11 May 2015

How music is shaping new dawn for socialist Cuba

It is almost impossible to separate Cuba from its music. Songs of all genres are woven into the fabric of both the myth and reality of the socialist island, writes Channel 4 News Producer Thom Walker.

At night, locals and holiday makers alike congregate on Havana’s iconic sea front. The sound of the waves is inevitably infused with someone somewhere, playing something.

Step away from the clichés however, and Cuban music is much more than a saccharine romance dished out to easily influenced tourists.

We wanted to see for ourselves.

Soon we found ourselves in a small government-run youth club in Havana, watching two female rappers, La Reyna and La Real perform. They were dynamic, oozed star quality, and the crowd loved them.

Over the next few days, we spent time filming with Reyna (La Reyna) and Yadira (La Real) as we got to know Cuba through their eyes.

They took us out to listen to their fellow rappers. One by one, they all took to the stage, taking eachother on in rap battles, whooping in support, and just like anywhere else, recording it all on their mobile phones.

This felt like a new generation of Cuban artists; proud, distinctive and with a voice they were not prepared to keep quiet.

“There are lots of strong young people. Every period has its revolutionaries, and the new ones have just arrived,” Yadira told us.

But this is not about fighting the Cuban regime. They were proud of their country and its gains, and wanted to be part of its future.

As US-Cuban relations start to come in from the cold, there was a strong sense of hope that positive change was coming.

At Reyna’s house, her seven year old son, Michel played Super Mario on a Nintendo machine I hadn’t seen for 25 years. “

This machine is as old as I am,” she chuckled.

Despite its achievements in universal healthcare, and education to name two, life in Cuba has still been a struggle for many years.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union who had long supported Havana, the money dried up, and the US trade blockade took its toll. Everyone got used to resolviendo, “finding a way.”

One evening, ten of us crowded around Reyna’s kitchen table for dinner for a meal of state-rationed pasta and friend plantains.

“They’ve done some brilliant things,” her mother Maria told us, referring to the government, “but it’s not been easy.”

Young Cuba however, is hopeful.

As Reyna put it to us, “right now, Cuba is anxiously moving forward, and so are we.”