Furthering the media frenzy following Jay-Z and Beyonce’s recent People-to-People cultural exchange to Cuba, a conversation has sprung up about travel to Cuba, through recorded and remixed lyrical songs.
Jay-Z started off with the first track “Open Letter.” In this freestyle rap, Jay-Z responds to some of the criticisms of the trip: “politicians never did sh-t for me/except lie to me, distort history.” In regards to the “legality” of traveling to Cuba he responds: “wanna give me jail time and a fine/Fine, let me commit a real crime.” Artist Common later contributed to a remix of the Jay-Z track, speaking to the political nature of discussion about Cuba, calling Cuba “a political triangle, Bermuda” and again states “it’s so political, I don’t trust figures.”
Cuban American artist Pitbull also crafted a response. While professing many sentiments common to the Miami anti-Castro establishment, such as hoping for a “free” Cuba, Pitbull also states: “I ain’t here to hold a grudge,” and tells Jay-Z and Beyonce not to worry about the trip, saying “it’s on me.”
Importantly, Havana born Cuban artists Danay Suarez and Kokino also responded, speaking to their experiences as Cubans who have grown up on the island. Danay paints the Cuba she knows in complex terms where Cubans are “victimas de una libertad incompleta/victims of an incomplete liberty” and there are “millones de profesionales sin gloria/millions of professionals without glory.” She also sings that Havana is a very special place, “hay pocos sitios como la habana, si se contacta directo con las personas/there are few places like Havana, if you make direct contact with the people,” and is “mi lugar preferido/my favorite place.”
Kokino takes on a fairly aggressive stance, criticizing Pitbull and by extension the Miami establishment, claiming “tu no has hecho nada para los cubanos/you haven’t done anything for Cubans.” He also expresses the sentiment that to understand Cuba, one must live the experience: “hay que estar presente/vivir donde vivimos/estar en la caliente/con apagones, con mas dolores,” translated as “one has to be present/live where we live/be in the heat/with the blackouts, with the pain.” While acknowledging hardships in Cuba, Kokino expresses his own style of patriotism as well, saying “yo vine a comerme yuma/el yuma no me va a comer a mi,” translated as “I came to eat the U.S./the U.S. is not going to eat me.”
While the artists have different backgrounds and perspectives in regards to Cuba, common themes emerge. First, none of the artists, including the more conservative Pitbull, question the validity of traveling to Cuba or see it as an act that should be illegal as Miami hardliners would like to maintain. They also acknowledge the role of politics in distorting U.S.- Cuba relations and in influencing representations of Cuba in the U.S. media. The diverse voices and opinions of these artists help us continue a real dialogue about Cuba, one that isn’t bound only to the view points of Miami lawmakers with hardline views. It’s up to all of us to make sure that our voices are heard to demand saner, more just foreign policy towards Cuba.
Help us tell Beyonce, Jay-Z, and others with influence to join us, the people, in asking President Obama to end the embargo, lift the travel ban, and get Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.