It’s night-time. Suspicious eyes roam the streets. Poetry is being read, songs are being sung and there are cries at a new alternative festival “Poesia Sin Fin”, in a corner of Old Havana. We don’t all fit inside the house. The audience gathers outside a door and window to hear verses.
Suddenly, when it’s her turn, everything takes on a new density. She doesn’t recite. She speaks verses from her memory, with all of her senses. Young, black, female poetry. Bloody, sweaty, real poetry. And some of us who didn’t know her, come back inside from the street, running to see her face, to take her pulse, to know who is talking like this.
She communicates in a lively and dynamic way like a one woman a feminist march, who holds multitudes of women in herself, in a country which (people say) is a country of poets, where marches and feminism can’t take to the street and need to resign themselves to the space between poetry’s lines. Thanks to this kind of “artivism”, many are still able to have a voice in Cuba, in spite of censorship.
“My name is Afibola Sifunola Umoja, a Yoruba name. I am a spoken-word artist, I have been performing poetry for nearly 10 years now. My poetry basically deals with issues of Afro-descendant youth, that’s all I really deal with in some poems but then this expanded and now I deal with Afro-descendant, lesbian, queer youth issues, that is to say, all of Cuba’s LGBTIQ community. In short, everything that has been joining this Movement over the years, which I wouldn’t say is a Movement in Cuba… it’s a family.”
Afibola, a “feminist artivist”, recognizes a part of her unique clan, created by the strength of consciousness in contemporary Cuba has gained in recent times such as rescuing African origins which have been methodically amputated over centuries of oppression. She is a member of a generational movement which dissents against a heroic, machista or hetero-normative future. They give themselves a new name with the same determination they think about taking control of their lives and changing history. When she speaks, many other women’s expressive faces turn towards her, these women she calls “her own”. She refers to the great poet, Georgina Herrera: “She’s one of my favorites and she is a super feminist poet in my opinion, she’s a very strong example for me.”
That’s why we also see other spoken-word fighters next to her, glorified in life, such as Luz de Cuba, Africa Reina, Magia (Obsesion) and, of course, Las Krudas. Thanks to them, and others, “Black feminism” is one of the most dynamic variants of feminist ideology on the island right now, as it exceeds the academic world and connects with people’s concrete problems, through spoken-word performances and music in this instance.
Unfortunately, the world of hip hop (where “spoken word” and Afibola have been present, which was booming in the ‘90s and early 21st century) is suffering a constant exodus of artists. Many of its main voices have emigrated. This is the same exodus for survival that has marked Cuban society, which other alternative forms of expression also suffer. Nevertheless, there is a constant stream of communication between those who leave and stay, spaces where they can meet arise, discourses which endure, loaded with a strong impulse for social, anti-racist, anti-colonial and anti-sexist criticism.
Right now, in the middle of this stage which theorist Roberto Zurbano has called “cultural runaway slaves”, we can still hear her, Afibola, with some verses written in Havana’s air, like: “Stop. Don’t victimize our dark, sexual, earthly, artistic position sincere friend. Whore? Yes, respect her life. Demands? We demand to deconstruct this factory of fear.
She finishes her second poem and everybody breaks out into applause. Truth and humor have had their moment. Then, strangely-enough, two white men approach her to ask her for an interview. She accepts smiling. She seems to be used to stirring admiration in others because of her way of performing poetry, although she doesn’t put this down to her own merit, or the gender of her ideas, but to the overwhelming presence of popular blood in her poetry, this resistent heartbeart of people who don’t emerge in official media. And she accepted to give us a brief interview.
“I believe that this feminist discourse surfaces sometimes, not because it’s feminist, but because many people identify with what you are saying (whether they consider themselves to be feminist or not), that is to say, they think “what she’s saying is real, something that happens to me, to my neighbor, something I live every day.’ That’s why I believe people can easily identify with what we say, because it could be your own personal story, but it’s reflected in other people’s.”
Translation: Circles Robinson.