Song after song, Cuban artist Danay Suárez’s album Polvo de la Humedad is a well executed hip hop and reggae album. With her grave rapping voice, soulful singing voice, and nuanced rhythms, she mesmerizes with the sincerity of perfected expression. This is sincerity we expect in contemporary reggae music but no longer expect much of in hip hop.
Polvo de la Humedad sounds sultry and sentimental throughout. “Intro” is a beautiful start to the remainder of the album. She sings us a slow, intimate song, along with thrilling background vocals. The song’s piano is simple but accompanies her well, and the same can be said for the drumming.
The album continues on “Esta Guerra Tan Violenta,” a reggae song. Its guitar adds an engaging touch, and so do moments of drumming. Hearing her state “entre mi vida y tu sistema” (“between my life and your system”) will shock any Spanish speaking listener. Is she protesting in favor of or against Cuban Communism?
“Flores” is another reggae song with shocking lyrics. The line that surprises the most is her singing “resistencia […] es mi posición” (“resistance is my position”). What is she resisting against? Is she singing lyrics to match the fact that reggae songs are meant to be songs of social and political struggle?
“Yo…” is a song that reminds us of hip hop that was produced in New York during the 1990s—Big L, Large Professor, Jay Z, DJ Premier. It’s hard to imagine this music as Caribbean, but “Yo…” hits in the gut enough to inspire thoughts about the social conditions that fuel this music, not that it’s Cuban appropriation. Like much of hip hop, it is a song about “I,” though this “I” is much grittier and seems to be the product of more introspection than in most of contemporary hip hop.
Her flow as she raps on “Fantasma” is striking. “Música Del Corazón,” however, is her best performance on the album. She raps to us beautifully, letting her soulful singing voice out. There is no posing on Suárez’s part; she wears no mask of realness or hardness.
Hip hop in Cuba is promoted by a Cuban Rap Agency. The Agency’s record label La Fabri-K (which Suárez is not signed to) was the first to promote her music. The Agency either still publishes, or once published, a journal, Movimiento. I looked for a copy for some insight into Cuban hip hop thought and found the third issue online, which I translated from Spanish. Hip hop was defined in the journal as a popular phenomenon, looking at African-American culture, instigated by Cuban socioeconomics. The Agency’s plan is to nationalize it, especially by adding Cuban instrumentation. Suárez’s sound seems to be the perfect version of this nationalization.
“Directo Al Alma” is an unforgettable love song. It seems to be an expression of love as felt by the youth in Cuba’s poor and middle-class neighborhoods, where hip hop would be a natural idiom for expressing love. It is the album’s best song.
If Suárez is protesting against Cuban Communism with some of these songs, I wonder how dangerous it is for her to be releasing such ambiguous lyrics? The Cuban government has always sided with ideology over freedom of expression, however beautiful those expressions may be. If it were not for the patronage and courage of Haydée Santamaría Cuadrado, a now deceased Cuban Communist dignitary who butted heads with Fidel Castro to protect artists, the Nuevo Trova music—now emblematic of the Cuban Communist revolution—would have been silenced. I hope that Danay is not in harm’s way.