want to reclaim the term “revolution” from those who have misappropriated it.
Of course, the Cuban government knows that means them. However, the Havana
based hip hop duo Los Aldeanos is reluctant to be cast as a symbol of
anti-government resistance. They walk a fine line as they build their street
level fanbase despite heavy Communist censorship. Léa Rinaldi documents their
rise and growing pains in This Is What It
screens during the 2016 edition of First Look at the Museum of the Moving Image
in Astoria, Queens.
years, the French Rinaldi followed Aldo Roberto Rodríguez Baquero (“El Aldeano”)
and Bian Oscar Rodríguez Gala (“El B”), returning frequently as a supposed
tourist. Ironically, a tourist with camera is given free rein in hard-currency
starved Cuba, but any sort of journalist will be tightly regulated and
monitored. In fact, the extent to which the supposedly egalitarian society has
sold its soul to European tourists is a frequent theme in Los Aldeanos’s raps.
question, many of their tracks take square aim at the Castro regime, but they
also harshly criticize the gangster mentality and lack of personal
responsibility that have contributed to the social pathologies surrounding
them. Clearly, Los Aldeanos have engaged in a balancing act, talking truth to
power without coming across overtly partisan.
has often left them in a bizarre legal no man’s land. Early in Rinaldi’s film,
the duo attends the opening of another documentary about them, noting the odd
paradox that the film was not censored but their music is still prohibited.
Likewise, they really do not see the logic when the government grants Los
Aldeanos visas to perform internationally as part of their new-fangled cultural
exchange overtures to the West, but still denies them the right to hold
concerts in Cuba.
the government is using them to some extent, but Rinaldi and Los Aldeanos are
more concerned about the Miami expatriate community’s eagerness to embrace them
as artistic dissenters. Not surprisingly, when they make a show of rejecting
that role, many in the Cuban-American community turn on them, but what did they
it is hard to fully gather what sort of takeaway Rinaldi intended, but it is
dashed difficult to maintain any illusions about the quality of life in Cuban
from what she captures. Poverty is deep and widespread, while Euro tourism is
problematically, perhaps even predatorily, exploitative. It is also fascinating
to see the underground distribution network Los Aldeanos has developed. The film
might just be more honest than Rinaldi expected, recording state censorship in
action just when she was hoping to film their moment of triumph.
English title is rather fitting. The censorship and poverty that make their way
into Rinaldi frame are very much what Castro’s Cuba is all about. Los Aldeanos’s
dark lyrics directly and evocatively reflect that reality. Unfortunately, they
are not always the most charismatic screen presences, particularly El B, who
often seems to dissolve into the background. It is impossible to secretly film
this much of Cuba’s oppressed underclass and come away with a dull film, but
Rinaldi frequently seems to be looking for irony in the wrong places. Flawed
but still worth viewing with a critical eye, This Is What It Is screens Friday (1/15), as part of this year’s
First Look at MoMI.
Labels: Documentary, First Look '16, Los Aldeanos