In Arabic, the name of underground hip-hop master Talib Kweli translates into: “seeker of truth and knowledge.” Perhaps with the intention of living up to his name, he traveled to Cuba almost 20 years ago to participate in the Alamar musical festival, which is no longer taking place as the government’s budget for cultural events continues to dwindle.
Talib has returned to Cuba for a weekend concert in late May. He sat down with Cuban rappers and told the story of the difficult times he faced coming to Cuba almost two decades ago. He explained that the embargo and sanctions placed against Cuba by the United States made visiting the island a risky proposition for Americans, but he did in the spirit of underground hip-hop, which holds international rappers in high regard.
This time around, the American rapper has had an easier time entering Cuba thanks to the resumption of diplomatic ties with the United States, which is a legacy of the Obama administration. Talib wishes to collaborate with Cuban rappers and to learn more about the culture and the country.
Talib believes that it is important for the hip-hop community to learn about Cuba. When he performed at the Alamar Festival, it was mostly to interact with the Cuban hip-hop artists. He thought it was a great experience that made him more humble even though Cuban audiences considered him to be a rap celebrity.
As an underground rapper, Talib became an icon through his recordings with figures such as Kanye West, Puff Daddy and Black Eyed Peas; nonetheless, he is far more active in the underground hip-hop scene. Speaking to a Cuban newspaper at the concert, he said that many Americans have a personal connection with the island because.
Talib also encouraged Cuban audiences to become familiar with the works of The Roots, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy. In Cuba, the Brooklyn rapper shared the stage with local acts such as Brebaje Man, Mano Armada, Invaxión and Kilómetro 969. The American rapper’s expectation of the concert was to relive the moments he experience at Alamar 17 years ago, when the thought of hip-hop invading the island was not something that crossed many minds due to the embargo and the sanctions.