- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

From combined dispatches

HAVANA Young Cubans whistled and jeered at police last week during a rap concert, a product of a cultural movement that has grown explosively in the economically run-down communist-ruled island.

"Police, police, you are not my friend," 18-year-old Humberto Cabrera, a soloist also known as Papa Humbertico, sang as the eighth annual rap festival got under way Thursday night. "For Cuban youth, you are the worst nightmare you are the criminal I detest you."

The Cuban duo Alto Voltaje High Voltage also sang out against the police and spoke of the boredom among Cuban youth.

"I'm tired of the routine," sang Alexander Perez and Norlan Leygonier, both 25. "How long is this going to last?"

They told the crowd that on their way to the concert they were stopped by police and asked to provide identification a process that they said Cuban youth experience almost daily.

"We sing about what is happening. We sing from the heart," Papa Humbertico told reporters after the opening concert. As he belted out songs against racial discrimination and police harassment, the open-air theater in Alamar, packed with several thousand youths, resonated with catcalls.

At the concert opening Habana Hip Hop 2002, rappers also voiced their frustration with government corruption and the economic hardships that force some Cuban girls into prostitution for foreign tourists.

The island's rap movement emerged in the economic crisis after the collapse of Cuba's ally, the Soviet Union, about a decade ago as mainly black youths adopted the aggressive lyrics and stances of inner-city rappers in the United States.

Economic reforms have led to growing social differences between Cubans who have access to dollars and those who do not, and many young Cubans feel they don't have a future.

The ruling Communist Party at first censored rap music but then sought to assimilate it by allowing rap on radio and television, and organizing the annual festival. Rap's popularity has exploded in recent years to include as many as 500 groups across the island.

Many originated in Alamar, a city of 300,000 mostly Afro-Cubans who live on the outskirts of Havana in concrete high rises built for Soviet workers and technicians in the 1970s.

Cuban rap has become an international hit in the past two years. The Alamar-born group Orishas, named for the Yoruba deities venerated on this Caribbean island since Africans were brought as slaves centuries ago, has had considerable success in France.

Cuban rappers say their music has spread fast because young blacks identify with the lyrics of frustration of a generation that has not seen the benefits of the socialist revolution led by President Fidel Castro, in power since 1959.

But they maintain that their critical music is aimed at gaining space for black culture and improving social conditions within the Cuban revolution.

Cuban rap songs include anti-American lyrics, such as protests against the U.S. Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for bombing exercises and against the four-decade-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.

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