Meanwhile, attendance was uncertain--our erstwhile promoter to the Cuban diaspora in NYC had withdrawn two weeks prior, citing the political sensitivities--and the BBC World Service was on its way to capture the event.
In Cuba, a number of carefully selected hip-hop artists are supported by the government-run Agencia Cubana de Rap, or Cuban Rap Agency. Those whose messages are deemed “counter-revolutionary” are effectively barred from state-controlled media and subject to harassment by the authorities. They work underground and online, performing unofficial shows.
Escuadrón is the author of the YouTube sensation, “Decadencia” (here in translation):
They took it all from us, but not our ability to resistAt Session 4, “Decadencia” was going to be performed by the Chicago-based Miki Flow, with beats provided by The Casualty Process, an electronic rock duo who left Iran for New York City in April 2011. Natch and Shayan, along with their then-bandmate Maral, had participated in Session 1 from Tehran as a counterpart band in Brooklyn played their music. Now Natch and Shayan were on stage to play in tribute to a Cuban colleague with whose struggle they identified.
And words are strength
Brothers, on your feet
There is nothing more beautiful than a nation when it awakens
We don't want blood—let no one perish, but let us raise our heads
Like Víctor Jara telling his people, “Freedom is near”
With sound check minutes away, I got a call from the intrepid Melisa at Emetrece Productions who told me that she had just spoken with the man of the hour and that he was standing by for our call. What happened next was no less unpredictable.
After a spirited conversation about the complexities of rap in Cuba with Miki Flow, Escuadrón via phone, and Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, of University of California-San Diego (who also kindly jumped in as interpreter for the evening), Miki warmed up the crowd with some of his own tracks, inviting up Intikana and The Gif for cameos. Just before he and The Casualty Process launched into their interpretation of "Decadencia," I lost the Skype phone connection to Cuba. Masked by the sound of the music, I dialed again and anxiously hoped that he had picked up on the other end and could hear.
A few minutes later, as the band shifted into a break that wove in a recording of Escuadrón's original vocal track, my fears were blown away. "¿Quién es?" came the disembodied interjection. It took him a moment to recognize his own voice coming through the speakers in New York. Then, as the strophic power of the song began to swell, Escuadrón joined the trio, spitting his rhymes into the phone.
(Update, 15 July 2010: I've been told that Escuadrón's latest album is not up on iTunes because sales were not sufficient to cover expenses. This is a shame that we listeners should be able to correct.)