Viva Cuba Libre

Cuban rap duo put themselves at risk by using their music to protest against their government

Viva Cuba Libre A hard-hitting Cuban rap group takes on the Cuban state. They appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. Their protest lyrics are catching on like wildfire, resonating with discontented Cubans. They get no airtime and their young fans face persecution from the police. An edgy, dangerous documentary with a powerful soundtrack. Viva Cuba Libre casts an unflinching eye over the troubling reality of modern-day Cuba. It later emerged that Viva Cuba Libre was produced as part of a covert CIA operation aiming to co-opt Cuba's hip-hop scene.

"Our music distributes itself", Aldo (aka El aldeano), one half of Los Aldeanos, says with pride. He and Bian (aka El B) burn their CDs at home and hand them out for free. Once in circulation, hundreds of copies are made and sold on the street. Aldo knows he is losing out on profits: "Somebody makes money, but not me". But he embraces the underground market, knowing his music is reaching its intended audience.

"We hitchhike, grab buses from here to there, whatever... Drink a couple of shots of cheap rum and everyone goes, no matter how far." Small towns, far from Havana, are usually the only ones to grant Los Aldeanos permission to play, but huge crowds always turn up to see their gigs, which are a rambunctious affair. Sometimes they are shut down half way through, spilling onto the streets. The police deal heavy-handedly with the fans.

"In every song they express our reality and our truth. That's why my sons were listening to them." These are the words of Adis Nidia Cruz. Her two sons were sitting on their porch one evening with friends, listening to the Aldeanos, singing, dancing and waving a Cuban flag. At 11pm, five police cars showed up at the house. They attacked them with pepper spray, beat and arrested them. They were thrown in jail.

"Our music is direct and harsh, because that's our reality. And that's the government too: direct and harsh. When they impose the law they don't ask permission, they're direct and harsh." Filmed at great risk to the crew, Viva Cuba Libre is a political statement, an act of rebellion. It shows us Cuba as it is today, and as described in the harsh, direct terms of Los Aldeanos' music.

Laurel Winner - One World Prague, 2013
Laurel Winner - IDFA Amsterdam, 2013
Laurel Winner - Krakow Film Festival, 2013
Laurel Winner - Human Rights Guadeloupe, 2013
Laurel Special Mention - Des Libertes Bruxelles, 2013
Laurel Official Selection - Miami Film Festival, 2013
Laurel Official Selection - Vancouver Film Festival, 2013
Laurel Official Selection - Istanbul Film Festival, 2013
Laurel Official Selection - Stockholm Film Festival, 2013
Laurel Official Selection - One World EU Parliament, Brussels, 2013
Laurel Official Selection - Newport Beach Film Festival, 2013
Laurel Official Selection - Films That Matter, 2013

The Producers

Jesse Acevedo is a film director born in Mexico and based in Los Angeles. He has worked on feature films, documentaries, music videos and commercials. His 2005 documentary Tudo Azul was a multi award-winning exploration of Brazilian music through the people who depend on it to survive in the shanty towns of Rio. Rumberos, filmed in 2008, tells the stories of seven black Cubans who enter a Rumba contest, a dance competition that stands between them and a new life.

Making The Film

I went to Cuba with something different in mind, to make a film about a dance competition that takes place every year in the black neighborhoods of Havana. Three weeks into production someone in my crew invited me to a rap concert, without hesitation I told him no, but he insisted this is different than anything youÂ’ve ever seen. For me, it was love at the first sight! Their music was like poetry, speaking to the large population of oppressed youth. Some of the methods used to shoot and smuggle the video out of Cuba were very dangerous, not only were the risks involved very real, but the fear for all my crew was like a strange energy around me, most of the time very overwhelming!

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