Woody Guthrie sang ‘This Land is Your Land’ for the rights of the working class; Billie Holiday sang ‘Strange Fruit’ in protest of the lynching of African Americans at the turn of the century. In Latin America, León Gieco sang ‘Sólo le pido a Dios’ about the resistance against the dictatorship of Rafael Videla in Argentina, and Inti Illimani and Quilapayún sang the iconic verse ‘el pueblo unido jamás será vencido.’
In short, there is no revolution without an anthem, no spirit of contestation without choruses in the streets.
And the historic demonstrations in all the cities of the Island of Cuba last Sunday also have their war chant.
Videos on social networks showed hundreds of Cubans marching through the streets to the cry of “Libertad,” “Patria,” and “Vida.” Citizens expressed their indignation over the economic hardships of a country mired in economic and social crisis for more than six decades thanks to the Castro regime.
However, among the shouts, one could make out the chorus of the song by Cuban artists Yotuel Romero, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Osorbo, Eliécer “el Funky” Márquez, and reggaeton duo Gente de Zona, ‘Patria y Vida,’ released last February.
The song plays on the slogan of the late Fidel Castro’s communist revolution, “Patria o Muerte,” heralding the end of the longest-running autocracy in contemporary Caribbean history.
“The idea was to make a song that would be an outpouring, a song that would say everything to people who are against [the idea of] ‘Patria y Vida,'” Romero, who is from Havana, told Rolling Stone in an interview over the phone in Spanish. “In it, we were saying, ‘It’s over – it’s done. The people want a change.'”
As the magazine explained, while Romero and Gente de Zona now live in Miami, Osorbo and El Funky continue to reside on the island and risk openly rebuking the country’s leaders. The two rappers secretly recorded their verses and sent them to the other artists, who were in charge of mixing the track in Miami.
“Involving them was key since they’re rappers and people who have struggled against the dictatorship even while being in Cuba – as we say in Cuba, ‘tienen los huevos bien puestos’ [they have balls],” Delgado says. Malcolm adds, “These are artists who are willing to give their life for their country.”
However, as the New York Times explained, both the protest song and the social revolts have not been spontaneous; they are part of a cultural movement that has been making noise in the streets of Havana for years.
It was Movimiento San Isidro, a small group of grassroots artists that formed in 2018 to stand up to censorship by Cuba’s communist government, who first inverted the communist slogan.
“It’s been a very symbolic narrative used by the government since the revolution, saying you need to sacrifice everything for your country,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, America’s director of Amnesty International. “It is a propaganda that continues to be used by the government.”
But as is always the case in social revolutions, the artists have taken the words of hegemony and transformed them into weapons for freedom.