14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2017 — In the Havana neighborhood of La Timba a teenager loudly sings Latin trap song that causes a stir among young Cubans: “You are not in control here, silence/Pay attention you evil woman.” The rhythm is gaining ground on the Island with its lyrics charged with misogyny and gender violence.
Born in the United States in the ’90’s and censored in the Island’s official media, a good part of trap music glorifies drug use, casual sex, violence and criminal acts. Its refrains have managed to displace the popular reggaton that from the beginning of this century dominated the Cuban music scene.
Trap has gone viral thanks to technology. Many of its follower are under twenty and use bluetooth in order to send songs from one phone to another. Mobile applications like Zapya and services like YouTube are the best record labels that the exponents of this catchy music count on.
The Colombian Maluma, the American Arcangel, together with the Puerto Ricans Bad Bunny and Ozuna, are the best known stars of the new phenomenon in Cuba. Their lyrics are loaded with stories about slums where scheming, drugs and weapons are part of the day-to-day life.
In the trap music context women are often seen as property of the man and dependent on his whims. Scenes of sexual assaults, young people drugged or tied to the bed and continuous infidelities are hummed by children and teens on the bus, in the classroom or on the sidewalks throughout the Island.
Some lyrics are pure dynamite in a region where gender violence indices are alarming. A recent report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UN Women warns that Latin America and the Cariberrean have the highest rates of homicide against women in the world. “The role of the media as transmitters and builders of cultural models” makes them allies or adversaries in the “fight for equality,” warns Amnesty International.
The image of women in the media is also included in the analysis of these acts of aggression.
Trap musicians defend themselves against accusations of misogyny by claiming that they simply hold a mirror to poor neighborhoods where machismo reigns. They make themselves out to be chroniclers of a daily reality wherein women are often used as bargaining chips between gangs or to settle disputes.
The Cuban authorities have reacted to the spread of trap music with an avalanche of articles in the official press, in which they accuse the genre of depicting women as mere objects of desire. The song, 4 Babys, by Maluma, has been censored from television and radio playlists.
Nonetheless, the Columbian’s voice can be heard frequently in recreation centers, school parties and on public transportation. “They always give me what I want / They put out when I tell them / Not one says no,” a dozen students could be heard chanting during recreation at a primary school in Centro Habana.
“I have forbidden my grandson to play those songs because nothing good can come from those lyrics, but there is no way to prevent it because it’s all over the place,” complains Lucinda, 72, a resident of the city of Santa Clara. “It’s not enough to tell him that he cannot listen to that music at home if they’re playing it even at school,” she laments.
Patriotic ballads are often alternated with the most raw reggaeton and trap. The thousands of teachers barely past adolescence who are staffing the classrooms of the nation, due to the personnel shortage in education sector, are avid fans of these genres.
“I want do do Fifty Shades of Grey to you, tie you to the bed with tape, start at 11 and end at 6,” says the song, 50 Shades of Austin, by the singer Arcangel–which is on the phone or tablet of every student in the Old Havana prep school.
“I don’t see anything wrong with it because it’s not real, it’s a story the singer made up to have a good time,” says middle school student Magela. “It’s not like we’re listening now to Arcangel and then are going to do what he’s saying. It’s like a video game, where you don’t really die,” she explains.
The discussions over the new style have reached the television studios. During a recent debate, Israel Rojas, the lead singer of the duo Buena Fe, was pointing to educational deficiencies in school and at home as the soil in which trap music takes root.
However, Joseph Ros, an A/V producer, warned against the dangers of censoring those themes and of a lack of dialogue over decisions about political culture in the country. The censoring of political or erotic content tends to feed the popularity of songs and videos.
During the 90s, the independent Association of Women Communicators, or Magín, convened more than 400 professionals, largely from the world of television and radio, with the objective of changing “women’s image in the media,” according to one of its founders, Sonnia Moro.
Magín members tried to “confront sexism, taboos and stereotypes,” and the messages that help reinforce “the patriarchal mindset,” but the group was quickly “deactivated” by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. “We were stunned,” admits Moro, who also points to “an absence of focus on gender” in Cuban education.
Last Friday in the WiFi zone on La Rampa, Melisa, barely 9 years old, was asking her mother to download the Soy Peor [“I’m Worse”] video. “Go on your way because I’m better off without you / Now I have others who do me better,” sings the Puerto Rican, Bad Bunny. “If I was a son of a bitch before / Now I’m worse, because of you.”
With a few clicks and no hesitation, the woman booted up the material that the girl would later share with her friends.
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Translated By: Mary Lou Keel and Alicia Barraqué Ellison