"I'm still keeping it real/I shit on your Cuban disco/And with the shit that's left/I throw it all at your system... I've got four years of rhymes/And I've got 100 songs/And of all of those/90 talk about the terror that you've caused." — Los Aldeanos, "Veneno," 2007
In the face of Cuba's pathetic, failed socialist experiment is a new revolution, a cultural one, led by the youth of the island. It's nonviolent, it's artistic, and a rap group called Los Aldeanos (the People) stands at the forefront. The collective is virulently anti-government and explicitly anti-Fidel, according to filmmaker Alejandro "Iskander" Moya, who has worked to document the rise of this phenomenon.
"Right now, this is the biggest thing happening in Cuba," Iskander says. "These prolific young composers are mobilizing the youth and changing the national consciousness. Nobody knows what the outcome will be. What's important now is that the people are participating."
Kids across Cuba listen to Los Aldeanos even though the music gets no airtime. The global community watches the crew's videos, but there's no television coverage. Clandestine concerts are held in government-owned venues, but without the state's permission.
Iskander says the band's live experience is so revered that "people wait outside the concert just to hear [what happened] from the people who were inside." And he attributes the viral reach of Los Aldeanos' output to Cuba's "alternative Internet," a hand-to-hand network of secretly exchanged digital media. Loaded on USB jump drives and passed from one person to another and so on, the material eventually finds its way online to the great astonishment of the web's worldwide audience.
Local South Florida artist Arthur Baute, whose father was a political prisoner in Cuba for 12 years, recently heard Los Aldeanos for the first time. "I thought that Cuba was just an island of zombies who were completely brainwashed. I lost hope for the people," he says. "And Americans think that it's not that bad over there, that it's some sort of paradise. To see and hear the people speak out like that ignites a fire that was put out long ago. To see the youth have that level of rebellion against the system is amazing."
So perhaps the only thing some Miami Cubans need to jolt them out of political apathy is the shocking truth of a starving people. And the spark of conviction triggered by Los Aldeanos' musical dissent is undoubtedly real. But the crew doesn't use its influence irresponsibly. Instead, the band promotes a certain kind of peaceful protest, filtering its vitriol through hip-hop's universal language in order to creatively express dissatisfaction with an outmoded Cuba.
"This is the national reality. It's not fabricated by the media," Iskander explains. "It's authentically the youth and their almost-religious devotion to the movement. It is an organization that is happening without a system, and the network that is being established transcends the geography of Cuba.
"In concert, the act is so profound that you don't even know the difference between the artist and the crowd," Moya continues. "Miami is the most important place they can play. If in Cuba they cannot play for the Cuban people, then in Miami they can."
Sexton Garcia provided additional reporting.