If Jesse Acevedo's Viva Cuba Libre: Rap is War proves nothing else, it's that machines worth raging against can also be found in places where the iconic image of Che Guevara in a beret is revered. Because the old adage "absolute power corrupts absolutely" can apply to any political system, even those born out of "people's revolutions." How did those old-timey rappers put it? Oh, yes: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
Shot by "Anonymous" in Havana and Holguin City using consumer electronics and hidden cameras, Viva Cuba Libre follows two underground rappers known collectively as Los Aldeanos and separately as Bian Óscar Rodríguez Gala (or "El B") and Aldo Roberto Rodríguez Baquero ("El Aldeano" or just "Aldo").
They rap about poverty, injustice, police brutality, wasted youth, lack of opportunity forcing women into prostitution … sound familiar? But with a Cuban twist, they also tell of becoming "shark food" if they try to escape the island nation and of representing the million who have left and the million who remain behind.
Based on the kids in the street who swarm them, Los Aldeanos are beloved. "They speak the truth," explains one young fan. But the state police in uniform or hiding in plain clothes constantly let them know they are playing with fire, something that also concerns the rappers' families. It seems that Cuban dissenters have been disappeared for far less.
"But we're not the problem, we're the consequences of the times we live in …" raps Los Aldeanos. They and Acevedo push the envelope by following a female dissenter whose two sons are rotting in jail for desecrating the Cuban flag.
Stories from the streets like hers fill in the lyrics the rappers deliver onstage–as long as their microphones don't get cut off by spooked promoters, as seen in the 74-minute documentary. This ain't no Buena Vista Social Club for sure.