Cuban hip-hop culture comes to Michigan

Oct 5, 2011

The Cuban hip-hop group Obsesion is in Ann Arbor this week.

Alexey Rodriguez Mola and Magia Lopez Cabrera mix African and Cuban rhythms with hip-hop and world beats. They will perform on Thursday, October 6 at the Michigan League Underground.

Here’s a song titled Tu con tu ballet from their current album “El Disco Negro de Obsesion."

Rapper Magia Lopez says her Afro-Cuban culture is what inspires her.

“The hip-hop culture is very much rooted in the 'barrios,' and in Cuba the majority of people are black, although we have mixed races, so we talk a lot about race issues, what we see and our reality as Afro-Cubans," says Lopez.

Husband and music producer Alexey says he speaks to Cuba's youth.

"We talk about difficult issues, but through our music we also try to reach out to young people and we try to bring up some alternatives to the negative stuff in the world,” says Alexey.

Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan Ruth Behar says they brought the artists to Michigan as an act of grassroots diplomacy. It comes at a time when no one really knows when the U.S. will open its half century embargo with Cuba.

This year, six of Behar’s students spent a semester in Havana as part of a study abroad program called “Cuba in the 21th Century.” Amara Lopez says after meeting Alexey and Magia, she and fellow students knew they wanted to bring the hip-hip couple to Michigan.

On Wednesday, October 5, there will be a screening of the film, “Cuban HipHop: Desde el Principo.” Filmmaker Vanessa Diaz worked on the film between 2001 and 2005.

Obsesion is featured in the film which explores the beginning of the hip-hop movement in Cuba since the 1990's. Diaz says hip-hop artists have opened a space for conversations about Cuba's future.

“In terms of Cuban society they're talking about people who are Magia and Alexey’s age, who didn’t actually live through the revolution, but who have reaped certain benefits from it, in terms of education and things like that, but still have their own set of issues with the system," says Diaz.

"There are people who really believe in the revolution and there are people who don’t," he says. "So hip-hop really does present this space where they’re bringing up issues they are really unhappy with and it creates a conversation from there."

The UM Center for World Performance Studies has more information.

Events:

October 5: Film viewing of “Cuban HipHop: Desde el Principio” followed by a panel discussion with Director Vanessa Diaz, Obsesion and Professor Ruth Behar. Angell Auditorium B, at 6:30 pm.

October 6: Obsesion performance at the Michigan League Underground, at 7:30 pm.