Miami & Havana & Hip-Hop

Bring together musicians from both sides of the Florida Straits, let them mix it up, and watch what happens

The next morning they meet Boone at the airport. Saenz is there to bid farewell. No one hassles him this time as he hugs the Americans and asks them if they could send him some instrumental tracks by the Sugarhill Gang.

"I think [Doble Filo] was really hoping I'd have turntables and that I'd do some scratching and cutting with their band," Yeomanson reflects later. "But it's impossible to bring all that equipment if you're not going to play in a government recreation center or something.

"I thought it was really interesting how the government in Cuba is aware of the power of hip-hop music," he adds. "They're also trying to somehow harness it. Seeing a government being so involved in musicians' lives was very different for me. But it seems like things will happen naturally with hip-hop in Cuba. I really think that once a guy like Edgar starts making his own beats is when things are going to evolve."

Judy Cantor
Havana garage scene (clockwise from top left): Doble Filo (Edgar Gonzalez and Irak Saenz) shout out for Cuba; Le Spam at the controls; Sammy Figueroa with his borrowed congas; and DJ Le Spam (Andrew Yeomanson) jams with saxophonist Carlos Averhoff, Jr.
photos by david navas
Havana garage scene (clockwise from top left): Doble Filo (Edgar Gonzalez and Irak Saenz) shout out for Cuba; Le Spam at the controls; Sammy Figueroa with his borrowed congas; and DJ Le Spam (Andrew Yeomanson) jams with saxophonist Carlos Averhoff, Jr.

Yeomanson hopes to make a return trip to Havana; he'd like to spend some time recording street sounds to use in his DJ mix. Meanwhile he and Figueroa should meet up with Doble Filo again in May, when they come to Miami for their two-week residency sponsored by the Miami Light Project. Doble Filo might drop in at the Spam Allstars' Thursday-night gig at Hoy Como Ayer, and the musicians will have a chance to play together again at the Miami Hip-Hop Exchange event.

"What I expect is an encounter between cultures," says Boone, who notes she has no specific vision for the outcome of the relationship between the Cuban and American musicians that she instigated in Havana. But the May encounter depends on actually getting the Cubans here. That is the challenge Boone is now facing.

New security regulations imposed by the U.S. State Department since 9/11 have made visa approval more time-consuming and unpredictable. Many American arts presenters have had to cancel scheduled shows by foreign artists as a result of visa snafus. The flood of musicians that had been coming to the U.S. from Cuba in the late Nineties has now slowed to a trickle, but Boone remains optimistic.

Although Miami Light previously brought to Miami the acoustic son group Los Fakires and the Afro-Cuban folkloric troupe Muñequitos de Matanzas, she expects this event could have more impact. "That music was from the past; it's not threatening. The rappers are the voice of contemporary Cuba and I think they have something very interesting to say. They have really embraced the idea of social revolution.

"The artists in Miami are intrigued by Cuba because they're always hearing so much about it," she adds. "The artists in Cuba are interested in what's going on in Miami because they've been so isolated. These Cubans will know what our culture looks like firsthand instead of through videos."

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