14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2020 — Omar Mena is an artist without fear when it comes to expressing himself. The author of more than 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago, he is known in his genre as El Analista [The Analyst]. Mena has always been at the side of the most complicated causes that have been defended within the culture in recent times: the fight against Decree 349, the support for the campaign that called for the freedom of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the vote to petition the rejection of the Constitution, among others.
After a lot of struggling from one place to another, today he resides with his family in Santa Clara, from where he talks with 14ymedio about the challenges of being a free artist in Cuba and about the projects he has defended to stay active in the world of hip hop.
Question. What were your beginnings in music like, and what prompted you to rap?
Answer. I started to do rap in 2008, recording an album at the Real 70 production company. I’ve been in this field for twelve years. Initially I was a rocker, I really liked rock and I had my band, but I was always rebellious, what I liked was expressing what I felt. The issue was already complicated with the members. There were four of us and some began to be afraid because of what I said in my lyrics. So I decided to do rap. After my first album I recorded in some Santa Clara studios and later in one that I put together myself.
Question. Where can you hear hip hop in Santa Clara?
Answer. Santa Clara does not have spaces specifically for hip hop, the usual clubs in the city are the only spaces rappers have. For example, at the AHS there are about two clubs a month and one in El Mejunje de Silverio
When you have my kind of lyrics, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created independently
Question. Due to the lyrics and the free expression of the songs that you write, you have suffered censorship from the institution, what did this mean for your career? How did you experience it? What hit you the most?
Answer. In this genre, censorship is not something that affects an artist’s career much. When you have the lyrics that I have, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me almost anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created in an independent manner.
What hurts is the dimension that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist. I have directed events when I belonged to the institution and brought censored artists such as David D’omni or the Patriot Squad and everyone participated, but if there are no artists from those who remain in the institutions who are committed to Cuban society, that censorship will be the one that will continue to hit the most, because no one can prevent an artist from being brave and inviting you; what can happen, at most they will tell him that he is responsible and that’s it.
What also happens is that censorship is a machine: they not only go against your work but against you.
Question. I suppose that resuming your career independently has closed many doors for you, what new experiences did creation outside the institution bring to you?
Answer. After censorship arrived, I spent almost a year devising a new strategy, because it was always clear to me that it was not going to stop. When you are censored, all doors close and the locksmith keeps all the keys. then there is nowhere to perform, you need to create doors and options and that’s what I did.
What hurts is the scope that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist
I created a project called Genesis Club. Initially it was only about supporting artists in their work, holding improvement workshops, helping them to record their albums but then it evolved into another period.
I have a large patio so that’s where I built my stage. It has been the most special thing that has happened to me in my life, one for the artists who have performed there and another for the support of the people of the neighborhood. It is not the same to sing for people who have the same problems than for those who attend so they can party. In a club everyone goes to drink their bottle and the neighborhood people attend out of curiosity and pay close attention to everything that’s said.
That is what the Government fears, new comments said in the neighborhood and the neighborhood starts to think, reflecting on what happens there. It is one of the most special things that has happened to me.
The issue of repression has been more complicated, let’s call a spade a spade. I am not a politician, I am an artist, I do not belong to a party, I am just an independent thinker, a young man with his own way of thinking and who expresses it without fear. It is not a question of being brave, it is a commitment that I think must be taken. Everyone should give themselves the personal satisfaction of saying what they think and that is my case.
What the Government is afraid of, what new idea can be spoken in the neighborhood and the neighborhood is left thinking, reflecting on what is expressed there
Whenever a rumor goes around or with each demonstration that social networks or the opposition calls for, two policemen get stationed in front of my house to prevent me from going out. When the Clandestinos thing was going around they stationed them there too. It’s crazy.
It is difficult for me to understand that they do that to an artist, especially when they control everything. They know that I don’t belong to any party and yet I’m being repressed. Personally, it does not affect me, I can live quietly, I am free and I am at peace.
Question. Do you agree with the idea that a rapper from the provinces is at a disadvantage compared to one from Havana to achieve success in his career?
Answer. It is relative. Initially, I lived in Havana and I never achieved what I did later here in my province. Everything is where you pump it out, where you put effort to work. The thing about Havana is that there are 400 rappers there, but you can come to your province and make yourself noticed, I don’t see that as impossible.
It is true that there are more opportunities there, but it is possible. Life is a line, which may curve, but it will always go to its point, if something is there for you it will happen, everything depends on the effort you put into it, I do not agree that opportunities exist only in Havana.
When I’ve had to make an important video I have gone to Havana, like the one from 349, the one about “no to the Constitution”, I have gone and been videoed, when the issue of Luis Manuel’s freedom the same thing happened, shot the video, they counted on me from my province.
Question. Having created a concert space in the house where you live with your family, what consequences has it brought you? How has it worked so far?
Answer. The creation of space in the house has not brought me many problems, just a few citations, the normal that one lives with daily. I think it is done to make you feel the intimidation and surveillance. They always ask me about what I’m going to do and I always answer the same thing: I’m going to make art.
A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that I was going to make art that day.
During the first concert they threatened to send me to prison if something was said on stage that was not in accordance with the Revolution’s discourse. A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that that day I was going to make art and that the next day they would do what they had to do.
David, Soandry, the neighborhood Hip Hopper came to the concert, what went on, went on. What they said was going to be said was said and nothing happened, many police cars patrolling, watching.
Every time I do a concert it’s the same. They come up here and come to ask my permission. Then they schedule me with the head of the sector to ask me what I live on and things like that, but they have no way to cross my threshold. I follow the rules, the schedules, it is at my house, it is not in the street, I do not interrupt the public space.
We’re here to make art, it is a free space, the neighborhood supports me immensely, they help me in a huge way, they fill up the audience space, they have never disappointed me. I live two kilometers from the park and people come from there. I have never before sung for as many audiences as I have here and there is always an atmosphere full of freedom.
Translated by Norma Whiting
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