Havana, Cuba: June 27, 1995 – Rodolfo Rensoli, hip-hop artist, and cultural promoter, nervously prepared for the first–ever Cuban Rap Festival. There had never been a collective space for Cuban hip-hop artists to share their messages to the masses due to earlier government restrictions on the genre. Once the event began, Rensoli was filled with hope. The turnout exceeded his expectations.
Hailing from a family of educators, Rensoli is a firm believer that every human being should have a right to education and that those who are educated should contribute to the knowledge of others. This belief was the driving force that led him to form el Festival de Rap Cubano (the Cuban Rap Festival).
As the founder of Grupo Uno, the first hip-hop group in Cuba, Rensoli had bigger visions for the genre. He noticed that many hip-hop artists and groups were forming on their own across the island, but no collective brought artists together. His desire to create a collective movement led Rensoli to assume the role as the leader of the Cuban Hip-Hop Movement, which began with the first Cuban Rap Festival.
While artists from all over the world – the U.S., Spain, Mexico, Canada – traveled to Cuba to perform and educate each other on the collective struggles of the people, music was not the only aspect that brought people to the festivals. Rensoli’s fondest memories of the festivals include watching artists paint murals, watching theatrical performances, and exchanging ideas with people from different countries. He also recalls the material and economic support Cuban artists received from artists from New York City that greatly helped the movement. The Black August Hip Hop Collective, founded in the U.S. to support global hip-hop culture to promote social and political awareness, hosted benefit concerts to raise money for the Cuban Rap Festival. Artists such as Dead Prez, Chuck D, Common, and Erykah Badu participated in the collective.
Despite the numbers of people who supported the hip-hop genre nationally and internationally, The Cuban Rap Festival did not come without its challenges. Rensoli fought for the rights and relative freedom of expression of hip-hop artists, who in early years faced criminalization for their music. He relentlessly shared his vision of a collective hip-hop movement that would empower the Afro-Cuban community from which he came and promote cultural and economic development. Finally, the ministerial government approved, and the movement expanded across the island.
The movement not only served as a means of exchanging culture and art, it also gave a voice to the Afro-Cuban community. In a country that previously declared to be a “racial democracy,” Afro-Cuban rappers highlighted the economic and social struggles of the Black community. Rappers educated the public on Black historical figures and leaders who played essential roles in Cuban history. Rensoli says, “There had never existed such a powerful and radical voice against this problem [racism]. Hip-hop culture reimagined Black people as leaders. The movement demonstrated that Black people could and should talk about these issues as they are and from their perspective.”
The Cuban Rap Festivals organized by Rensoli continued for a decade, the last one occurring in 2005. Since then, Rensoli has continued to serve as a cultural promoter, artist, and educator. He is passionate about raising a collective Black consciousness in Cuba and has plans to continue creating opportunities for the Afro-Cuban community.