Last semester, three girls journeyed to Havana obsessed with culture and came back to the states with the culture-centric Cuban hip-hop group Obsesion.
Obsesion, fronted by Magia López and Alexey Rodriguez, has been rapping and playing music in Cuba since 1996. The group’s music resonates throughout the country, as they sing in Spanish to fans around the world about Cuban political problems, religion, customs and culture.
When LSA seniors Amara Lopez, Anna Megdell and Nicole Mueller traveled to Cuba with the University’s anthropology department, their GSI Vanessa Diaz — the group’s friend and translator — introduced them to Obsesion. The three girls felt such a connection that they decided to bring the group to Ann Arbor for Cuba Week, a celebration of Cuban hip hop through music, film and lectures, which took place Oct. 3 – 7.
“We wanted to find a way to continue our experience personally,” Megdell said. “It was really hard to come home. We wanted to share our experience with Ann Arbor because we feel so rounded in both communities.”
With a little self-motivation and outside help, the girls welcomed Obsesion to the University for a week.
On Tuesday, Obsesion attended Professor Ruth Behar and Professor David Frey’s anthropology classes to speak about Cuban life and developments, as well as their lyrics and travel process. On Wednesday, in an Angell Hall auditorium, the group members attended a question-and-answer forum after a screening of Diaz’s documentary “Cuban Hip Hop: Desde el Principio.” They also gave a free performance with local Ann Arbor hip hop group Tree City Thursday evening.
“For me, my time in Cuba was largely defined by music,” Megdell said.
López’s and Rodriquez’s week in Ann Arbor was also all about experiencing their own cultural exchange — similar to the one the three students had when they traveled abroad. Obsesion took a trip to Detroit to visit a few museums and they hoped to attend a spoken-word slam poetry reading — despite the language barrier.
“It’s not just about understanding each other because we speak different languages,” Rodriguez said through Diaz. “It’s also the quality of the art and how you connect through art.”
López explained that the goal of Cuba Week was to share Obsesion’s ideas and values. She also hoped it would reform negative attitudes toward Cuba. Obsesion wants to bring American-taught values back home.
“The fact that we get to share other realities with other people in other social environments enriches our intellect,” Rodriguez said through Diaz. “And when you have experiences in life and you’re trying to figure out how to react to them, having all of these different experiences and seeing different kinds of lifestyles gives you a totally different base from which to respond.”
Megdell and the other two students who coordinated Cuba Week were confident that the student body would be as receptive to Obsesion as the hip-hop group was to Ann Arbor.
“I think that even if people don’t have experience directly with Cuba, there’s still a huge interest,” Megdell said. “The music is very good. People are just convinced.”
According to Mueller, Obsesion is very “Cuban,” made up of two welcoming, fun, and warm people.
This Cuban mindset is evident in their music, lyrics and even their apparel. Rodriguez, López and Diaz all wore wooden, tiki-looking necklaces that Diaz explained were handmade by Rodriguez — who is a woodcarver on the side — as a symbol of their family and their friendship.
The fact that Cuba Week is focused on hip hop is quite significant. The University could have gotten any Cuban politician or activist to speak for Cuba Week, but Rodriguez understands how influential music is in Cuba.
“Hip-hop music is important because it’s the way we have to best express ourselves and express the way we’re feeling,” she said through Diaz.
The cultural exchange that took place last week will be a lasting one, but sending representatives from Cuba is not the only effective way to break the scornful myths traded between Cuba and America.
“We always invite people to come to Cuba and see for themselves,” Rodriguez said through Diaz. “We just want you to come and experience it for yourself.”