This festival is also known as Habana Hip Hop. It is hosted every year in Alamar – a barrio on the Eastern side of Havana, across the Bay from Old Havana. The festival started in the 1990’s when hip hop and rap suddenly became very popular among Cuban youth. One of the reasons perhaps was that at this time, economic conditions in Cuba were quite desperate and access to musical instruments was even more difficult than normal.
The themes of this genre in Cuba can be critical in nature and the lyrics often centre around social topics, racism, and injustice. So for some people, it is a pleasant surprise that this genre is given an official place on the Cuban cultural calendar and recognized as a legitimate artform, especially considering the sometimes controversial nature of the lyrics. It has been suggested that the CIA has secretly helped fund the festival and some of Cuba’s rap artists in an attempt to foment protest against the Cuban government.
The festival welcomes international performers as well as showcasing the talents of local Cuban artists, and as the festival grows it is starting to incorporate other related forms of expression such as rap dancing, graffiti, and even short films.