Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative - ISSN 1780-678X
Lyrical Subversion in Cuban Reggae
Author: Samuel Furé Davis
Abstract (E): When several specialists express conservative opinions in using the term “Cuban reggae” as a solid genre, this essay is conceived as an approach to the social processes that catalyze the consolidation of a musical style --reggae-- in a given space – Cuba. My main argument is to emphasize that reggae was born in Cuba under the same conditions of marginalization and subordination that still today make it a lyrically subversive cultural tendency. It is necessary to note, however, that there is more than one type of reggae. I mainly focus on what is more universally identified as “roots” reggae without disregarding the interesting fusions of the Spanish Caribbean influences with Cuba's musical mainstream, which gave way to the so called reggaetón style. In characterizing “subversion” in a thematic analysis, the paper is based on a more cultural meaning in the mere political connotation of this word.
Abstract (F): Alors que plusieurs spécialistes semblent reculer devant l'emploi du terme de « reggae cubain » pour nommer un genre bien déterminé, le présent article cherche à étudier les processus sociaux qui accompagnent la consolidation d'un style musical donné, en l'occurrence le reggae, dans un contexte donné, en l'occurrence Cuba. Je tenterai surtout de démontrer que le reggae a émergé à Cuba dans les mêmes conditions de marginalisation et d'assujettissement qui expliquent aujourd'hui son caractère musicalement subversif. Il faut noter toutefois qu'il existe plusieurs type de reggae. Dans cet article je me concentre sur la variante « roots », sans pour autant négliger les mélanges intéressants entre influences hispaniques des Caraïbes et musique cubaine « mainstream », qui ont créé le reggaetón. Le fait de parler de subversion dans une analyse thématique, reflète le désir de cet article de mettre en avant les significations culturelles, et non pas seulement politiques, du terme de « subversion ».
keywords: reggae, reggaetón, Cuba, subversion
Yo puedo cantar lo que quieras que cante/ I can sing what you want me to sing
Yo puedo decir lo que quieras oír/ I can tell you what you want me to tell
Soy yo el que no quiero, no debo y me niego/ It's me who doesn't want to, I shouldn't and I refuse to
Porque eso es un juego y yo no vengo a jugar. / Because that's a game and I am not here to play
(Reggae no viene a jugar.)/ ( Reggae is not here to play.)
Felipe Cárdenas (lead singer in Remanente band)
From the song "No juego/I don´t play"
Caribbean cultural diversity is still a stronghold under construction, an endless process that continues to generate interesting hybridities now under the context of world cultural globalization and "world music". Although Cuba has a manifest cultural mainstream, especially in the field of music, the country features a dynamic, changing culture, open to external influences; this could be referred to as an inclusive culture as opposed to a conservative, restrictive, monolithic concept. In the music scenery, Cuba is an example of this. What was traditionally called "Cuban popular music"  only fifty years ago is inevitably now a much larger, diverse, and inclusive cross-cultural phenomenon that can not hide international influences.
If we understand culture in the narrowest sense of the word, there are more than cultural (artistic and musical) elements in the formation of any musical genre. History and social relations are other key factors in the emergence of a musical style which shape consumer politics, dancer-musician associations, and other interactivities. María Teresa Linares, a renowned Cuban musicologist, talking about rap in Cuba, distinguishes between a style and a genre in popular music when she affirms that a genre has to do with a social process in at least two generations,  which means that a style is a more ephemeral and less significant fact; a style is rap in Cuba, she says, a very recent import in our culture from continental United States. However, the socio-cultural aspects of music and identities in the Caribbean are so palpable that what may be imported is not only a simple musical form of expression co-opted by a sector or group of people, but also a consolidated genre which may even be in itself the cultural/musical symbol of a nation. This is the case of reggae (or merengue and other Caribbean rhythms). This essay is conceived as an approach to the social processes that catalyze the consolidation of a musical genre --reggae-- in a given space -Cuba--, it is not a musicologist perspective of recent tendencies in Cuban popular music. My main argument is to emphasize that reggae was born in Cuba under the same conditions of marginalization and subordination that still today make it a lyrically subversive cultural tendency. It is necessary to note, however, that there is more than one type of reggae; I focus on what is more universally identified as "roots" reggae without disregarding the interesting fusions with Cuba's musical mainstream. Surprisingly, the reggae music is of various kinds -roots, nyabinghi, the raggamuffing style closely associated to rap, the "slackness"  copied from Jamaican dancehalls and further expanded and developed by the digital technology now called "reggaetón"  in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and the diaspora, and even the melodious reggae versions of other celebrated hits, such as the world famous "Guajira Guantanamera." This wide range is what I mean here by "reggae" music. This interaction produces interesting examples equally relevant to the title of this essay.
Reggae in Cuba
Cuban reggae  coexists with many other of those external influences mentioned above; there are other two musical forms of expression -namely, rock and rap— which make a most wanted trio ("the three R's") among the contemporary youth. It has a contrary influential direction as compared to that of rap and rock. While one may think that rock and later rap would inevitably touch upon the Caribbean sometime in their global spread started by the media and music corporations in the developed world, it was very optimistic to think that reggae would be able to permeate such solidly fabricated commercial strategies. In other words, while rock and rap were brought into the Caribbean from the developed countries in the continents, reggae had an inverse influential effect; and this also makes it a very charismatic music.
Reggae is one of these transcendental popular styles socially and musically relevant to people all over the world, especially to those who are mindful about the history of oppression wherever there existed any kind of colonial domination, slavery, and exploitation. Reggae is also a typically Caribbean rhythm, universally representative of the Caribbean "musical region".  In the Cuban musical context, reggae appeared in the 1970's, second after rock, and has experienced an underground, alternative, but expeditious evolution before other variants of reggae, similarly to its development in the international arena, irresistibly appealed to a progressively wider sector of the young dancing population in the last four years. A bass and drum-based rhythm that not only transmits a totally new harmonious, all-natural, spiritual -sometimes religious-- vibration, but also makes fans feel more themselves in the adoption of new identity patterns during their dynamic early youth. It is a socializing agent for youths and some adults; it is instrumental in youth's ability to construct a culture that is distinct from the mainstream; it is youth the one that most effectively challenges the dominant cultural patterns by constructing a culture around musical expressions.
The emergence and development of reggae in Cuba is closely connected to the ideas and the way of life of the culture that embraced this music: Rastafari. Both -reggae and Rastafari-- traveled all over the world since the seventies as a cultural system personified in the international success of emblematic figures and bands like Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley and the wailers. The language barrier, which initially "proscribed" this music in non-English-speaking territories, was quickly overcome not simply because the mushrooming fans around the globe and in Cuba started to learn English to understand the reggae lyrics, but mostly because of the strong awareness this music started to raise on the suburban or marginal sectors in different countries. Since most of the lyrics were then in English, the understanding of the meanings was thus limited. This language obstacle was not very significant to many of those early enthusiasts, now elder Rasta converts or sympathizers in their 30´s of 40´s, because the rhythm of reggae itself carries a message, as illustrated later on.
The reggae-Rastafari cultural system gave reggae in Cuba a stigma that still today goes along with the rhythm. The use of marihuana by most Rastas all over the world, especially in Jamaica, negatively biased the Cuban authorities against the Rastas since the beginning in the seventies. Police repression and arbitrary detentions and imprisonments on charges of vagrancy and drug consumption were common in those early years, and even if innocence became evident as in most cases, they had to suffer from their hair cut off against their will and other negative consequences. At present, the newly drafted anti-drug laws in Cuba have made it nearly impossible to consume the herb, which they still regard as a sacred and healthy action. This can not be viewed separate from the cultural resistance that has characterized the Rastafari way of life in its global spread. The dreadful physical appearance of the Rastas, the "unkempt hair" growing in locks, and the evident and essential connections to blackness and Africa reinforced the marginal conditions from which Rastafari and reggae started to develop in Cuba. The Rasta image, way of life, and ideology were not welcomed by the wider society. An informant from Camagüey, but living in Havana, says he saw in Rastafari a refuge to escape from the hostility of some neighbors --not the whole society, though-- who rejected him because of the color of his skin. The more he grew the hair, the more repulsion he found in his village, and the more acceptance he found among other Rastas. As one Rasta from Havana told me: "Here --grabbing his locks and pulling them strongly-- there is a message. The hair is a kind of proof for us because not everybody decides to grow locks."  There was no Cuban-made reggae in these years (70´s-early 80´s), so the imported music performed by the Jamaican superstars promoted a new revolutionary and religious  message which was reproduced in the Cuban context.
Back in the 1970's, some events, related to the political reinsertion of Cuba in the Caribbean region, marked the setting up of this rhythm on Cuba. Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago decide to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972. Other islands seconded this diplomatic initiative few years after. These closer inter-island contacts had both cultural and social antecedents and consequences. On one hand, from the cultural point of view, when the reggae music started its global spread, other foreign musical influences were gaining popularity in Cuba during the late 1960's and the 1970's (jazz, soul, R&B, funk, rock, etc.). At the same time, Cuba hosted a number of noteworthy cultural events in Varadero (Annual Music Festivals), Havana (Carifesta, 1972), and in Santiago (Annual Feast of Fire or Festival of the Caribbean since 1980) which gave room for visits and performances of then famous Caribbean artists, such as Yoruba Singers, Jimmy Cliff, Eddy Grant, several Steel Bands, and many others. So reggae was not an isolated musical alternative. Other musical vibes from the Caribbean were in the "competition".
On the other hand, the "temporal immigration" of Jamaican and other Anglo-Caribbean students after 1972 as a result of the thousands of training and education scholarships offered by the Cuban government to students from this Caribbean region opened a new gateway for the entry of reggae. Another aspect of the agreements between Cuba and Jamaica was the trip to Jamaica of hundreds of Cuban construction workers and the trip to Cuba of Jamaican construction trainees in 1976. In the same year, the Cuban national television announced an agreement between both countries for cultural cooperation and exchange of artistic delegations. These young men and women brought with them not only the first reggae long play discs (LP´s) and cassettes, but also an underlying knowledge about the level of organization of Rastafari in Jamaica and their respective countries.
A third parallel and determining process was the ability to tune in some Caribbean (Jamaican) and Florida radio stations, particularly in the East and Northwest of Cuba, which proved to be a very effective solution for those interested in reggae since the 1970's. Also, few tourists and Cuban sailors who were frequently on working missions abroad came to Cuba with reggae and other foreign music. Being in English, it was almost absent from the national airwaves. Foreign music was very limited in the Cuban media at that time as a result of a nationalist protective policy motivated by the harsh political confrontation with the U.S. imperialism. Therefore, listening to the music was a task of equally limited groups of devoted followers and reproducing it was even more restricted to a few who had access to the first cassette recorders and walkmans that were considered luxuries. These first recordings were played back at reggae parties arranged during the weekends in private homes of marginal urban neighborhoods mainly in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Often, information on date, time, and venue for these parties was (and still is) decided only by a reduced group of people and prudently filtered out to the fans and public to avoid the interference of the police and unaware general public because there was/is an illegal entrance fee that supports this underground survival business.
These three elements also contributed to make of reggae not only the medium by which most Cubans started to identify with Rastafari, it was also a new alternative musical style being launched in a new environment.
When reggae started its global spread, most significant artists, who have not been related to reggae or Rastafari before, saw their way paved to conquer scenarios and new music markets all over the world with versions of former hits in the new reggae beat. Cuba did not escape this internationalization of reggae music and the triumph of music over the language barrier was equally experienced in the Cuban cultural context. Although the first all-reggae band in Cuba was born around 1988 ("Tierra Verde"/Green Land) and performed for a very short time after, the boom of this music in the island took place in the 1990's. In the 1990's, there was the explicit interest in revitalizing reggae in Spanish, in Cuba, as "an instinct of preserving the African legacy that runs through our blood."  Raúl Rodríguez, musician and director of his reggae band since 1995, commented that Cuba has been "invaded by rock, rap and other foreign music" but "there was no reggae band despite the fact that it is relatively close to Jamaica."  In the meantime and to this date, song writers and bands like Pablo Milanés, Alberto Tosca, Pablo Menéndez,  Gerardo Alfonso, Moncada, and more recently Moneda Dura, Buena Fé, William Vivanco, etc. started to do away with the myth, the taboo, and the lack of information about reggae. They have all used pure or fused reggae as part of their diverse repertoire of musical interpretations. The features of reggae still exalt African roots; moreover, the lyrical possibilities are enhanced by the use of drums and bass in a combination which corresponds to the contesting and rebel message of the rhythm and of the environment where it develops. I remember to have heard the Cuban composer-singer Pablo Milanés, in the days of the presentation of the LP Proposiciones , replying to an inquiry about why he chose reggae as the rhythm of the song " Nelson Mandela, sus dos amores" (…his two loves)". It's a rhythm strong enough to express the feeling of freedom, he commented on a TV program. 
Remanente in concert in Havana´s Salón Rosado , renowned salsa venue. March 12, 2004.
After 1995, several all-reggae bands and solo singers who also make reggaetón emerged, mainly in Havana, while others around the island included more reggae in their performances. To mention just a few: the newly reborn Tierra Verde , Remanente, Insurrectos, Hijos de Israel, Punto Rojo, Paso Firme, Otro Paso, Raíces Negras, Manana Reggae Band, Elio Man, Príncipe Carlos, Militar Dread, Coco Man, Donato and Los Sicarios, Crazy Man, Incognita, El Médico, and many others conform now a collection of artists, most of whom started on their own resources and with their incipient talent without any professional training in music. In my opinion, this was a booming situation for reggae in Cuba, since Rastas and reggae fans started to learn music, compose songs and write poems, form reggae bands, promote their music in the media, and perform in public places and cultural institutions with less persecution and repression than in the 1970's or 1980's. This was possible for a number of reasons; the most significant one was the opening of the country's economy to foreign capital and international tourism,  which brought about much more open contacts with foreign ideas and cultures. The youth audaciously adopted many new forms of expressions.
Reggae and rap developed simultaneously in the 90´s, although rap attained a more consolidated position with the institutional support of the Ministry of Culture and its system of cultural promotion that operates from the lowest administrative level (the communities' Casas de Cultura ). However, the social background of both reggae and rap fans were the same -young, mainly Black, and marginal—this explains why many of the reggae fans started making rap and break-dancing before they devoted to reggae, or viceversa, many of the reggae and reggaetón fans now make rap music or indistinctively make either of them. They have confessed that both reggae and rap are both essentially the same. It is also interesting to note in explaining this that the newly created Agencia Cubana de Rap provides institutional "shelter" to some reggaetón singers because of the similarity between these two musical forms of expression and the lack of any other infrastructure specially designed for reggae musicians.
The socio-cultural process briefly described here accurately reflected the subcultural nature of the emergence and development of Cuban reggae. In overcoming the language barrier; in facing social rejection, racist thinking, and police repression; in reaffirming blackness, African roots and racial pride; in listening to and recording from "foreign" radio stations a "foreign" music downgraded in the national media; in conquering social and public spaces out of the suburban or marginal context where they stemmed from, we can see the transgressive way of life of those self-taught singers and musicians. This subcultural attitude had an immediate reflection in the lyrics of Cuban reggae songs since the beginning to this day.
The lyrics portray the variety of interests of Rastas and non-Rastas alike in the island: love and sex in the widest sense of the words, peace, nature, race relations, and acute social --imminently political— criticism. What's more, from this subcultural perspective, the reggae lyrics, in my opinion, are similar to the revolutionary and daring message of the "protest song" or the " nueva trova " movement in the 1970´s. Rebelliousness and criticism are common points between these two artistic  manifestations. The products of the Rastas' imaginative and artistic creation is mainly found in the fields of music, performed "dub" poetry, craftsmanship, and painting. Nevertheless, music -reggae-- is by far the most recurring and appealing means of expression for the above-mentioned characteristics of its message. In cultures where orality is an vital component, music will disseminate ideas much more easily than any other artistic expression.
What is lyrical subversion in the Cuban context?
Before we go any further, let's define "lyrical subversion". "Everything is political," paraphrasing S. Carmichael, but in artistic culture, subversion is not all political, it is cultural. There is no verbal critical attack or intention of overthrowing any social order or government as it actually happened in the 1960´s in Trinidad and Tobago with calypso or in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands with reggae.  Reggae has internationally traveled from the battlefield to the dancehall  leaving behind the convulsive post-independence decades of the sixties and the seventies. Therefore, to the political nature of reggae in those years can be added with stronger emphasis a social function which it has successfully accomplished ever since. Its texts can be analyzed from a post-colonial perspective around the theory of "otherness" and the vision of the former metropolis with the center-periphery dynamics.
The concept of "subversion" as used here is also very connected with the notion of what is popular and commercial by mass consumption in the market versus the conservative musical mainstream. Music is popular when this creative capacity, in direct correspondence to the production and commercialization strategies, is able represent the identity of the people and/or a group of people. Music, then, becomes a consumer good subjected to the politics of record companies and other private of government institutions. In order to be popular, musicians must make concessions to this commercial world. In Cuba, the commercial strategies do not operate in a conventional way; the Cuban music market consumes music, not CD´s;  the price of a CD is well beyond the purchasing power of the ordinary Cuban person, so Cuban record companies must design their commercial strategies to sell abroad or to visiting foreigners the CD´s made in Cuba. As said before, the Cuban musical mainstream is so well defined that foreign styles like rock and rap "made in Cuba" have found it difficult to access the national market with their music in spite of the popularity these styles had in small social groups before achieving institutional recognition and support, and before recording their first official CD´s. Meanwhile, the commercial musical products of these styles that succeeded in Cuba came from abroad, designed abroad,  as the Orishas with a lot of the world music fusion on it. [Orishas >> Click here to open music player in a new window (requires Flash plug-in).] Although some of these lyrics recall the African roots of the nation and the individual identity, they illustrate the uninhibited interest of promoting a commercial image by avoiding the unknown, the underground world of the fan's daily experiences. The popularity of the underground kind of rap, for example, remains, nevertheless, among the relatively small groups of hip hop fans and do not sell widely. Reggae in general is in a worse situation since it has not yet attained such official acceptance and support in as much as it is connected to the Rastafari way of life and ideology. On the contrary, the reggaeton has become so popular that the rhythm has been co-opted by hip hop fans that are looking for a wider and more heterogeneous consumer. The best example to illustrate this tendency is the renowned and consistent rap band Primera Base renamed Cubanito 2002, after they changed their musical style from rap to reggaetón. [Cubanito 2002 >> Click here to open music player in a new window (requires Flash plug-in).]
This type of concessions is not "subversive". Instead, I identify lyrical subversion whenever the singer/composer explicitly and intentionally avoids such concessions to marketing and even to popularity by preserving his way of thinking, his way of live in the music he or she makes. But in doing this, there is no subversion against a social system, i.e. , it is not, in my opinion, a mere political concept. Reggae came to Cuba with a mixture of religious, philosophical, and fashionable styles and has begun a cross-cultural process in the marginal, suburban situations where it started in order to reach wider sectors of the population, other social groups and classes, people with different believes and ways of live. The same growth could be seen in many metropolitan areas of Europe, America and the rest of the world where this phenomenon attracts more white followers from middle and upper classes into what was once exclusive to the Black and poor ghettos of Kingston, London, etc. The more it was marketed and distributed, the more it grew in number of enthusiastic followers. But in Cuba, the reggae bands and singers do this without the power of well designed marketing strategies and official record companies with the only objective of sharing out a message in direct correspondence with their daily experiences and way of life. All the musical examples included hereafter  are taken from home made recordings, paid for with meager salaries saved from one or more jobs, and made in small private "studios" mainly in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.
There is another distinction to be made in order to understand the thematic spectrum of this type of reggae, a distinction between two approaches that can be seen both in the consumer of the music and in the singer-composer or performer.
On the one hand, the marginal way of life these amateur artists boldly and even impudently depict in their lyrics, the unfortunate association with drug abuse in the case of the Rastas, and the racial prejudice and negative stereotypes give them limited opportunities of "upward mobility" in the official marketing of their music. One example to illustrate this is Candyman , the most popular boomer of reggaetón in Cuba by the end of 2001. In my conversation with Mr. Novo, commercial manager of BIS Music record label about popularity and the market, he commented that a CD by Candyman would not be a profitable good in the Cuban music market because all his music fits in the "low cost consumption" of low-priced burnt CD´s and home-made cassette tapes. However, every performance attracted thousands of people interested in the slackness or vulgarity of his songs, his defiant lyrics, and the sometimes sexually explicit contents, which were proscribed from the airwaves in spite of his unquestionable popularity. An example of this appears later on.
On the other hand, the same Candyman conceded at times that his subversive lyrics are incompatible with "the hegemonic views of mobility, self-realization and consumption"  in order to achieve a successful integration into the market strategies and easier access to the power of the media and a wider audience. The lyrics of "Marilú" clearly illustrate this second tendency which is now the choice of tens of reggaetón bands and singers in Cuba. [Candyman Marilú >> Click here to open music player in a new window (requires Flash plug-in).] Cubanito 2002 , mentioned above, also fits here. Songs like this won Candyman, Cubanito 2002, Tecnocaribe, El Médico and myriad of other bands and singers a huge promotion on the airwaves, public presentations, and, most of all, the privilege of being sampled in the first , and so far the only, reggaetón CD distributed in Cuba by an official record company.
The former I call conservative , where we can identify the subversive lyrics relevant to this essay in different reggae styles played by reggae bands, even in some of the Cuban reggaetón . The latter is the commercial style, essentially in reggaetón, although some commercial use of reggae is occasionally made by other bands, like Moneda Dura and Moncada , without any connection to Rastafari. This approach is, thus, not lyrically subversive.
The lyrics of Cuban reggae
The examples provided were all fragments of full songs chosen according to the criteria of popularity among the fans and social sector for which they were written and performed. The lyrics are in Spanish because they would lose some of the relevant ideas and message in a translation process. Most of these songs use words in English, in Jamaican English, or in Dread Talk (Rasta language) mixed with Cuban Spanish as a sign of insubordination or transgression and as an example of adaptation of foreign patterns in the national context as a result of this cross-cultural process. These words and expressions are also found literally translated into or adapted to Spanish by changes in pronunciation.  Another tendency is that of translating full texts and performing them in Spanish with very slight changes in the meaning of the original ideas; an example of this is No hay noche en Zion , by Hijos de Israel , a Nyabinghi Rasta band from Cienfuegos, which is partly a translation from Culture ´s ( Joseph Hill ´s) "No night".
I have determined four major aspects for a thematic analysis of lyrical subversion in Cuban reggae, each of which includes various other subtopics:
Rastafari philosophy and religion
Racial consciousness and race relations
(Self-)marginalization and social exclusion
Vulgarity and sexuality
Rastafari philosophy and religion
One of the most recurring topics is the polemic association of reggae to marihuana smoking. Reggae fans, mainly the Rastas are stigmatized, although they claim that drug and reggae is an inappropriate link; the hierba or herb (as it is also called not only among the Rastas, but also in the Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua Española , that reads in the 6 th definition "name given to some drugs, mainly the marihuana") affects the wider society. Rockers have also expressed the same concern  since they are easily associated with hard drugs. The first example provided is a very educational text that highlights the sacred attributes of the herb, while the second one is a live recording of the Cuban remake of Peter Tosh´s famous hit.
This topic in reggae songs is especially subversive taking into account the harsh Cuban anti-drug laws which has taken several Rastas to prison.
El Jardinero ( The gardener ) written by Felipe Cárdenas and performed by Remanente reggae band.
Te voy a contar, no te sorprendas,
Es sobre hierba, depende de ti
Espero que viva también porque es hierba.
Hierba, esa es mi hierba
Hierba, esa es solo hierba (Refrain)
Algunos conocen su don
Algunos buscan ese mal sin razón
Algunos se cuidan, respetan
Algunos no entienden, qué pena.
Vas a encontrar
Que todos los pueblos conocen de hierba
Y desde la antigüedad
Todos los libros mencionan las hierbas
Yo te afirmo que es sagrada
No es solo una expresión
Si te hablo de hierba
Recuerda que fue encontrada
En la tumba del gran Salomón esa hierba
Ella da fruto y semillas
Acorde a su estación
Si sana la nación
Ese es el árbol de la vida
Su nombre es hierba
Legalize it (version by Paso Firme )
(Beginning with the real lyrics in English)
Muchos sufren condenas
Por el consumo de la naturaleza
Se convierten en focos sociales
Y eso a nadie le interesa.
Never mind, you´ve got to legalize it
Legalize it, yeah, yeah,
Paso Firme will advertise it.
Freedom please for the normal herb.
Other esoteric or religious aspects dealt with are the divinity of Selassie, the existence of a superior being regardless of his name, and topics of the Rastafari ideology and teachings like nature, peace, love in the widest sense of the word, and the real role of the Rasta in the society to counteract the "wolves in sheep clothing" or faked Rastas who live on illegal activities like harassing tourist on the street.. The above-mentioned example by Hijos de Israel also fits in this category. In this respect, the songs reflect no only the Rastafari philosophy, but also the philosophy of the most traditional roots reggae music.
"Te Conozko", spelled intentionally with "k" instead of "c", written and sung by the Rastas Coco Man with Félix Morales in the chorus, is another example that highlights the role of God in revealing the true personality of liars and envious people. The song was very successful in the street performances of these talented entertainers, but never had a space in the media.
Racial consciousness and race relations
Unquestionably, the race issue is an essential theme in these lyrics. All interviewees, consumers and singers/composers, regardless of their race or the color of their skin, agreed that they feel strongly attached and identified with the African cultural heritage and the historical suffering to which the black race has been subjected to. Assuming this recognition as a fact, some reggae musicians think that it is important to portray their moods, reality, and experiences in their lyrics in order to provide a trustable idea of their day-to-day life. For example, interracial marriages are as common as the conflicts they stir in prejudiced relatives and families. Topics like these are not new in Cuban popular music; what is relevant here is that the taboos are destroyed by presenting characters and situations that contradict the absence of racism in Cuba. Certainly, what really marks the difference among the Cuban reggae bands is the variety of experiences they transmit which vary from person to person. This phenomenon has its basis on the fact that there has been an opening of the Rasta world in Cuba due to the momentum gained by reggae music after 1995. Consequently, more and more people, mostly young people, understand and appreciate their messages of love, peace, and harmony, so they seem to have fewer negative prejudices. However, this is not written on stone; many Cubans in the wider society still have a wrong and negatively biased perception about Rastafari  and the " moñudos " (the Black dreadlocked reggae enthusiasts).
The first example is related to the importance of the African heritage and the need to expand one´s knowledge of the history and culture of the mother continent. The other two examples are connected one to another in a controversy about race relations in the society; in the first one, a student in an art school complains, though passively, about racial discrimination, while the other is a reply by another Black student who is equally unhappy about racial discrimination but he tells the other that he should have been more active in his defensive position. What is interesting here is that both songs were hits played in every party and car stereo, but were never, to my knowledge, played on the radio or TV. This type of controversy is very common in the reggaetón scenery.
África, la musa y yo (by Paso Firme and Jato I )
Refrain África, la musa y yo, bomba, rima, impresión
Estamos en dimensión
África, dueña del escenario
África es ritmo, fuego de comentarios
Es hora de que la música que te traigo ahora
Se introduzca dentro de tí sin demora
Ya la tradición te está atrapando
Goza, África, está en moda
Estilos en mis venas me hacen vibrar
Y mientras se emociona no puedo parar
Sólo dale más, un poquito más
Expreso lo que siento y no me detengo porque es hoy
Un afrocubano 100% al nivel
Construyo líricas baratas para decirte todo lo que puedo hacer
Mi mente esta conectada a salvar a la África FIRE
Esto da pa´más, mucho mucho más, África mía
África, ven que en tu ser el dolor está reinando
Y me cansé, me cansé de tanto sufrimiento
Ya me cansé de tanta suciedad
¿Quién tiró la tiza? (by Mulano )
Primero escucha y después goza, así que ponte pa las cosas
Listen to me
A ver como te explico yo esta parte, doce años yo estando en la escuela nacional de arte
Yo un negrito chiquitico con su uniformito y si acaso con colonia Bebito encima
En cambio los hijos de de papi y mima iban con Addidas, medias deportivas y una perfuma nada que ver con la mía
Observa a mi na´má, un dolor solo en común teníamos el color,
Pero imagínate papa es doctor, y ya tu sabes, cuatro puertas, pescador
Y yo el Zingaro porque el mío sí era constructor.
Refrain ¿Quíen tiro la tiza? El negro ese.
¿Quíen tiro la tiza? No fue el hijo del doctor. No.
Porque el hijo del doctor, John, es el mejor.
El hijo del doctor da ropa, zapatos
El hijo del doctor merece un buen trato
El hijo del un constructor, ese negro es delincuente
Y por eso este año, coño, va a ser repitente.
El día del maestro llegará en cualquier momento
Y ¿cuál será el regalo? Ladrillo, cemento.
Pa´llá. Esos negros, elementos,
Me quedo con el doctor que resuelve medicamentos
En clase si levanto la mano, sal del aula negro.
Si discuto con la jeva, tenía que ser el negro
Si sacaba buenas notas, sé que te fijaste negro
Y si desaprobaba, no estudiaste, me alegro
Por eso no es lo mismo el hijo de un doctor que el hijo de un constructor
Porque la vida del doctor es carro, motor; la vida de un constructor es con dolor.
¿Que diré yo?
Empezandote que el sitio es complicado
Yo volviéndome un mago
Y una pila de profesores dándome de lado
Suerte que a mi no me fue tan mal
Y una profesora al frente con clase particular, cosa usual
Bien por el primer control parcial, cosa extraña
Profesores preocupados diciendo, hay maraña
Como siempre, ah, el negro y su problemática
Se habían robado cuatro pruebas y de matemática
La misma prueba que ya había examinado.
Comentario: Ya sabía por qué había aprobaó
Porque tú eres un mano suelta, sinvergüenza, descarao
No asimilaban que este negro había estudiao
Las clases particulares no eran gratis, eran pagao
Bueno, si las pagaste ya tu estás desaprobao
Men dime quien aguanta este tren
Y la esperanza de la pura era verme en la FEEM, ¿qué tu crees?
Reply to ¿Quién tiró la tiza?
Primero escucha y luego aprende. Repito negro porque sé que tú no entiendes
Primero escucha y luego aprende. Alza la mano si te pierdes.
Primero escucha y luego aprende. Voy a seguirte la corriente men
Dime Primero escucha y luego aprende. Listen to me y dice así
Hace falta negro que te apliques, negro, que te ubiques, n te mortifiques
Abre los ojos, no jodas. Tú estás igual que yo y eso que a ti te incomoda nos molesta a los dos
Yo he visto a tipos como tu papa metidos en el invento,
Negociando con ladrillos, con cabilla y con cemento
Yo sé muy bien cuanto cuesta un encofrao, un repellado, negro, no seas descarao
Porque el día del maestro tú sabes que al profesor
Le da mas negocio un bloque que un tubo de salbutamol
Y el doctor no viene en su cuatrimotor
Viene en ayuna y en camello pa´curarte tu dolor
Tu sí tiraste la tiza y bien, negro de qué
Que el puro tuyo fuma bueno, toma whisky y come bien
Tu sí tiraste la tiza y bien, negro de qué
Con la nariz pintá de blanco que cuento vas a meter
Tu sí tiraste la tiza y bien, negro de qué
Hay que comer como tú tu comes pa tirarla como fue
Tu sí tiraste la tiza y bien, negro de qué
Sigue copiando los backgrounds que te van a sorprender.
El hijo del doctor no tiene la culpa brother
Si la cosa es de joderse, el inocente es quien se jode
Se que te puede molestar que me entrometa
Te metiese con el hijo del maceta
Dime algo de los bravos que están llenos de dinero
Dime algo de la gente del gerente del lanchero
Ya tú ves que yo soy negro como tú
Y tiré mas tiza en esta guerra santa que Mambrú
Pero la culpa se la echaba al descaro
A ese que los teachers aprobaban porque estaba apadrinao
A ese que cogieron 500 veces fugao
Le ponían una nota y los demás iban botaos
En la escuela te la pasas todo el día entretenido
Pero pobrecito el negro, la tenían cogían contigo.
(Self-)Marginalization and social relations
This category includes songs about topics like envy, greed, jealousy, sex discrimination, (in-)subordination, gender relations, as well as the common . which are part of everyday experiences. "Battyman" is a demonstration of extreme intolerance towards the homosexuals who are classified as unnatural beings. The male chauvinism in Cuba as well as in Jamaica and the Caribbean will not tolerate such behavior. This song was written and performed by a very dynamic Rasta who is also a successful rapper. Even his artistic name, Militar Dread, and his olive green attire on stage are transgressive. [Militar Dread >> Click here to open music player in a new window (requires Flash plug-in).]
"Señor official"/(Mister Officer) is an example of the insubordination to a police officer and the police in general when he was elusively banned from performing in public his vulgar and sexually explicit songs which could be easily understood with the imaginative Cuban sense of humor. [Candyman feat. Gagoman and Puchoman >> Click here to open music player in a new window (requires Flash plug-in).]
Señor Oficial (by Candyman feat. Gagoman and Puchoman)
Oye tú, babilón, déjame cantar mi canción. Máximo respeto al original bad boy y al ragamuffin soldier, máximo respeto al number one. Candyman, con Gagoman y Puchoman haciendo clan una vez más. Listen to me. Lord a mercy. Lord a mercy. Bomboklaat.
Señor oficial, déjame cantar mi canción.
Señor oficial, déjeme ser como yo soy
Señor oficial, recuerde que usted hizo hace tiempo las cosas que yo hago hoy.
Señor oficial, no piense que soy un ladrón
Señor oficial, no se aferre, esta es mi misión
Señor oficial, di mejor que soy un cantante que lo hace de corazón
Déjeme explicar y también decirle
Lo que yo pienso y no voy a mentirle
Pues quiero que me aclare en esta conversación
Por qué hay tantos prejuicios con los raperos en mi nación
Señor oficial, no quiero que mal siempre miren
Señor oficial, al Rastafari que en la calle se exhibe
Que andan por el parque y se ponen a cantar
Por gusto viene el bábilon y los manda a callar
Sabiendo que están cantando para su vida alegrar.
Vulgarity and sexuality
This category shows the tight connection between reggaetón and rap since most of the examples that fit here are reggaetón hits entertainers do both indistinctively. The messages here cover a very wide range. Sometimes, subversion is present in the lyrics of tasteless, dull songs, but with ideas about people´s rude reaction to various situations originated in the suburban neighborhoods, or is also found in the irreverent rude-boy style behavior of some youth. It can also be present in the sometimes offensive words of songs with sexual contents referred to with the imagination and double sense of Cuban humor. There is even a misogynic representation of women as sexual objects. The fact is that while these lyrics are regarded as transgressive by the more conservative sectors of the wider society, they are extremely popular among the reggae fans and the youth in general, especially among girls who dance erotically in a sort of reproduction of the Jamaican dancehall style mixed with the Cuban flavor in the teenagers' parties and discos.
Another characteristic of the reggaetón scenery is the uninformed use of background music. Creating and recording their own backgrounds is very expensive for these singers; their solution is to copy someone else's music, even backgrounds taken from Jamaican singers unaware of aspects like copyrights. To my question about fear of being sued by other artists, even foreign singers, some of them surprisingly showed no concern about the legal situation. The examples provided here are recorded over the same background, although these two singers are friends.
The first example is a "Spanglish" (English and Spanish) show by a rude and sexy boy who calls himself an astute and evil person. The second song was proscribed and regarded as offensive and vulgar by conservative standards; the word "tendon" in Spanish is a figure of speech that refers from every point of view to the slang word in Spanish to call the male sexual organ. No further comments on other words.
Adivina quien llegó (by Donato y los Sicarios)
I represent Santiago de Cuba bomboklaat nigger
Follow me girl, original Donatón
Today people don´t can´t believe in me [ sic .]
I love the people Jamaica. Come on
Adivina quien llegó pa ponerse en acción
El chamaquito más violento
Exigiendo respeto como todo un campeón
Donato si no quiere cuento.
Número uno girlie en el escenario
Súmate y perrea con Donato el sicario
No plagio, soy sabio, yo mato a diario
A las sexy girlies cuando cojo el micro
Es Donato, girlies, es Donato, de los raperos el chamaquito más bellaco.
Tendón (by Candyman)
Esta canción yo se la dedico a las frutas locas que le gusta de verdad el tendón. Lord a mercy.
Tendón, tendón yo le doy a la atrevida que le gusta de verdad el tendón
Tendón, tendón yo le doy a la bandida que anda en busca de satisfacción
No importa si es mafiosa o salió de la prisión
Yo soy Candyman y ando en busca de acción
Si muero en la batalla fue por la seducción
De una víbora asesina que mordió mi corazón
Las santiagueras están moviendo el fotingón
Guantanameras están moviendo el fotingón
Las holguineras están moviendo el fotingón
In nutshell, this essay presents a cross-cultural analysis of lyrical subversion in Cuban reggae songs. Some interesting aspects should be highlighted before the closing line.
The import of reggae as a form of expression of a way of life, a culture related to Rastafari, blackness, and marginalization also implies the import of a foreign (spoken and body) language, a discourse, and other foreign styles like attributes and dressing habits. However, not always there is a complete, convincing knowledge of these subliminal but essential aspects. Singers and composers of songs in the first two categories show a more conscious use of reggae. They not only have information about what reggae is and how to make it, but they have more knowledge about the history and ideology that this music represents; partly because they are more conscious Rastas or sympathizers of this philosophy, so they are more committed to the music they make, they are less likely to change to a more popular, more appealing, more commercial style.
From a political point of view, it is a complex task. The word "subversion" in Spanish has a stronger political connotation, but as I tried to clarify before, this is not the essence of what I mean by using it because Cuban reggae exhibits very little political criticism; political topics are mostly found in categories two and three, i.e., on aspects related to race relations and prejudices, marginalization and opportunities of upward mobility, social relations, etc. Also, in the popular songs sampled for this essay, there is only one reference to international politics --terrorism and S-11.
It should also be noted that quality is not evenly present in all the songs. There are good poetic lyrics performed by talented voices, mainly in categories one and two, as well as less artistic and poor literary texts, as in categories three and four, where the message is simpler, more straightforward, more direct, less codified. However, all the singers/composers have the same interest in standing firm in their philosophy of life and portraying their experiences.
Last, but not least, I would like to call the attention once more on the relation between subversion, popularity, and the market. The songs which texts fit in category four are by far the most popular as compared to the rest of the categories; they are as popular as those commercial, non-transgressive lyrics that some singers write and perform in order to be marketed nationwide and promoted on the media. Vulgarity and sexually explicit contents sell more than the messages of the lyrics in categories one, two, three; therefore, these are not likely to attain the same level of popularity in wider sectors beyond the Rastas and reggae fans.
In general, reggae still has a long way to go in Cuba before it gets the institutional support and recognition it deserves, just like rap and rock already have. In the meantime, "subversion", as defined and characterized here, will continue to be the essential message of many reggae singers and fans alongside the commercial phenomenon.
Bilby, Kenneth (1985). The Caribbean as a Musical Region. Washington D.C., Wilson Center.
Campbell, Horace (1985). Rasta and Resistance. From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney. Hansib Publications, London.
Cooper, Carolyn (1995). Noises in the Blood. Duke University Press, Durham.
Dent, Gina (Ed.) (1992). Black Popular Culture. Bay Press, Seattle.
Furé Davis, Samuel (2000). Cantos de Resistencia. Colección Pinos Nuevos, Editorial Letras Cubanas, Ciudad de la Habana.
Giovanetti, Jorge (2001). Sonidos de Condena. Sociabilidad, Historia Y Política en la Música Reggae de Jamaica. Siglo XXI, México, D.F.
Montpellier Vázquez, Yiliana, David Vázquez Anderez, and Cao Thi Than (2003). "An introduction to a thematic analysis of Cuban reggae". Term paper presented by these students. School of Foreign Languages, University of Havana. (unpublished)
Movimiento. La Revista Cubana de Hip Hop. Nr. 1, 2003.
Pollard, Velma and Samuel Furé Davis "Imported topic, foreign vocabularies: Dread Talk, the Cuban connection" in Small Axe , Kingston. (Forthcoming)
Sansone, Livio (1995). "The making of a black youth culture" in Vered Amil-Talai and Helena Wulff (Eds.) Youth Cultures. A cross-cultural perspective. Routledge, London and New York, 1995.
 There is no intention to define such a slippery concept, but some of that vast territory can be delimited by the rhythmic landmarks originated in the fusion of mainly the African and European components of the Cuban culture, essentially the popular dancing complex ( changüí, sucusucu, chachacha, son, timba , etc.), and the folklore complex ( rumba, guaguancó , the religious music of African origin, etc.) which compose the musical part of our cultural heritage.
 Quoted by Movimiento. La Revista Cubana de Hip Hop , nro. 1, 2003, p. 14.
 See Cooper, Carolyn (1995) Noises in the blood. Orality, gender, and the vulgar body in Jamaican popular culture . Duke University Press, Durham.
 The spelling of this word respects the Spanish pronunciation stressed in the last syllable and the English spelling of the word "reggae".
 I abide to Linares simple definition of genre quoted above. Reggae in Cuba is not yet a fully consolidated imported genre in the context of Cuban music unlike the bachata or merengue which are present in the repertoire of many Cuban bands. However, the growing social impact of reggae as music, the fusions with Cuban and other rhythms, as well as the social contents of its lyrics give reggae in Cuba special characteristics. That is the reason why I call it "Cuban reggae" as opposed to "Jamaican reggae" -our closest neighbour— to make the distinction.
 See Bilby, Kenneth (1985). The Caribbean as a Musical Region . Washington D.C., Wilson Center.
 Interview with Alejandro, November, 1998.
 The contribution of reggae music to spread religious ideas is undeniable, but it was the reggae music, not the religious faith, which attracted some youths to Rastafari since the early times in Cuba, in the 70's and 80's. Religion in general was not officially accepted in the country until 1991; although it was not banned as it is generally believed abroad, it was an impediment to hold official positions, to be a member of Cuba's only political party, and to get some jobs. At present, the only religious knowledge that some Cuban Rastas and sympathizers have was acquired through reggae music by repeating in "Spanglish" (mixture of English and Spanish) phrases like ¡Jah, RastafarI!, ¡Selassie I!, ¡Burn down Babylon!, and others.
 Felix Pablo Viltres, director of the Remanente reggae band, answered to the question of why reggae is now in Cuba. Extracted from an interview in the radio program Oasis de Domingo, Radio Taíno, Havana, March 14, 1999.
 Interviewed by Yilliana Montpellier Vazquez in Febrary 2003.
 Born in the U.S. but he settled in Cuba.
 Although I am unable to quote the exact date, place, and/or name of the TV program or source of the interview, the lunching of his LP took place in Havana in 1988, when Rastafari and reggae were still far from gaining the momentum they have now in Cuba.
 This major economic change followed the overnight loss of 85% of the foreign markets for Cuban exports when the socialist countries in Eastern Europe disappeared in the first years of the 1990´s, and the unstable prices of sugar and oil in the international market. This resulted in the most severe economic crisis faced by the Cuban revolution. The country started to recover slowly after 1995, and the following year the economy experienced a small but optimistic growth. This explains why reggae boomed after this year and not before; the hard economis crisis would have made it impossible.
 What is art and the limits of this definition are simplified here to wherever there exists a codified message.
 See chapter six in Campbell, Horace (1985). Rasta and Resistance. From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney : Hansib Publications, London.
 Giovanetti, Jorge (1995). "Rasta y Reggae del campo de batalla al salón de baile" in Revista Universidad de América , vol. 7, no. 1. p. 26.
 During a personal interview with Domingo Novo, commercial manager of Havana´s BIS Music record label, he emphasized that market strategies make the popular. However, the reggae scenery in Cuba has followed an unconventional path plagued with homemade recordings and unauthorized CD copying that makes commercialization nearly impossible despite the real talent and popularity that some of these singers and bands have.
 For example, Orishas , the Cuban famous hip hop band, recorded their best-seller "A lo cubano" in Europe after they left the island to live abroad.
 These musical examples are all included here with the consent of the authors and/or singers. Some of them may not even be copyrighted.
 See Sansone, Livio "The making of a black youth culture" in Vered Amil-Talai and Helena Wulff (Eds.) (1995) Youth Cultures. A cross-cultural perspective : Routledge, London and New York. p. 114-5.
 For a deeper study of the interference of languages in this cross-cultural process, see Pollard, Velma and Samuel Furé Davis "Imported topic, foreign vocabularies: Dread Talk, the Cuban connection" in Small Axe (Forthcoming).
 See the Union of Young Communists newspaper Juventud Rebelde , June 18 2004. p.3.
 Montpellier Vázquez, Yiliana, David Vázquez Anderez, and Cao Thi Than (2003) "An introduction to a thematic analysis of Cuban reggae" Term Paper. School of Foreign Languages, University of Havana. p. 7 (Unpublished)
Prof. Samuel Furé Davis (M.Sc.) is a professor in the English Department of the School of Foreign Languages, University of Havana, Cuba. His main areas of interest are cultural studies and English-speaking Caribbean literature. He has taken part in several national and international conferences as a member of the Caribbean Studies Association and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. His various papers and essays deal mainly with the English Caribbean cross-cultural connections with Cuba and the development of the Rastafari movement in Cuba.
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