, performances,
and styles,Cubanrappersdemand the inclusionof young Afro-Cubans
into the
and
to
the
state
to
live
to
the
value
of
up
polity
they appeal
egalitarianismenshrined in traditionalsocialistideology.Cubanrappers,particularlythose who
identifyas "underground,"
point out the race blindnessof officialdiscourseand
the invisibilityof the experiencesand problemsof marginalizedcommunitiesin
a societythat has supposedly"solved"questionsof race.Giventhe lackof forums
for youngAfro-Cubans
to voice their concerns,rapmusic providesan avenue for
contestationand negotiationwithin Cubansociety.
Rapperscriticizethe political leadershipfor ignoringquestions of race in
Cubansocietyby declaringthe eradicationof racism.As De la Fuente(2001:266)
explains, while in the early years after the revolutionFidelCastrocalled for a
public debate about racisminvolvingseveral speciallyorganizedconferences
and targeted campaigns,by 1962 all discussionof the race question had been
silenced, except to praise Cuba'sachievements. Because the revolution had
supposedly resolved all questions of institutionaldiscrimination,it was considered unpatrioticto speak of race,or to identifyoneself in racialterms, rather
than as just a Cuban.In their song entitled Mambi,an identificationwith the
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

mambises or Afro-Cubanfighters in the war of independence with Spain,


Obsesi6nreferto the rhetoricwhich masksthe silencingof questions of race:
Thosewindsbroughtthesestorms,
Itresultedthisway(suddenly)
myracehada mountainof
qualities,
and manywentin massesto passa
coursein hownotto be racist,
withhighhonors,
theygraduated
andup untiltodaytheyremainhidden
behindthisphrase:
WEARE
ALL
EQUAL,
WEARE
ALL
HUMAN
BEINGS

estastempestades,
Aqullosvientostrajeron
resultaq' asf(depronto)
unmont6nde cualidades
cayo
encimade miraza,
en masaa pasarun
y muchosfueron
cursodec6monoserracistas
se graduaron
conhonores
yfiestas
el
escondidos
hasta
de
sol
hoy
permanecen
y
en lafraseesta:
SOMOS
IGUALES
6
TODOS
LOS
SERES
HUMANOS

Obsesi6nsuggestthat blackswent from being at the bottom of the social hierarchyin pre-revolutionaryCubato having"a mountain of qualities"due to
their role as the new social subjectsof the revolution.However,Obsesi6nsuggest that white revolutionariespaid lip service to anti-racistideals, going "in
masses to pass a course in how not to be racist,"ratherthan engagingwith the
reality of racism in Cubansociety. The song depicts the self-congratulatory
manner of revolutionarieswho proclaim the eradication of racism even as
racialtensions and hierarchiescontinue to exist.
The resurgenceof racismin the special period is presented in strikingcontrast to the post-revolutionaryeuphoria of Afro-Cubans
who saw in the Cuban
revolutionthe possibilitiesof an end to racialdiscrimination.In a poem written in 1964 by celebrated Afro-Cubanpoet Nicolas Guillenentitled Tengo(I
have),the poet liststhe changes that the revolutionhas broughtfor blacks:
I have,let'ssee,
that I havelearntto read,
to count,
I havethat I havelearntto write
andto think
andto laugh.
I havethat I have
a placeto work
andearn

Tengo,vamosa ver,
queya aprendfa leer,
a contar,
tengoqueya aprendfa escribir
y a pensar
y a reir.
Tengoqueya tengo
dondetrabajar
y ganar
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Fearof a Black Nation

whatI needto eat.


I have,let'ssee,
I havewhatwascomingto me.

lo queme tengoquecomer.
Tengo,vamosa ver,
tengolo que ten(aquetener

Borrowingthe title and format of the Guillenpoem, Hermanosde Causadein the contemporaryspecial period:
scribethe situationfor young Afro-Cubans
I havea darkanddiscriminated
race,
I havea workdaythatdemandsand

Tengounarazaoscura,y discriminada
tengounajornada,quemeexigenoda
nada
tengotantascosasquenopuedoni
tocarlas
quenopuedoni
tengoinstalaciones

givesnothing
I haveso manythingsthatIcannot
eventouch
I haveso manyresources
thatIcannot
evenstepon
pisarlas
I havelibertybetweenparentheses
of iron tengolibertadentreparentesis
dehierro
I haveso manybenefitswithoutrights
sinderechos
q' a mf
tengotantosprovechos
thatI imprisonmyself
encierro
I haveso manythingswithouthaving
tengotantascosassintenerlo quehe
whatI had.
tenido.
Whenthey state that "Ihave so many things"and "Ihave so many resources,"
Hermanosde Causaare referringto the claims of the politicalleadershipthat
the revolutionhas providedso much for Afro-Cubansin terms of health, education and welfare, but yet the rapperdoesn't see them. The revolution has
foughtfor a nation liberatedfromAmericanneo-colonialism,yet this libertycan
only be exercisedwithin severe constraints,or "parenthesesof iron."Whilethe
revolution has given so many benefits to young Afro-Cubans,these are bestowed patronizingly,without any recognition of their rights. In contrast to
Guillen'soptimism,"Ihave what was coming to me,"Hermanosde Causastate
that "Ihave what I have without havingwhat I had:"while the revolutionhas
broughtmaterialbenefits and opportunitiesto young, blackpeople it has taken away their rightsto speak out an a minority.Asthe groupJuniorClanpose
the question: "ForblacksI keep askingthe question, where is your voice?"
Cubanrap musicians use their lyrics,style, and performanceto play with
stereotypes of blacksas delinquents and criminals.Accordingto de la Fuente
(1998:5), racializednotions of properconduct have continued to be enforced
by the law,with peligrosidadsocialor "socialdangerousness"still punishableby
law. Rappersappropriatethese dominant stereotypes,employinga postureof
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

aggressionto turn fears of the "urbanblackthreat"back upon those who have


created such myths and stereotypes. Fernandezdescribedin a personal interview how the militantpose of the rapperis a partof their performance:
You can see a rapperscreamingwith an ugly, bad face, but this is their
artistic pose for singing. If you are singing about something that is not
good, you don't sing with a smile, in no partof the world.Inthe moment
of performance,rappersprojectthis strong, serious, energetic, violent,
and machisticimage.
Thispostureis also a mechanismof defense againstthe realityof life in marginalized communities. As TrishaRose (1994:12)argues, "the ghetto badman
posture-performanceis a protectiveshell against real unyieldingand harshsocial policies and physicalenvironments."Althoughthe kind of harsh environment of the NorthAmericanghettoes as described by Rose does not exist in
Cuba,Afro-Cubancommunitieshave been subjectto formsof policingthat become more severe in times of crisis.The adoption of aggressiveposturesserves
as a form of self-defense,particularlywhen young blackCubansare being constantlyharassedby police, and when they are viewed by broaderCubansociety as criminalsand drug dealers.
Rapmusiciansemploy a directstylethat addressesthe authorities,the state,
or those in positions of power. Cuban"underground"rapperschallenge aspects of police harassmentand the silencing of dissent by the Cubanstate. In
the song A Veces(AtTimes),AnonimoConsejodraw a pictureof corruption,illicit drug tradingand prostitution.However,reversingstereotypesabout marginalizedcommunities,the rapperlocatesthe sourcesof these problemsin the
government:
in their
Guyswithmoneyaretrafficking
offices,
theyshout"Weresist,"andtheydrive
aroundin fancycarsdayand night,
robbingthe publiclikethe scorpionher
brood

Lostiposcon "money"
traficanen sus
oficinas,
gritan"resistimos"
y andanen carronoche
y dia,
al pueblocomoel alacrdna su
robdndole
cria

The rapperrendersthe police and the officialscriminals,in an attempt to


destabilizetheir moral authority.Whilethe police target poor, black communities for crimes such as drug dealing and theft, the rappershows that they
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Fear of a Black Nation

themselves are engaged in these activities.He points to the hypocrisyof government officials who use revolutionaryrhetoric of resistance, but actually
separatethemselves off from the public in their fancy offices and cars.Cliente
Supremochallengethe futile practiceof askingfor identitycards,asking,"Inrealitywhat will become of me when my youth is gone? WillI have to be worried
about my personaldocuments like you all? WhatID?Forwhat?"LosPaisanos
also talk about police harassmentof young, blackCubansin their song ElBarco
(TheBoat),and the ways in which they are constantlyquestioned by the police
and askedto producean identitycard.Whenthe police threatenthe rapper,he
shouts "seremoscomo el Che"(we will be like Che).The rapperrepeatsthis slogan, reciteddaily by childrenin daycarecentersand schools, partlyas a way of
invokingthe youthful rebelliousnessof the revolution'sfounding martyrand
partlyas a way of inoculatinghimself against reprisal.
An6nimo Consejodraw links between a historyof exploitationand a present of racialinequality.Accordingto Gilroy(1996:363),one of the core themes
of Africandiasporicmusicalformsis history,a concernwhich"demandsthat the
experience of slavery is also recoveredand rendered vivid and immediate."
Slaverybecomes a metaphorfor contemporaryinjusticeand exploitation.InA
Veces,AnonimoConsejoconnect the historyof Cubanslaves with the situation
of contemporaryAfro-Cubans.
The rapperbeginswith his geographicallocation,
he identifies himself as "el Cubanodel Oriente,"as a Cubanfrom the East,
which is a province considered less cultured than Havana.He is lying in his
"poorbed"thinkingabout slaveryand the struggleof blackpeople in his country,when the similaritiesof the present situation occurto him:
Youthinkit'snotthe sametoday,
Hoyparecequeno es as, el oficialmedice
an officialtellsme, 'Youcan'tgo
a mi, 'Nopuedeestaralld,muchomenos
salirde
there,muchless leavethis place'
aqu,'
Incontrasttheytreattouristsdifferently,Encambio
al turistase la tratadiferente,
is
it
that
in
Serd
People, possible
mycountry
posiblegentequeen mipatsyo no
I don'tcount?
cuente?
The rapperuses the critiqueof racialhierarchiesin the pastas a way of identifyingcontemporaryracialissuessuch as police harassmentof young blackpeople and the preferentialtreatmentgiven to touristsover Cubansby officials.He
identifieshimselfas "thedescendentof an African,"
as a cimarrondesobediente,
or disobedient, runawayslave, drawinghis linksto an ancestralpast, rooted in
a historyof slaveryand oppression.
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

The open treatmentof issuesof racein Cuban"underground"


rap musicprovides a challenge to the race blindnessof official discourseand claims by the
political leadershipthat racismno longer exists in Cubansociety. In an article
appearing in an official organ of the state, El Habanero,columnist Tony Pita
(1999)cautioned,"beware,the songs that deal with racecould turn into a double edged sword,and we will startencouragingthe recurrentobsession of creating a small 'ghetto' when actuallythe road is free of obstacles."Justas the
early post-revolutionaryleadershipwas worriedabout what it consideredthe
"divisive"
effectsof racialpolitics(Moore1988:259),one of the officialresponses
to rap music has also been a concernwith its raciallybased identificationsand
the potential for mobilizationalong race lines. Afro-Cubanyouth use rap music as a way of assertingtheir voice and presence, in contrastto attempts by
state officialsto play down the salience of race in Cubansociety.
Hustling,Consumerism,and Morality
Whilesome rappers,mainlythose who identifyas "underground,"
appropriate
for
and
social
as
a
of
their
demands
racial
justice,
hip-hop
way framing
equality
challengingracialstereotypes,and exploringthe effectsof slavery,other rappers
promote alternative strategies for survivaland resistance based on hustling
and consumerism,particularlyin a context of decliningemploymentopportunitiesfor blackyouthand increasingaccessto a marketeconomy.Inthis section,
I explore how these latter groups, generally identifiedas "commercial,"challenge conventional moral standards and create new spaces for expression
based on hustlingand consumerism.
Withinmore commerciallyoriented rap music, the practiceof hustlinghas
been presented as a politicalstrategyto get by in the special period. Hustling
has become particularly
popularamong unemployedblackyouth,who havethe
time to devote to the task and are also being pushed into such activitiesby economic need. Inthe difficultiesof the special period,those with accessto dollars
are usuallyCubanswho have family in Miamiand receive remittances,generallywhite Cubansand those who have been able to receiveworkin the new dollar economy, such as partymembers with good revolutionarycredentialswho
are given employment in the mixed firms or the tourist industry.Foryoung,
blackyouth who fit neitherof these categories,and are even on the marginsof
the regularworkforce,survivalcan be difficult.The special period has seen
the reemergence of activities such as hustling, one of the main ones being
jineterismo.Thisis a practicewherebyjineteros(translatesas "jockeys"but used
to referredto street hustlers)earn an income and acquire consumer goods
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Fearof a BlackNation

through their contact with foreigners,either befriendingthem or engaging in


a romanticor sexual relationshipwith them.7 In contrastto the $7 - $15 per
month possible by workingfull-time in a governmentjob, a jineterocan make
between $40 and $80 per day by helping out a tourists.RobinKelley(1997:75)
has explored the ways in which marginalizedAfrican-American
youth, facing
of
or
rates
the
of
service
work,remakethe
joblessness
prospect low-wage
high
realmof consumptioninto a site of production,blurringthe distinctionbetween
"play"and "work"that is characteristicof wage work under late capitalism.
Similarly,for some Afro-Cubanyouth faced with declining opportunities for
earningan income in socialistCuba,playbecomesa creativestrategyof survival.
One of the main rapgroupsthat addressespracticesof jineterismoand consumerismis Orishas.Inthe songAtrevido(Daring),Orishastell the storyof a couple who manage to take advantageof touristsas a way of bringingthemselves
out of ruralpoverty.Thesong beginsby describingthe situationof the poor couple in the countryside:
Onceupona timea deprivedcouple
Habiaunavezunaparejadesprovista
withoutmoneywerethinkingof a chronicpocavistasindineropensabant6nico
tonicto live,
t6nicocr6nicocdmovivir,
to leavethe blackmudinwhichthey
salirdelnegrofangoquela ahogaba,
tramaba.
drowned,plotting.
The couple leave the countrysideand come to the city,where the husband,
acting as a pimp, sets his wife up with a tourist and she begins to work the
touristfor money and gifts. The song parodiesthe clueless tourist,who thinks
that he is the one taking advantage of the woman. The rapper portraysthe
woman as the agent and the touristas her helpless victim.The song continues
with the followingchorus:
thatshe askedfor,the idiot
Everything
paidout,
a prettyroomin the Cohiba,the idiot
paidout,
A dressforher,and a shirtforme,the
idiotpaidout,
Ifshe wantedto go to the beach,the
idiotpaidout,
Hewas runningout of money,butthe

Todolo quele pedia,el puntose la


gastaba,
unalindahabitaci6nen el Cohiba,el
puntose la gastaba,
un vestidopa'ella,y unacamisapa'mi
el puntose la gastaba,
si querfaira la playa,el puntose la
gastaba,
ya la cuentano le daba,no le daba,y el

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SUJATHAFERNANDES

idiotpaidout,
to danceat a concertwithOrishas,
the idiotpaidout.

puntose la gastaba,
al concierto
conOrishas,
a bailar,y el
puntose la gastaba.

Inthe Orishassong,jineterismois presentedas a vacationforthe woman who


is taken to the beach, receivesnew clothes, and has a fancy room in the hotel
Cohiba.The Orishaseven writethemselvesinto the song, sayingthat the woman
gets the touristto take him for an Orisha'sconcert,but also suggestingthat the
Orishasare somehow themselvesjineteros,producingsuitablyexotic music for
an internationalmarket.The woman tricksthe tourist into buying her new
clothes and giving her money. She and her husband use the money for themselves and finallythe husband comes to take the jineterafrom the hotel room
and on his way out they rob the tourist of all that he has. The song concludes
with the victory of the couple who have come out of poverty,and it is the
tourist who has lost out. Orishascelebratejineterismoas a practicethat puts
agency and control in the hands of the women and men who use it to rob
tourists in order to support themselves. Jineterismobecomes a strategy by
which to raise oneself up. ForOrishasit is a practicethat resiststhe objectifying intent of the tourist and turns his voyeuristicdesigns back on himself by
makinghim an object of ridicule.In contrastto the traditionalvalues of work
and study put forwardas a way of improvingone's conditions,Orishassuggest
that trickingand robbingtouristsis a worthwhilemeans to risefrom poverty.
The relative autonomy of commercial groups such as Orishas,which derivesfrom being based outside of Cubaand funded by a transnationalrecord
label, allows them scope to broach topics such asjineterismothat are threatening to the Cubansocialistgovernmentin severalways.The abilityof jineteros
to hustle for dollarsfrom touristschallengesthe regimesof labordisciplinethe
socialist state seeks to impose. The Worker'sCenter of Cuba (Centralde
de Cuba,CTC)
Trabajadores
put out documentsstatingthat practicessuch asjineterismoencouragea decline in the laborethic (citedin SuarezSalazar2000:345).
Manyforeignconstructioncompanies, foreignagencies contractedto do infrastructuralwork,and even the smaller"freetrade zones"opening up in various
regions of Havana,requirelocal labor.The foreign companies pay the Cuban
governmentabout $US8-10 per hour for each of the laborersand the laborers are paid 200 pesos ($US9.50) a month by the state (Corbett2002:125). But
through hustling,jineteroscan bypassofficialavenues for earningan income.
Thevalues of jineterismocontradictsocialistideology,and disruptthe attempts
of the state to justifynew forms of labor discipline relatedto Cuba'sinsertion
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Fear of a Black Nation

into a global economy.Asthe Cubanstate seeks to regulateforeigncurrencytowards a centralized state bureaucracy,black and mulatto youth siphon off
some of the dollarsthat have begun to enter Cuba.
Moreover,on a social level the lifestylesand values of consumerismand sexual licentiousnessrepresentedby thejineterosare an affrontto the high moralism espoused by the revolutionaryleadership.LuisSuArezSalazar(2000:344)
quotes Fidel Castroas saying that tourism has "lead to various types of reproachable social behavior (such as prostitution)and an increase in delinquency...these acts point to a significant erosion in the ethical values and
moralsthat have been promoted in the diverseformaland informaleducative
and ideologicalinstitutionsof Cubansocialism."Throughtheir open celebration
of consumption, sexuality,and desire in narrativesdealing with jineterismo,
commercialrappersare subvertingconventionalstandardsof morality.Insome
ways, Cuban commercial rap shares affinities with Jamaican cultural forms
such as reggae and dancehall, which CarolynCooper(1995:141)argues, "represent in parta radical,undergroundconfrontationwith the patriarchalgender
ideology and the pious moralityof fundamentalistJamaicansociety."Groups
such as Orishas,by promotingstrategiesof hustlingandjineterismoas viableoptions for black youth, challenge and mock the conservativeideologies upon
which Cubanrevolutionarymoralityis based.
The gendered nature of contestationsover consumption and moralityare
particularlynotable in Cubanrap. As Gina Ulysse (1999:158)observes in her
study of Jamaicandancehall,the blackfemale body becomes a primarysite of
exhibitionand commentarywithin blackpopularculture.Forthe Cubanstate,
the female body representsthe moralpurityof the revolutionthat must be defended against consumerismas a form of spiritualdisease that is infectingthe
body politic. Inthe Orisha'ssong the jineterais objectifiedby the pimp who uses her to revengehimselfagainstthe tourist;the female bodyconstitutesa form
of what Ulysse(1999:159)refersto as "the ultimateculturalcapital."Giventhe
historicalconception of women as objects that are traded between men as a
way of constructingtheir masculinity(Rubin1975), it is not surprisingthat the
female bodywould again become a site of contestation,a means by which black
workingclass males assert their masculinityin a context where they are increasinglybeing disempowered.
Rapmusic facilitatesvaryingstrategiesof culturalresistancefor Afro-Cuban
utilizerap musicas a veyouth.Thosewho generallyidentifyas "underground"
hicle to criticizethe silencingof race issues in post-revolutionarysociety.Cuban
rapperstalkabout increasingracialinequalitiesin the specialpe"underground"
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

riod,they challengestereotypesof blacksas criminalsand delinquents,and they


talk about the repercussionsof slavery in the contemporary period. Others
who are usually identified as "commercial"draw on rap as a means of promoting alternative strategies of survivalsuch as consumerism and hustling,
thereby challengingnew regimes of labor disciplineand standardsof revolutionary morality.Both "commercial"and "underground"rappersuse rap as a
means of culturalcontestationin a periodof increasingracialinequalitiesand
declining opportunitiesfor blackyouth.

Rap Musicians and the Cuban State


Buildingon the culturalresistanceliterature,the previoussections have looked
at the opportunitiesthat black expressiveforms offer for a renegotiationof
racial politics in Cuba. But while Cuban rap may play a contestatory role in
Cubansociety,varioussectors of the movement have also been harnessed by
the Cubanstate as a way of recapturingpopularsupportin the special period.
Some recent anthropologicalaccounts have demonstratedthe ways in which
cultural politics can be drawn into hegemonic strategies by political elites.
KatherineVerdery(1991:314), in her study of Romanianintellectuals under
Ceausescu'srule,describeshow the discourseof the nation,deployed in counter-hegemonicways by intellectuals,was adopted by the socialiststate "inorder
to overcome it, incorporateit, and profitfrom its strength."FollowingVerdery,
I arguethat the discoursesand strategiesthat may provideopportunitiesfor the
voicingof a criticalresistancecan also become absorbed by dominant groups.
Thisaccountof alliancesand interpenetrationsbetween Cubanrappersand the
state also contributesto the literatureon globalization,by suggestingnew ways
of conceptualizingthe relationshipsbetween transnationaland nationalforces.
I propose that we need to theorize the ways in which transnationalpractices
such as rap may actuallyreinforcethe hegemony of postcolonialnation-states
in the contemporaryperiod.
The Cubanstate has had an ambivalent relationshipto the different tendencies of Cubanrap,as certainsectors in differentlevels of state institutions
build allegiancesto distinct networksand as those in official positions seek to
appropriatevarioustransnationalagencies towardsdifferentpoliticalends. In
the early days, state disc enterprisessuch as EGREM
chose to promote commercialsounding rap music as representativeof the movement. Accordingto
Fernandez(2000a),while the discs of the more politicallyengaged groupssuch
as Obsesi6nand PrimeraBase laygatheringdust on the shelvesof musicstores,
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Fearof a BlackNation

without airplay,the more commercialdisc of SBSwith its dance oriented salsarap mixture was heavily marketed. He argues that the SBSdisc was "much
more promoted because of its popularand commercialcharacter,because it
had nothing dangerous in its texts and it made the people dance"(Fernandez
2000a). Initially,commerciallyoriented rap was promoted by the Cubanstate
as a way of dilutingthe radicalpotentialof the genre. The global marketingof
the disc broughtin a largewave of foreign producerswho "camewith money
in hand tryingto buy Cubantalent with their low prices,suggestingthe fusion
of rap with Afro-Cubanmusic, with son, with salsa and timba" (Fernandez
2000a). The more commercialrapwas also exploited by the Cubanstate for its
revenue-earningpotential, as part of a largerpush to attractforeign funding
through Cubanmusic and arts.The promisesof money and promotion by the
foreignproducersdid cause severalCubanrapgroupsto changetheir musicand
become more commercial,or to breakup as membersdisagreedover whether
or not to "sellout."
Those rapgroupsthat did not sign deals or change their musiccontinuedto
build the Cuban hip-hop movement, through the help of producers Ariel
Fernandezand PabloHerrerawho broughtrapgroupsfromthe USand fromall
over the worldfor the festivals.Particularly
in the lastfew years,the Cubanstate
has realizedthe need to relatemoreto the "underground"
rappers,partlybecause
of the increasingappeal of their radicalmessageto largesectorsof blackyouth
in Cuba.Fernandezemphasizedto me that the state has to recognizethe rap
movement "politically,culturally,and musically,because imagine if this whole
mass of young people were in oppositionto the revolution,if all of these people
did not feel empowered by the revolution,how would they feel?"The political
leadershiphas prioritizedthe creationof a leadershipof rappersloyal to the
revolution.InJuly2001, the Ministerof Culture,AbelPrieto,held a meetingwith
leadingCubanrapgroups,where he discussedprovisionsof resourcesfor rappers,
such as studiospace,airtime,and theirown musicenterprise,and he pledgedongoing support for Cuban rap. In a personal interviewfollowing the meeting,
Prietotold me that he was impressedby the young rappers,"withthe level of
commitmentthey have to this countryand the seriousnessand rigorwith which
Whileinithey take on realproblems,at the same time rejectingcommercialism."
the
Cuban
state
to
sideline
the
tially
attempted
rappersby sup"underground"
portingthe commercialelements, the state is increasinglyrelatingto the former,
praisingthem for their rejectionof commercialism.
But the politicalleadershipdoes not only relate to the "underground"rappers because of their increasinginfluence in Cubansociety and as a way of
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

alienatingthe more commercialrappers;the Cubanstate also realizesthat it can


harnessthe energy of these rappersas a way of bolsteringthe image of Cuba
as a mixed race nation with Africanroots. Formsof Afro-Cubancultural expression have historicallybeen appropriatedby the state as a way of fostering
nationalcohesiveness,particularly
duringtimes of crisisand transformation.For
in
his
of
instance,
study afrocubanismo,a movementof Afro-Cuban
literary,musical,and artisticformsin the 1930s, RobinMoore(1997:220)describeshow performers,politicians,and intellectualsconstructedCubaas a mestizo nation,as
a way of creating ideological unity during a moment of sharp racialantagonisms. Inthe post-revolutionaryperiod,racialidentificationshave also been an
important source of national unity. De la Fuente (2001:307)argues that the
identificationof post-revolutionaryCubawith the independence strugglestaking place in Africa,the anti-apartheidmovement, and the civil rights movements of African-Americansinscribed the imagery of Africa into the
revolutionaryproject,helpingto constructinternalunity.In post-revolutionary
Cuba,race has served the additionalpurposeof being a "formidableideological weapon against the UnitedStates"and "asource of domestic and international political support"(De la Fuente 2001:18). Giventhe increasing racial
disparitiesin specialperiodCuba,and the growingcynicismamong Afro-Cubans
about the abilityof the revolutionto continue addressingtheir needs, the state
draws on expressionsof blacknessin Afro-Cubanculturalexpressionin an attempt to reconstructnational unity and to regain popularity.
The politicalleadership,alongwith mediaand culturalinstitutions,identifythe
egalitarianidealsof Cubanrapperswith callsforequalityand justicebetweennations made by Cubanleaderssuch as FidelCastroin the internationalarena. In
a speech followingthe September11thattackson the WorldTradeCenterin New
York,FidelCastroarguedthat the globaleconomic crisiswas "aconsequenceof
the resoundingand irreversiblefailureof an economicand politicalconception
imposed on the world: neoliberalismand neoliberalglobalization."8
Takinga
stance of moralauthority,Fidelclaimed that it is the path being forged by the
Cubannationthat will providea solutionto the crisis:"Thefundamentalrole has
been playedand willcontinueto be playedbythe immensehumancapitalof our
people."9Varioussocialand politicalactorsassociateCubanrapwith these ideas
of Cubaas a rebelnation,forginga morejust alternativeto neoliberalism.Forinstance, musicjournalistElenaOumanoarguedthat, "Thegovernmenthere is a
majorpowerin the restof the world,so when hip-hopis rebelling...they'rereally
rebellingagainstthe statusquo worldwide,the new worldorder...Cubaitself is
kindof the underdogand the rebel in terms of the worldscene, it'sthe last bas595

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Fear of a Black Nation

tion of Marxism,so there'smore of an allegiancebetween the governmentand


hip-hop"(cited in GlobalHitfor Friday,August27, 1999). Likewith tropes of
blackness,imagesof rebellionand resistancein Cubanrapcan also be drawninto hegemonicstrategiesby the Cubansocialiststate.
The image of Cuba as a black nation rebelling against neoliberalism is
evoked by rappersthemselves, partlybecause it is attractiveto them and partly because it can be deployed strategicallyas a way of gaining official recognition for the genre. Drawingon official representationsof the nation, Cuban
rappersconstructthe nation as black.Forinstance,in their song Pa' MisNegros
(ForMyBlacks),CienPorcientoOriginalpropose, "Letus help one another for
a nation of blacksmore sensible, for a nation of blacksmore stable."Rappers
and its conassociate the Cubannation with the condition of "underground,"
notations of politicalawarenessand rebellion. In their song uventudRebelde
(RebelliousYouth),AltoVoltajeclaim that "Likea cross I go, raisingthe 'underground' banner for the whole nation,"and in Mi Patria Caray(MyCountry,
Damn!),Explosi6nSupremastate, "Weare the Cuban'underground,'almost
without possibilities,but with the little that we have we are not dissenters."10
Rappersidentifytheir movement with statements by the political leadership
about justiceand socialismin the internationalarena.The appropriationof the
message of "underground"rappers by the Cubanstate is not only an act of
cooptation, it can also involvethe agency of local actorswho comply with official narrativesin strategicand self-consciousways.
Thisaccount of the collaborationsof Cubanrapperswith the state makes us
question some of the assumptionsof globalizationtheories,whichsuggestthat
the growthof transnationalculturalflows based on alternatesocial imaginaries
such as race lead to the increasingobsolescenceof the territorially-bounded
nation-state.ArjunAppadurai(1990:14)arguesthat globalculturalflowsconstitute
a dangerto the nation-state:the flows of ideas about democracyin Chinabecome "threatsto its own controlover ideasof nationhoodand peoplehood;"and
the lifestylesrepresentedon internationalTVin the MiddleEastand Asia"completely overwhelm and undermine the rhetoric of national politics."Gilroy
(1987:158)also suggests in somewhat essentializingterms that "theAfricandiaspora'sconsciousnessof itself has been defined in and againstconstrictingnational boundaries."Whatthese accountsof transnationalculturalforms ignore
are the potentialalliancesbetween transnationaland nationalbodies.AsAihwa
Ong(1999:15)has argued,"thereare diverseformsof interdependenciesand entanglements between transnationalphenomena and the nation-states."The
potentialfor transnationalculturalpracticesto reinforcethe hegemony of the
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Cubansocialist state lies in the attractivenessof ideologies of egalitarianism


and sovereignty in a world system marked by increasinginequalityand deWhileCuban
pendency,as engenderedby free tradeagreementssuch as NAFTA.
rappers build networkswith US rappersbased on race and marginalitythat
transcendaffiliationsof nation,they simultaneouslygeneratea critiqueof global capitalismthat allows them to collaboratewith the Cubansocialiststate.
Partlyas a resultof the appropriationof rap music by the Cubanstate, rappers have succeeded in winninggreatervisibilityin Cubansociety.Afterthe 2001
rap festival,a session of the nationallybroadcasttelevision talk show Dialoga
Abierta(OpenDialogue)featured a discussionwith several rap promotersand
Cubanartistsabout Cubanrap,showingfootage of performancesfrom the rap
festival. Duringthe 2001 Cubadiscomusic festival,attended by producersand
recordinglabels from around the world, rappersand rockmusicianswere given their own stage in Playaand the rap group Obsesi6nwas nominated for an
award. The increasingvisibilityof Cuban rap has facilitated a shift to an acceptance by politicalleadersthat racialdiscriminationexists in Cubansociety.
In my interviewwith the Ministerof Culture,he acknowledgedthat: "Weare
supportingthis movement because the message of Cubanrap profoundlyreflects our contradictions,the problemsof our society,the theme of racialdiscrimination,and it stronglyhighlightsthe dramas of marginalizedbarrios."In
contrastto earliercriticismsof rap musicfor its racialcontent, the Cubanstate
now praisesrap for addressingissues of race.
The state has also given more institutionalsupport to rap music in recent
years.Afterthe 2000 festival,GrupoUno,the somewhat independentorganization of rappers,was disbanded by AHS,so that now AHSdirectlyorganizesconcertsand activitiesrelatedto rapmusic,and co-ordinatesthe yearlyrapfestival.
Since 1998 rapgroupshave been organizedundera system of empresas,or enterprisesrelatedto music,which are run by the Ministryof Culture.Rappersbelong to fourenterprises,the BenyMoreEmpresadedicatedto popularmusic,the
IgnacioPifeiro Empresa,the AdolfoGuzmanEmpresadedicated to soloists and
singers, and the EmpresaNacionalde Espectdculo(NationalShow Enterprise)
that organizesrappersand rockmusicians.Whilethe latterthree enterprisesare
less involved in promoting rappersand do not pay a salary,the Beny Mor6
Empresais the most innovative in its promotion of rap, and pays rappersa
commission based on the numbers of performancesthey do. There are ten
groupsaffiliatedwith BenyMor6,includingObsesi6n,An6nimoConsejo,Doble
Filo,Instincto,Problema,HEL,EddyK,Papo Record,Reyesde la Calleand Alto
Voltaje.Nearlyall of these groupswere introducedto the enterprisethroughAHS,
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Fear of a BlackNation

as the enterprisesstill have little experiencewith rap music. MercedesFerrer,a


commercialspecialistat BenyMore,said that they count on AHSto makethe selection of rappersto enter the enterprise.The enterprisethen decides which
groupscan producecompactdiscs;untilthe presentonly two groups,Obsesi6n
and PrimeraBase, have releasedcompactdiscs throughthe enterprises.
But the institutionalsupport given to Cuban"underground"rappersand
the greater profilefor their demands for social justice and racialequality has
come at the cost of a part of their autonomy. FernandoJacomino,the VicePresidentof AHS,said that the function of AHSis to "createa culturaland politicalleadershipamong the rappers,who are able to pressurethe institutions
to give them supportso that they can make their concerts."Ratherthan giving
the rap movement culturaland politicalautonomy,AHSseeks to encourage a
relationshipof dependency,wherebyrappersmust appeal to state institutions
for the fundsand permissionto do theirwork.The paternalisticrelationshipthat
exists between rappersand institutionssuch as AHSwas displayedthroughthe
pedagogy of the provincialmeeting of musicians belonging to AHS,held at
the Universityof Havanapriorto the nationalmeeting projectedfor November
2001. Duringthis meeting, attended by the leadershipof AHSand about fifty
young musiciansfromdifferentgenres includingrap,rock,and nuevatrova,the
young musicianssat in a hall, while the panel of leaders sat above them on a
raisedplatform.The musiciansput forwardtheir complaintsto the leadership,
such as the need for more publicity,morefunds to producecompactdiscs,larger spaces for performance,and payment for promoters.The leadership did
not deny the validityof their claims, but encouragedthem to talk more about
these things,in effect naturalizingthe authorityof AHSas the only sourceof appeal for rappersand the consequent dependency of rapperson AHS.
"Commercial"rap has not been appropriated by the Cubanstate in the
same way as "underground"
rap,partlybecause of the abilityof the more commercialrappersto drawon outside funding,and partlydue to their celebration
of values and strategiesof consumerismand individualitythat are less easily
identifiedwith the socialiststate. But even "commercial"rappersfind certain
points of correspondenceand accommodationwith the socialiststate, particularlygiven the trajectoryof the Cubanrevolutionitself towardsa mixed-market economy based on new modes of consumption,desire, and leisure.Asthe
Cubanstate embraces marketreformsand ideologies, the strategyof jineterismo may in some ways coincidewith strategiesof the Cubanstate itself.Likethe
jinetero,who sees his or her activitiesas a way of robbingfrom wealthytourists
to support themselves and their families, the state sees tourism as a way of
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

maintainingthe socialstructuresand welfaremechanismsof the revolution,using tourist money to fund a set of institutionssuch as schools, hospitals,and
child care centers.Ona practicallevel,jineterismomay actuallybe usefulto the
state, asjineterosdirectforeignerstowardsstate touristvenues and encourage
them to spend money. Moreover,in the global marketingof Cubato attract
tourism,the Cubanstate relieson stereotypesof "tropical"
sexualityand female
promiscuityas promoted in "commercial"rap,even though these may contradict revolutionarymorality.These correspondencesbetween the commercial
sectorsand the evolvingCubanstate pointto possiblefuturealliances,especially
as these groups begin to garnergreater internationalrecognition.

The Contradictory Space of Cuban Hip-Hop


The politicsof transnationalrap networkscoincidein some wayswith the agenda of the Cubansocialiststate and the state harnessesthe oppositionalpotential of "underground"rappersto maintain its hegemony in the crisis of the
special period,but the continuedparticipationof these "underground"
rappers
in multiplenetworksof African-American
rapand the global music industryactuallyallowsthem to resistsome aspectsof state cooptation.Althoughprevious
sectionsfocused on consumerismand blacknationalismas distinctstrategiesin
Cubanhip-hop,in realitythese two strategiesoverlapin multipleways,as those
who identifyas "underground"
fuse activismwith consumeristdesire,stylewith
politics, and hard-edged critique with a celebration of black culture.
Transnationalnetworks do not map neatly onto distinct groups of rappers,
ratherthey infiltrateand constituteCubanhip-hopin waysthat preventthe reduction of rap musicto any one politicalagenda and allow rappersto define a
somewhatindependent,but collaborative,rolewithinthe Cubansocialistsystem.
Eventhough some "underground"
rappersoppose the commercialtendencies and consumeristinclinationsof groupssuch as Orishas,the "underground"
hip-hopmovementwithinCubais locatedin a contradictoryspacethat is shaped
by,even as it resists,capitalistconsumerism.The hip-hopmovement in CubareflectstrendswithinAmericanhip-hopsuch as conspicuousconsumption,and the
use of Americanclothing has also been used to make certain politicalstatements. It is undeniablethat the wearingof designerlabel clothes such as Fubu
and TommyHilfigerthat formspartof hip-hopmovement in the UShas also become incorporatedinto Cubanhip-hop.The majorityof audiences at a peia or
duringthe festivalare attired in baggy pants, sweatshirtsand baseballcaps or
stockingcaps broughtby relativesin Miamior fromtourists.Moreover,this style
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Fear of a Black Nation

is not simplyan adoptionof Americanstylesand capitalistculture,it is also a gesture of defiancethat signalsa refusalto conformto the dominantsociety.In his
workon the meaningof style in workingclasssubculturessuch as punkin postwar Britain,DickHebdige(1979:3)suggeststhat styles have a double meaning:
On the one hand, they warn the "straight"
world in advance of a sinister
presence--the presenceof difference-and drawdown upon themselves
vague suspicions,uneasy laughter,"whiteand dumb rages."On the other hand, for those who erect them into icons, who use them as words or
curses,these objects become signsof forbiddenidentity,sourcesof value.
Cubanrapaudiencesuse theirclothing,and theiradoptionof Americanslang
such as "aight"and "mothafuka"as a way of distinguishingthemselves as a
group,and of highlightingtheir identityas young, blackCubans.Theirstyle has
not gone unacknowledgedby state officialseither,who recognizethe subversive
potentialin theirform of dress.In his articlein ElHabanero,Pita(1999)derided
rappersfor wearinghats, long pantsand stockingcaps in a hot climate not suited to suchapparel.However,moreat stakethanthe matterof climacticsuitability,
were the associationsof the clothing with a culture and society forbiddento
young Cubans.Justas punksin post-warBritainused the symbolof the swastika,
not to identifywith the Naziregime,but ratherto disruptits associationsof evil
and enemy,so too youngCubansseek to breakdown exclusiveboundarieserected by a cold war climate by dressingin the attireof the "enemy."''
Some of the more blacknationalistCubanrapperswear handprintedAfrican
shirts,Dreadlocks,or natural"Afro"
hair-styles,and otherswear handcrocheted
caps, and t-shirtswith images of cannabis, Bob Marley,or Selassie,associated
with the subcultureof reggae. KobenaMercer(1990:259)describeshow in the
absence of an organizeddirectionof black politicsand excluded from official
channels of representationin the 1940s, African-Americans
announced their
black
such
as
the
conk
the
zoot
politicsthrough
styles
suit, and jive
hair-style,
talk, which "reinforcedthe terms of shared experience--blackness-and thus
a sense of solidarityamong a subaltern social bloc."Similarlyin Cuba,black
styles signifyan embracingof Africanand Afro-Diasporicidentity,an assertive
stance for rappersto take in the present climate. CarlosMoore(1988:259)reports that in the 1960s, the Cubanstate was suspicious of Afro-Cubanswho
donned Africandashikisand wore their hair in an Afro,as these were seen as
provocativeand deviant acts. The tensions between the desire of the revolutionary leadership to align with the black power movement in the US, and
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

their reservationsabout the "divisive"effects of blackculturalpolitics(Moore


1988:259)were apparentin confrontationsover style. ForCubanrappers,these
stylesare also a way of exhibitingtheir cross-nationalidentifications,whichgive
them a degree of autonomyto asserta collectivesense of blackidentityin contrastto the raciallyintegrativeprogramof the Cubanstate.12
Female rappersalso use style to projecta political message, and indicate
their individuality,presence, and identity as black women. Female rapper
Magiafrom Obsesi6nand the all-female rap group Instintoseek to projectalternative images of women through their styles. Whilewomen in salsa music
and in popularCubandance music dress with short skirts,makeup,and high
heels, Magiausuallywears a head wrap and an Africangown, or a long baggy
shirtand pants.The confident and non-sexualizedstyles of Cubanfemale rappers challenge the imageryof the scantilyclad Tropicanadancer and the ron
mulata symbol as representativeof Cubanpopularculture.
Eventhough "underground"rappersmay seek to insulate Cubanhip-hop
from the market,they are forcedto face the realityof its associationswith consumerism.Rap producer,Pablo Herrera,relatedto me that after he was interviewed by Vibemagazine,an Americanproducercame to Cubaand offeredhim
clothingby the Edgelabel. Herrerafelt conflictedover whetherto accept it, because he said that on the one hand he felt it was a symbolof multinationalcapitalism,and he recognizedthe attempt of the producerto take advantageof a
presentopening in Cubansocietyto marketthe Edgelabel in Cuba.Buton the
other hand,Herrerafeltthatthe clothingwasveryfashionable,and he addedthat
it is difficultto findgood clothingin Cuba.Networksof fashionlabelsand transnational recordcompanies,as well as culturalexchangessuch as BlackAugust,provide multiple options for Cubanrappersto draw on outside of the state, and
alleviatethe difficultyof their currentcircumstances.LikeAfrican-American
rapwho
see
pers
may
hip-hop,as well as sport,as an activitythat "embodiesdreams
of successand possibleescape fromthe ghetto"(Kelley1997:53),Cubanrappers
also see rapas an activitythatcan leadto economicprosperity,
or a wayto resolver
(solve)theircurrentproblemswithoutrecourseto the state. Inthe song Prosperard
(IWillProsper)by PapoRecord,he suggeststhatthe currentpovertyof Cubanrapperswill eventuallybe rewardedby materialsuccess:
TodayI singin a smallconcert,
Hoyte cantoen unapefla,mafana
tomorrowI'lltravelaroundthe country, doyunagira,
and the dayaftertomorrowIwant
pasadoquieroviajar.
to travelabroad.
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Fear of a BlackNation

Todaysome hundredsfora song,


tomorrowsomethousandsfora disc.

Hoyunoscientosporun tema,manana
unosmilesporundisco.

In Cubaof the special period where foreign travel is an impossibilityfor


many,and rappersbarelyreceivea subsistenceincome, rap music providesthe
fantasy of wealth and stability.It is undeniable that materialisticdesires that
have shaped the movement in the west also informthe movement in Cuba.A
rangeof diverse,often contradictory,practicesconstitutefallbackoptions in a
period of uncertainty.Inthe song ElBarco,LosPaisanospoint to the dire situation of rap musiciansin Cuba:
enesta
de rapCubano
Lasituacidn
Thesituationof Cubanrapinthisera
eranoprospera,
doesnotprosper,
the moneythatmyimagination
miimaginaci6n
produces el dineroqueproducen
no haceestanciaen mibilletera.
in mywallet.
doesnotmaterialize
Rappersare not convincedthat if they join the AHSand workthroughthe enterprise system that they will be able to make a career as a rapper.Working
throughAHSmay be the only way for rappersto practicallyorganizetheir concerts and get paid for their work.Yetthe young, marginalizedrapperhas a vision of largerfame and glory beyond state institutions.
The fantasyof wealth as representedby Americancommercialrap music is
not a realisticstrategyfor survivalas are hustlingorjineterismo.FewCubanrappersare likelyto amass largefortunesthroughtheir music.Valdes(2002)argues
that as hip-hopin the UShas become big business,contractslook more likeloan
agreements,as expenses that used to be paid by the label are being passed on
to the artist.Ifartistsdo not sell largenumbersof discsand constantlytour,they
will never make enough money to keep the lavishlifestylesthat are represented in the hip-hop videos. EvenOrishassuggest that in their encounters with
transnationalrecordlabel EMIthey are little more than workers:"Thereis a labor necessity because there is a company that has invested in you, you are a
worker.You have to extractthe maximumfrom yourself because this is going
to have repercussionsfor yourfuture"(citedin Fernandez2000b:7).Incontrast
to the notions of Cubanrappersthat through rap music they can make lots of
money and tour the world, Orishassuggest that commercial fame does not
guaranteewealth and even artistswho have been able to create top-sellingalbums have a constant pressureto sell more. The pressureto sell and perform
is a new element for Cubanartists,most of whom are accustomedto operating
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SUJATHAFERNANDES

within a systemwhere appealingto a mass audience is less importantthan politicalconnections, and "whoyou know."
But while fantasies of wealth and prosperitydo not constitute realisticoptions for young Cubans,they are part of the process by which diverse logics
come to flourishagainstthe homogenizingvisionsof a singularsocialistutopia.
In a period of economic uncertaintyand stagnation, Cuban rappersdevise
multiple strategies by which to revitalizeutopian promisesand expresstheir
needs and desires.The focus on consumerismas a new vehicle for blackyouth
to define and expresstheir individualityby theoristsof culturalresistancesuch
as ManthiaDiawara(1998:273) may be applicable even in contexts such as
Cuba,where neoliberal globalization produces new possibilitiesat the same
time as it closes older options. Butthe assumption by Diawaraand other theorists of global hip-hop that consumerism is the new activism,and the most
transportableglobal element, misrepresentsthe diversityof hip-hop movements outside of the US.In contrastto Diawara's(1998:276)claim that "Black
nationalists,especially,have seen their values labeled archaicby the transnational hip-hopculture,"I have shown that young Cubansare stronglyattracted
by the black nationalistpoliticsof African-American
rap.
Cubanrappersare able to combine a politicsof race,style,consumerism,nationalism,and anti-capitalisminto a multi-facetedmovementthat reinforceslocal and global forms of power,while also providinga voice of resistance.Even
though "underground"rap may be drawn into hegemonic strategies by the
Cubanstate, the participationof these rappers in transnationalnetworkssiof dismultaneouslygivesthem the opportunityto resistthe institutionalization
sent that has occurredwith other culturalforms.The appropriationof clothing
styles,whether Americandesigner,Afrocentric,or Rastafarian;the adoption of
Americanslang;as well as the fantasyand realityof foreigntravel,culturalexchanges, and contractswith foreign labels allow rappersto carve out a somewhat autonomous role for hip-hop, even as they operate partlyfrom within
state institutions.The very transnationalnatureof forms such as hip-hop provides a means of pluralizingthe movementin Cubaand sustainingmultipleand
diversevoices and strategieswithin the context of the Cubansocialistsystem.

Conclusion
Througha study of the complex and often contradictorynature of the relationship between Cubanrappers,the Cubansocialiststate, and transnational
networks,I have come up with three main conclusions.The first is that Afro603

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Fearof a BlackNation

Cubanyouth appropriaterap music in order to make their criticismsof the


Cubanstate, highlightissues of racialdiscriminationand social justice, develop alternativestrategiesfor economic survival,and explore avenues of pleasure and desire. A second conclusionof this essay is that the socialiststate has
been able to harnessthe creativeenergy and visions of Cuban"underground"
rappersas a way of maintainingits hegemony in a period of increasingsocial
disunity and economic instability.The third consists of my observation that
despite the incorporationof Cubanrap musiciansinto state institutions,their
continuing participationin transnationalnetworksof both African-American
"underground"rap and transnationalrecordcompanies avails rappersof alternativeoptions and possibilitiesthat preventtheir wholesale co-optationby
the state.
The interdependenciesbetween rappersand the Cubansocialiststate that
I have demonstratedin this essay challenge some of the assumptionsof globalization theory. Theoristsof globalizationassert that we are witnessing the
emergence of a new "postnationalorder,"whereby the globalizationof commerce and the growthof cross-nationalsolidaritiesbased on race and ethnicity,has led to a gradualunderminingof nationalsovereignty(Appadurai1990,
1996; Bhabha 1990; Gilroy1987). Yet in Cuba,the extension of transnational
culturalflows and the evolving parallelsolidaritiesbased on race and marginality have been harnessedby the socialiststate to bolsterits own positionin the
contemporaryperiod. Myaccount of Cubanrap can help us appreciate how
transnationalculturalflows may be appropriatedby and/or identifiedwith the
nation-statein variousways.
This study also presents new insights for ethnographers of cultural resistance, who have tended towards what LilaAbu-Lughod(1991) calls "romanticizing resistance,"by readingall forms of culturalcontestation as a challenge
to systems of power (Scott1985, de Certeau1984). By upholdingconsumerism
as a new strategy of cultural resistance in a moment of globalization, immigration, and new technologies of information,theorists of black popularculture also fall into this problem of romanticizing resistance (Gilroy1996,
Diawara1998). Althoughthe literatureon cultural resistance has opened up
new ways of conceptualizing black political activism in a markedlychanged
environment to the civil rightsera, there is a need to theorize the contradictions of cultural resistance.Thisstudy of Cubanrap suggests how culturalresistance plays into old and new modalitiesof power,as it assertsradicallynew
ways of being.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The materialin this essayis basedon ethnographicfield researchcarriedout overa totalof


nine months in Havana,Cubabetween 1999 and 2002, as well as a pre-fieldwork
visit of
three months in 1998. Myinitialfieldworkin Cubawas supportedby a summerresearch
grantfromthe Centerfor LatinAmericanStudiesat the Universityof Chicagoand the main
stint of researchwas supportedby a SocialSciencesResearchCouncil(SSRC)
Dissertation
Fellowshipon the Artsand SocialSciences.Earlierversionsof this essaywere presentedat
the "Locationsof Africain the BlackAtlantic"conference, hosted by the Anthropology
Departmentat the Universityof Chicagoand at a joint CaribbeanStudiesWorkshopand
forthe Anthropology
of LatinAmericaat the University
of Chicago.Ithankthe orWorkshop
ganizersand the audiencesof those seminarsfortheir usefulcomments.I thankalso John
Beverley,YasminA. Dawood,KenyaDworkin,SusanneRudolph,PriyaSrinivasan,Susan
Stokes,LisaWedeen,and the threeanonymousreviewersat AQfortheirinvaluablefeedback
and adviceon variousdrafts.
ENDNOTES

*Portionsof this articleare taken from anotherpiece of mine entitled, "IslandParadise,


RevolutionaryUtopiaor Hustler'sHaven:Consumerismand Socialismin Contemporary
CubanRap,"forthcominginJournalof LatinAmericanCulturalStudies.
1Thecollapseof the SovietUnionin 1989 promptedthe Cubanstateto declarea "specialperiod in times of peace"in September1990, in an attemptto rebuildthe Cubaneconomy
through policies promotingself-sufficiencyin food, the reintroductionof wide-scalerationing, the earningof hardcurrencythroughtourism,and the re-entryof Cubainto a
globaleconomy.
2While"conscious"
raprefersto sociallyawarerapmusicianswho generallyadopta blacknationalist politics,"underground"
refersto a certainstyle that is usuallyadopted by consciousrappers.In"underground"
rap,certainrappersforman allegianceto each otherand
the movementas a whole in an effortto keeptheirform pureand untaintedby commercialdictates,or even by mixturewithothermusicalforms.Inthe US,"underground"
rappers
do not alwaysidentifyas "conscious,"
but in Cuba,rapperswho adoptthe Englishword"underground"generallyuse it to define both a politicalorientationand a musicalstyle.
3Hip-hopis a movementthat includesbreakdancing,
graffitiwriting,djayingand the verbal
componentknownas rapping.Djayingand graffitiwritinghave been difficultin Cubabecause of the lackof turntables,records,spraycans, and the other resourcesnecessaryfor
these practices,althoughsome Cubandjayshavemanagedto improvisewithcassettes.But
breakdancingand rappingbecame muchmore popularin the contextof Cuba.
4These includeCubanfolkpracticessuchas rumba,a musicalformthatcombinesstorytelling
and chantingwith drummingand dance;and repentistas,singersin a traditionalfolk art
where participantsrhymefast usingspokenlyricsto deridetheiropponent.
5Thisis especiallyglaringin the case of Australiawherea vibrantAboriginalhip-hopculture
that drawsconsistentlyon tropesof blacknessfromAmericanhip-hopgets shortshrift.
6Duringfield researchtripsin Cuba,I collectedandtranscribedthe rapsongsused in thisessay: in some cases groupsgave me their lyricsdirectly,and in other cases I transcribed
songs recordedfrom live performancesor compactdiscs,usuallywiththe assistanceof the
rappersthemselves.I translatedthe lyricsmyself,with some help from HildaTorresand
KenyaDworkin.
has evolvedfroma spontaneousactivityinto an organizedsystem,dividedin7Jineterismo
to establishedzones, with puntos(pointof contact)who buy off the police in orderto establishtheirterritory(Elinson1999:5).However,it is stilla fairlyundefinedactivitythatcan
includeromancesbetweenCubansand tourists.
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Fear of a BlackNation

8Televisedpresentationby Commanderin ChiefFidelCastroRuz,Presidentof the Republic


of Cuba,on the presentinternationalsituation,the economicandworldcrisisand its impact
on Cuba,Havana,November2, 2001.
91bid.
10Herethey use the word"gusano,"literally'worm,'which is the term given by the Cuban
state to those who have dissentedopenly to the Cubanrevolution,and who have left the
countryfor placessuch as Miami.
in the USalso drawon associationswiththe enemyas a wayof talkingbackto the
11Rappers
state.Duringthe 1991GulfWar,AmericanrapperParisclaimedin one of hissongsthat,"Iraq
nevercalled me 'nigger."'
12Scholars
haveaddressedthe contradictory
relationshipbetweenAmericanblacknationalistsand the revolutionary
governmentin Cuba(Moore1988, De la Fuente2001).Theseauthorspointout thatalthoughFidelCastroandotherleaderssoughtto buildallianceswiththe
black power movement in the US, the racializeddiscourse of leaders such as Stokely
Carmichael
who spokeof a "whitepowerstructure"
was aliento the Cubanpoliticalleadership, many of whom themselveswere "white"Cubans(Moore1988:261).Althoughthese
tensionshavenot emergedstronglyin the interactions
betweenAfrican-American
rappersand
the Cubanstate,the culturalnationalismof Cubanrappers,developedthroughparticipation
in cross-national
networkswithAfrican-American
rappers,meetswithsome officialresistance.
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