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Cuban rappers Krudas Cubensi bring their feminist agenda to America
Acclaimed as one of the most talented groups to emerge from Cuba's underground hip-hop movement, Krudas Cubensi (the Crude Ones) ain't your average flow. The trio—Olivia Prendes (Pelusa MC) and sisters Odalys (Wanda) and Odaymara (Pasa) Cuesta—are a sociological mouthful: an all-women, multiracial, fiercely feminist, vegan, pro-black and out-lesbian hip-hop group.
Founded in 1999, Krudas Cubensi made their reps in Cuba with their searing rhymes celebrating the beauty of being gordas while tirelessly battling patriarchy. Despite facing discrimination at multiple levels, as well as a Cuban revolution that has sought to unify society along class and anti-imperialist lines—at times at the expense of race and gender—Krudas Cubensi earned respect anyway.
After Pasa and Pelusa decided to rejoin Wanda in relocating to the United States, the group continued their struggle, with the added burden of being immigrants. Wasting no time, the women have toured from New York to San Francisco, performing at rallies, film festivals and community spaces. Krudas' accentuated, rapid-fire flows transform into harmoniously sung choruses layered over heavy Afro-Caribbean percussion that make for powerfully compelling social critiques. According to Pasa, the African roots of the group's sound are "an inheritance from my ancestors."
Now in a nation where bling and lyrically misogynistic hip-hop limit many women to their sporting of "apple-bottom jeans"—as well as fur boots—Krudas Cubensi stand poised to make a difference. The three rapping activists did not leave the island to shop their demos to the likes of Cuban-American music mogul Emilio Estefan in search of fortune and fame.
"Being here in this country at this moment is a part of our mission, which consists of transmitting our life experiences, sensibilities and thoughts to a wider audience," Wanda remarks. "We aspire to see a change in the communities that are the most fucked-over and needy." Staying true to their principles, Krudas Cubensi have quickly inserted themselves in joining fair food campaigns while continuing their feminist agitation in the U.S.
"Feminism for me, not just in hip-hop, is the search for equilibrium in sexist societies," Pelusa says. "Our mission was not selected by us alone. Universal forces have placed us on this path. We raise our voices in an attempt to uplift the rights of women and all people who are suffering injustice. We are against war and all types of violence. According to our understanding, these conditions have always been closely linked to systems of patriarchy. We have much in common with Cuban, Latino and global hip-hop, but our focus is on women."
Krudas Cubensi's irresistibly entertaining live performances sure don't hurt the cause. Onstage, the group transcend the standard hokey theatrics of most live hip-hop acts. Constantly interacting with the crowd as they give audiences the context of their poetically potent songs, the trio of raperas remain on the cutting edge. "We will continue exploring and incorporating different theatrical elements," Wanda asserts.
A centerpiece of their live show has Wanda disappearing, only to return with a big Afro wig, instantly transforming herself into the character of La Prima de Celia Cruz. "With La Prima, we specifically re-create Cuban singers such as La Lupe and Celia Cruz," Pelusa says. "It's a space for parody and comedy, as well as a prideful tribute to the authenticity of the black Cuban woman with the popular genres of music from our country."
As Fidel Castro has officially passed the mic to his brother Raúl, speculation abounds as to how—and if—U.S. relations with Cuba will change, and vice versa. Seeing Krudas Cubensi perform in the United States was once impossible because of America's decades-long isolationist foreign policy toward the island nation. Travel visas were bureaucratic nightmares for the women when they resided in Cuba; as a result, they continually had to turn down concert bookers. Now with Krudas Cubensi situated in the States, seeing them rock the mic live is a reminder that the difficulty of even cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba is reason enough to end the embargo.
Krudas Cubensi perform with Fawksie1, DJ Duwop and Sherman Austin at SolArt Gallery Café, 511 E. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana; www.myspace.com/solartgallerycafe. Sat., 8 p.m. $7. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/3krudas.