Cuban artists are aware that "Cuba está de moda": foreigners want a piece of the island's cultural products, from the perfect selfie in front of a vintage car to "discovering" the next hot thing coming out of the local scenes. But instead of having outsiders poach what they deem is valuable (think Buena Vista Social Club in 1998) in 2017, the internet is empowering Cubans to share their works of art and tell their own narratives. That's also the philosophy of the Afrorazones multimedia project, which was directed by a young woman of color, Luna Olavarría Gallegos.
New York City-based Olavarría Gallegos recently graduated from college and she is already an accomplished writer covering multicultural music and culture for publications such as The Fader. She is also the executive producer of Afrorazones, which includes a music compilation of Afro-Cuban artists exploring race and identity through hip hop, R&B and spoken word. AfroRazones is an ongoing project that bridges the gap between U.S. and Cuban artists and includes workshops on internet literacy in the island, and more.
"The album isn’t for museum or to be brought out to a cannon when referencing diasporic blackness. It's an active album that black Cubans can listen to and people outside Cuba can listen to and to recognize what is happening on the island" says Olavarría Gallegos, adding that part of the mission of the project is to show what's happening in Cuban music today. "For decades we only got Buena Vista Social Club. Because of the [lack of] internet access, we don’t obviously get easy access to what’s happening in Cuba, especifically music. But then we’re just lazy and we don’t really look. So this album, we were going to do the work to make sure it’s heard."
The digital album includes a mix of established and emerging artists such as DJ Drew, DJ Lápiz, Prófugo, La Reina y La Real, and many more. For Olavarría Gallegos and everybody involved in Afrorazones it was important "to build a transnational relationship that isn't exploitative and it doesn't just come and extract." Many of the producers and allies that made AfroRazones possible are first and second generation Americans who are in a way giving back to the their ancestral homelands. Nothing against idols such as Omara Portuondo and Compay Segundo (RIP), but AfroRazones sounds like the opposite of Buena Vista Social Club indeed. It is opening up the possibilities for cultural exchange inside and outside the island, starting with a celebration of African and black heritage.
The music video for lead single 'Mi raza' by rapper El Individuo, was released a few weeks ago.