Luz de Cuba, one of the women in Cuba dedicated to spoken word, tells Cubanow about her beginnings, themes and experiences in this art form
Spoken word emerged in the decade of 1960s within the African American Civil Rights Movement. It came to stay and has been used as an arm of protest, while being a means of expression that has recourse to prose, verse and more recently, music.
Already in the 1980s it became a new style of performance. At present it is part of an oral expression used to transmit the culture of exploited and marginalized minorities, and also utilized by women to vindicate and socialize their daily experiences, supportive messages, solutions and hopes.
Spoken word festivals are also held worldwide, with New York as one of the most important centers for this art.
It is also present in Cuba. Luz Cristina, one of the few Cuban women representing this art, who adopted the stage name of Luz de Cuba, tells us about its forms and trends. She has been acknowledged for her peculiar form of interpretation and gave the following statements to Cubanow:
YCH: How did spoken word reach Cuba?
LCDG: Through the hip hop culture. When hip hop emerged, singers and interpreters went to the places where spoken word was made and began to practice it, only they do it in their own very characteristic way.
YCH: And the exchange of musicians between the U.S. and Cuba?
LCDG: Exactly. When I approached hip hop culture I met several poets and was attracted to what they were doing.
YCH: Who were those poets?
LCDG: The ones I consider icons of hip hop culture are Ahmed Incera and Karel, the indomitable. They had been doing spoken word for many years and still are. Later, women like Lady, a DJ, began to do it, and the hip hop group Krudas, who do spoken word in addition to being rap singers, among others. Some did not dedicate themselves completely to spoken word; they did it and then they began to rap and remained in that genre.
Others, like Lady, learned to operate the machines in the U.S. and today she’s a DJ.
YCH: That is to say, is there a frontier, a very moving limit between spoken word and hip-hop?
YCH: One can make hip-hop and also spoken word and vice versa?
LCDG: Yes, and it’s included in the hip hop culture. At present the only festival in Cuba with a prize for spoken word is the hip hop festival “Puños Arriba”.
YCH: You won a mention to the best “Puños Arriba” video prom and the prize to the best experimental hip-hop at the “Puños Arriba” Festival. How do you feel with these acknowledgments to your artistic labor?
LCDG: Very happy and successful. Because I began to do spoken word after having been a hip hop grandma for a long time, one more among the public, and then I became the person on the stage and many wondered what I was going to do. And I began, and gradually improved. In 2011, I presented my first album, Autorretrato”, which was nominated. This year I participated again and this time it was different. And I think they gave me the prize to the best experimental hip hop because they found it very difficult to understand my work: they considered it experimental because I do spoken word with Cuban music, I speak of my roots, I do spoken word with batá drums, with music of African origin. The theme I was nominated for is one dedicated to Yemayá, orisha of the African Cuban religion. That album also contains a theme dedicated to the women in Juárez. I often include feminine issues in my work.
YCH: Why did you choose spoken word as means to express yourself? What drew you to it?
LCDG: When I was small I always said poems in school. When Ahmed Insera presented the project Poesía y Conexión in 2007 –for the first time at the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) as part of the International Poetry Festival– he engaged Afivola, another woman, and myself to do the public relations. Both of us had been part of the hip hop public in Cuba and we had determined to do something ourselves.
During the first rehearsal I was sitting there looking at him and suddenly I said: “Ahmed Insera: I want to try spoken word”. He says to me: “If you want to do it, you must write it”. “I can’t do it” – I said – “because I can’t write”. “Well”, he says, “then you can’t do it, because spoken word is something you want to say and in order to say it you have to feel it and write it”.
The following week I went there with my poem in writing; it’s called “Eggun” and tells about spirits and how that theme is handled by Yoruba culture and by Cubans in general, from Palo Monte to Santería or Regla de Ocha, and I present it according to my opinion. That was impressive, since normally no one spoke about this in the hip hop culture; everyone knew about it, but it was forbidden.
Ever since I started I always spoke of the Yoruba religion, of Cuban music, of daily life in the Cuban slums; I used the phrases now employed by the Cubans and told about the present Cuban youth. I used guaguancó for the music background, which was not commonly done, and this was counterproductive for them.
When I presented the album, the Puños Arriba Festival did not have that category, and the jury understood it as an experiment since it is not the classic hip hop culture coming from the U.S. But I think that with spoken word the poet finds feedback in his roots. Based on that fact I began to do it: from my roots, what I nourish from.
YCH: Then, what does spoken word mean to you?
LCDG: It has meant fulfillment.
YCH: During the interview you already commented on the themes you handle. However, do you wish to add anything?
LCDG: The themes are the concerns I feel, everything I feel inside, everything I wish to transmit.
YCH: Are you a woman with many interests?
LCDG: Yes, many. There are things in the world that I wish to draw attention to. I also want the world to know about my country, my people, the women, their children. And I also wish to call the attention of those around me to the planet and the environmental issue, among other themes.
YCH: You are a warrior, a black woman, a woman who at a certain point of her life – you described it as a third stage– is seeing a better present, is being born again and is giving the best of herself. What advice could you give – if you feel capable to do so – to persons of your age or less, with the same energy; what can you say to them?
Some people think that at a certain age women should remain in their role as grandmas. What would you say to them?
LCDG: I think that women first of all must bear in mind that we are strong, beautiful, capable and able to give birth; that we are a creative source in the world, and that as long as we have enough spirit and strength we must continue creating, achieving things, because if you couldn’t do it when you were 20 or 30 years old, it’s not too late to do it now. With the same strength you employ to help your children and grandchildren you can help yourself. Women have to stand up and be counted, be proud of themselves and show the world that they can achieve things. It’s never too late; there’s always space to obtain knowledge, to quality oneself and assert oneself in this patriarchal world.
YCH: And what are your goals?
LCDG: To become known internationally. Not just my work, also my country. Luz (light) is Cuba. As I say in my poems: I am the light that comes, emerges from marginality and in spite of everything is full of love, energy and with many beautiful things to give.
Translated by Olimpia Esperanza Sigarroa Santamarina
Revised by CF Ray