If given the choice, which would you prefer: “Patria o Muerte” – my country or death, or “Patria y Vida” – my country and life? By the thousands Cubanos in Havana and Miami chose the latter, which is the title of a reggaeton rap song that is the anthem of a new #SOSCuba uprising among Cuban people everywhere.
One of the best examples of how music moves social change, “Patria y Vida” is a calculated strike at the 50-year old Communist Revolution in Cuba. A takeoff on the government’s motto “Patria o Muerte” which is emblazoned on plazas, buildings, plaques and money throughout Cuba, the song’s title turns government propaganda on its head and motivates thousands into the streeets. Quite a feat for a reggaeton rap song written by a group of artists.
The artists are the San Isidro Movement, a group of grass-roots anti-censorship creatives founded in 2018 which includes Alexander Delgado, Randy, Beatriz Luengo, Eliexer Marquez Duany, Randy Malcom, Yadam Gonzalez, and the three of the song’s performers, Descember Buemo, Maykel Osboro, and Yotuel . Released earlier this year through Chantecleta Records by the Cuban rapper Yotuel Romero, with the singer Descemer Bueno and the reggaeton group Gente de Zona and artists Maykel Osorbo and El Funky it has already surpassed 1.6 million streams on Spotify and is going strong.
More than just a chant energizing demonstrators, the song’s title encapsulates in three words the issues powering Cubanos in the streets – shortages of everything including freedom, corruption and incompetence in the government, separation from family, censorship, and the hope that a political change will lead to a better life in their homeland. And by doing so it has united the factions and generations of Cubanos, especially in Miami, inspiring them to put aside their arguments about the embargo and American politics – and about music. Reggaeton is the bane of older Cubanos, but it is beloved by younger, second and third generation Latinx’s and younger recent immigrants who often clash with their elders on politics, as well as music. But not now.
In watching the demonstrators sing “Patria y Vida” and move together in Miami’s streets like a single organism to its infectious pop beat, I was amazed how the sometimes contentious generations of Cubanos linked arms as they marched and sang the anthem of change to a reggaeton beat.
An no wonder. They lyrics were drawn from the hope of the Cuban street:
At gunpoint and with words that are still nothing/
No more lies/My people ask for freedom, no more doctrines
Let us no longer shout homeland or death but homeland and life
And begin to build what we dream of
“Patria y Vida” provided one of the sparks that ignited the long-simmering tender of revolt in Cuba and in the Cuban diaspora by using a power that music has and prose so very often lacks; the ability to condense feeling and emotion and history into a handful of words, where prose would take paragraphs or even books. “Patria y Vida” does this brilliantly.
All a Cubano needs to hear is the title and she or he knows exactly what it means politically, emotionally and historically. Those three words signify the last 60 years of Cuban history, the sacrifice of the people during that time, and the hope of turning over a new leaf. The three words of the title signaled that here and now is an inflection point in Cuban history. And you can dance to it.
Regardless of your views on the Cuban government, the embargo, the cross currents of American partisan politics in the Latino community in Florida, as you watch the streets and towns of Cuba and Miami filled with people this week singing “Patria Y Vida”, keep in mind you may just be watching the reggaeton revolution.
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