The recent death of Cuban leader and revolutionary, Fidel Castro found director, Muhammida El Muhajir reflecting on the time she spent in Havana in February 1999 to explore the hip hop scene for her then work-in-progress documentary, Hip Hop: The New World Order. Out of the 8 countries featured in the doc, Cuba was the second country after a 2 month stint in Tokyo.
“The Cuban hip hop scene was such a dire contrast to what I had experienced in Tokyo only a few months prior. In Tokyo, there were slick nightclubs called “Harlem” and Japanese kids who spent thousands of dollars to tan their skin dark brown or chemically texturize their hair to create kinks. In Havana, I hung out in the barrio, in Alamar, Havana’s version of the projects. There was no money to be made from hip hop. At best you could win a trophy at the annual state run Hip Hop festival. In Japan there was all of the equipment used to create hip hop since it was manufactured there. In Cuba, there was little to no equipment and MCs were still rapping to bootleg US hip hop instrumentals on cassette tapes,” recalls El Muhajir.
During her time in Havana, El Muhajir met with Cuban producers, MCs, DJs, activists, and exiled US political prisoners.”What struck me the most was that I didn’t meet one solo artist. Every MC was in a group. If not a duo or a trio then some massive Wu-Tang like collective. I’m sure this was a direct influence of communist idealogy which valued the “WE” over the “I”,” adds El Muhajir who after years of shelving the archival project, finally released the doc in 2013 featuring the emerging scenes in Tokyo, Havana, London, Paris, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rio de Janiero, Johannesburg, and Capetown.
“In Cuba, the government understood the power of hip hop as a tool for youth empowerment and resistance and as result were heavily involved in the art at a grassroots and community level.”
Global hip hop heavyweights including Zeebra (Japan), Roots Manuva (UK), Oxmo Puccino (France), Marcelo D2 (Brazil) appear alongside Method Man, dead prez (filmed in Johannesburg) and Questlove (The Roots) (filmed in Tokyo, Japan) sharing their distinct views and experience with hip hop around the world.
Want to learn more about hip hop in Cuba (and many other interesting cities) at the turn of the 21st century? Watch Hip Hop: The New World Order $4.99
Hip Hop: The New World Order has been screened at many arts and educational institutions around the world including:
University of Pennsylvania
Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University
Goethe Institut (Lagos & Accra)
Goldsmiths, University of London
University of California, Berkeley
Ritzy Cinema, London
Mama Shelter Hotel, Paris
Black Star Film Festival
Harvard Black Arts Festival
The New School
Order a copy of Hip Hop: The New World Order for your school or organization, visit: hiphopisglobal.com
Reflecting on the rise and fall of hip hop on Castro’s Cuba was originally published on atlantadailyworld.com