Discovering Cubano Hip Hop

What moved me is on their debut album, they open with a benedicion... a mojuba. An old santero chants his praises for the Orishas in turn. Once he's done, such a blend of music occurs that it's hard to be distracted by the fact that I have very little idea what these dudes are singing about... I'm too busy boogying.

 

Last Friday as I was riding the bullet (the fast train) to work, I was flipping through a copy of the Metro, the free newspaper distributed at all the train stations in London.

In the entertainment pages was a spread on this Cuban rap group called Orishas.

Of course, I read every word of the article, absorbed by the review/preview; they were performing in London this weekend. I am now seriously disappointed that I didn’t know in advance, since I have rampaged through the iTunes Music Store, and now find myself enthralled with this unique music.

In the Metro article they’re described as:

“And so the disparate sounds of these separate cultures, in these alchemists’ hands, turn into something that sounds natural and organic, something that works in front of Latino, hip hop, pop or rock audiences and that serves as a vehicle for their pointed social commentaries.”

I have kind of backward engineered my now passionate attraction to this music. I read about their London gig in the Metro, then as I was searching the iTunes music store (and Kazaa) for Orisha music, their stuff just started coming up. So after two days of buying and downloadings, I have fallen in love with their sound, their flow, their musicality.

The four-man group started in the late-90s, by two young Cubans, Ruzzo and Youtel. They moved from the island to Paris, in a rapper exchange programme and once they grew to their current configuration, released A Lo Cubano, in 2000.

What moved me is on their debut album, they open with a benedicion… a mojuba. An old santero chants his praises for the Orishas in turn. Once he’s done, such a blend of music occurs that it’s hard to be distracted by the fact that I have very little idea what these dudes are singing about… I’m too busy boogying.

It doesn’t matter. Often enough in listening, I hear the names of the Orishas called out, and it is enough to make me realize that these cats are singing about my faith; ‘representing’ our culture as West Indians, as Orisha devotees and certainly as lovers of music.

The only other album I could find, Emigrante, is equally as brilliant. They’ve released a new album El Kilo, but it’s not available for download yet, only as a hard copy (which is still too expensive most of the time).

Solid percussion and full throated singing features as much as rapping and scratching, and the flow is impeccable. There is a true base Cuban son and merengue base built upon with hip hop back beats, beutiful melodies and a real mix of grittiness and silkiness… it’s a fascinating blend. The music is sophisticated, while blending African rhythms in with a very modern hip hop sensibility.

This is dance music, true, but I think if I spoke more Spanish I would get more from the experience. I understand that the group is heavily influenced by Santeria–obviously from their name–and would love to see if this contemporary yet traditional sound evokes the traditions I and millions of others hold so close to my soul.

As an young Orisha devotee, finding music that reflects my political, spiritual and emotional ideals is rare. I can pick out words here and there, but I wish I understood more.

As it is, this is the kind of music that grows on you, and gets better and better with repeated listening. This might be a nudge I need to go do a Spanish course.

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