Cuba millennials pt.3: Rapper El Individuo

World Today

El IndividuoCuban rapper Rafael Bou ‘El Individuo.’

Part of a CGTN special series on Cuba Millennials.

Cuba may be famous for its salsa and rumba, but for many young Cubans they have their own sounds, ranging from reggaeton to hip hop and rap. In the next part of our Special Series on Cuban millennials, CGTN’s correspondent Michael Voss meets a young rapper performing on issues like Black Pride.

Rafael Bou is an Afro Cuban millennial with a degree in social communications. But these days, he has an alternative way of communicating.

Using the stage name El Individuo, ‘the individual’, he has given up his day job and now tries to earn a living as a rap artist… and this being Cuba, to do so he has to be accepted into the state-controlled rapper agency.
“Here to live on music you must be under a state this is the only way you can earn money from your music,” Bou said.
He also performs with a group called Con100cia, which is a play on words for conciencia or consciousness.
“So far we have not had problems, but we have faced problems for the mere fact of being rappers, because as soon as you say you are a rapper people look at you with eyes wide open,” he said.

Michael Voss with Rapper Rafael Bou

Michael Voss with Rapper Rafael Bou.

Like so many of his generation, Rafael lives at home with his parents. His bedroom doubles as his studio.
This is where he comes to practice new material and rehearse before performances. He also built a small recording studio in the corner. Luckily, his mother seems to like the music and even knows some of the words.
“My family at the beginning was some kind of shocked, because it sounds complicated that you finish a university course and go for a job in that field. They were sort of shocked at first but they have already seen some of my results, and they are now sort of happy about what is going on,” he added.
Politically, Cuba may have changed little over the years, but socially the younger generation is striking out on its own. For many, their music is reggaeton and rap, and with growing internet access there are new windows to the world.
“My generation, I think, is undergoing a crazy process,” Bou said. “Lots of information here and there, many transformations, I think there are many new ideas and that we are somehow inserting ourselves into the world now that the Internet is arriving here.”
Rafael Bou’s breakthrough as ‘El Individuo’ came with a multimedia compilation album called Afro Razones, exploring Afro Cuban identity. His track Mi Raza, my race, received a write-up in The New York Times.

“I always say that in Cuba there is not a highly marked kind of racism, but it exists one way or the other, because people of color are not very well looked at in some places,” he said.
Rafael Bou dreams of reaching a wider audience outside of Cuba.
“I would really like to export my music and collaborate with many artists from other countries. Although I do not think everybody can identify with what I say, I do think people must have the chance to listen to me and think about what I do.” 
At one point in my interview with him, ‘El Individuo’ Bou said that rather than explain his work to me he would rap the answer instead. Here it is:

PHOTOS: Cuban millennials

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Part of a CGTN special series on Cuba Millennials.