In 2001 I attended a series of forums on rap music held in Cojimar.
From week toweek the meetings grew largerand more contentious
until the floor space in the small apartment was completely occu-
pied and people were shouting over one another’s head.When I re-
turned to Cuba a year later, I learned that the meetings had been
closed down by the state, and nothing more was said about them.
But concurrent with the closure of these informal meetings were
new forums on rap organized by the state-managed Casas de la
Cultura. I attended one of these meetings in Central Havana. The
audience was much larger than the ones I joined at the informal
meetings—there were close to seventy people in the room—and
though discussions about race and marginality had become more
developed and more radical.
At Cojimar the older Afro-Cubans expressed quite moderate
views on race and the young people deferred to them. Here when
the older people said that if blacks were held back, it was be-
cause they lacked ambition, and that we all ought to recognize our
common humanity rather than focus on race, the younger rappers
openly challenged them. Marginality was a very real condition that
limited people’s opportunities, they insisted, and any discussion
of race should begin from that point. A series of rappers stood up
in front of the group and delivered five- to ten-minute speeches,
which met with strong applause and cheering. Sekuo Umoja of
Anónimo Consejo gave a particularly rousing address, combining
black nationalist sentiment with appeals for rappers to be recog-
nized as an important political voice. It’s important to recognize
what it means to be black, Sekuo said: it means to be from Africa. If
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