Los Aldeanos & Intifada
Musical composition by Yallzee
Engineered by Papá Humbertico & Emetrece
Produced by M.Rivière
Los Aldeanos are one of the leading rap groups in Cuba today. They are also one of the more controversial ones. Representing a voice of the people and recognized for their critical lyrics,Los Aldeanos are esteemed by many Cubans for ‘telling it like it is.’ Los Aldeanos respond to their approach as constructive criticism, saying they love Cuba and wouldm’t consider leaving, only to tour and return, but there are problems in Cuba that cannot be overlooked and they choose to do it through hip-hop.
Their recent exposure on Univision last summer and a prime NY Times article titled “Cuba’s Rap Vanguard Reaches Beyond the Party Line” peaked a curiosity for the group from Cuban’s outside of Cuba, and Los Aldeanos began receiving more international attention than many Cuban Agency for Rap sponsored artists. Adding to the hype, El Bian won the Red Bull freestyle battle of the year last October 2007 – putting them simpultaniously on international hip-hop and political radars.
Los Aldeanos is a Cuban hip-hop duo that got their start in 2003. As friends they would spend days and nights non-stop writing together – but with little opportunity to record. They paired up with emcee, songwriter and producer Papa Humbertico who runs Real 70 Studios out of his home. Slowly they started getting their songs recorded and their message heard. Today, Los Aldeanos do not belong to the Cuban Agency for Rap, however they are invited guests for Agency symposiums, concerts and tours.
My production work with Aldo began through a personal/professional friendship with his, at the time wife – Danay, an amazing hip-hop, r&b, jazz and soul vocalist. Just as the second track on the Ph.D., “Guasabara” was beginning to get attention in Havana, I began to talk with Aldo about doing a third collaborative song that would include them. Many Cuban rappers would have been delighted to be selected for this project, and according to many fans and colleagues, including Los Aldeanos in the project was insinuated as a ‘risky’ choice. First off they are not integral to the Cuban Agency for Rap, which in Cubait is assumed that such a high profile international collaboration would be limited to Agency artists, second, their highly charged critical lyrics guaranteed polarized responses.
We discussed the possibility of the collaboration for about six months and I facilitated a series of conference calls between Luis Diaz of Intifada and Aldo to decide on the theme. Luis gave me Yallzee’s beat in Puerto Rico in April of 2007. I sent the beat to Aldo in Cuba via a professor at the University of Madrid who sent the package to Cuba. Aldo received the beat and both him and El Bian wrote their portion of the lyrics, and waited for me to get to Havana to record. In July of 2007 I arrived in Havana and we coincided the recording of the track with my participation in the 3rd Simposio de Hip-Hop Cubano.
I wanted to keep as much of the raw underground sound Los Aldeanos have in their music consistent for this track. Since they usually record at Real 70 studios, it only seemed appropriate to get Papa Humbertico involved. Humbertico has been a significant part of the hip-hop movement of Havana for years, to work with him on this track is an added bonus. Up until this adventure recording at Real 70, I had only heard about how “far” Papa Humbertico’s house is with respect to inner city Havana. Little did I know…
On the day we set out to record at Papa Humbertic’s I met up with Aldo on Infanta & Carlos III. We caught a car to Old Havana where we met up with El Bian. The summer was hot and every bus that could take us out to Humbertico’s home was packed beyond capacity of beach goers to the Playas del Este. We got a car for a decent 80 pesos or nearly $4. As we passed Alamar I realized this wasn’t that close, but far? Obviously in a car it didn’t seem all that terrible – unless this was a ‘day trip,’ everyday, by bus or camello, then it began to seem far. And when we arrived, the walk began. Aldo and El Bian took turns carring the back pack with recording equipment and the video camera. Not a single car passed by on the walk up, just a few passed down. We must have started the walk around 10am, and we walked, and walked. In Aldo’s words, they don’t even have a sun like this in the dessert anymore, only here in Cuba.’ For those who know what I am talking about – we passed to busts of Marti on the way…. By the time we were half way there the three of us had drank all the water we broughtthe morning sun beating down, and just when the thought actually crossed my mind, ‘if we don’t get there soon…’ in a faint mind state. Aldo gasped out – we’re here.’ Up to my right was casa #70 de la calle Real en Guanabacoa, also known as Real 70 Studios.
Papa Humbertico had hosted a party the night before and remnants of party goes were still flowing out of the house by the time we arrived at 11:30am. A few of which waved at us on the walk up from the only two trucks heading down the road as we walked up. Screeming – “Your late but there is still some people there!”
It took a little while to get into the studio booth, or, should I say, build up the studio booth. Humbertico works on a PC, with a very simple hand held vocal mic. If one always thinks of producers as engineers and so many here in the US aren’t even close to being a novice, well Humbertico is an wizard. With the basic equipment he uses and creative efforts to get some quality sound, the man makes magic. Humbertico recorded Aldo and El Bian’s vocals throughout the afternoon. He bounced all the vocal files and saved the project in three formats to make sure we would have compatibility due to software and hardware differences.
I left Real 70 Studios with my promise to come back and work further with Papa Humbertico. There was a charm to Real 70 that merits many future collaborations. We took three busses back to Havana, El Bian and Aldo walked back to Inesitas solar with me and we listed to the bounced reference. I could tell by their faces, they were very pleased.
Immediately in August back in the Emetrece Productions Studio in Minneapolis I began compressing vocals and cutting up the track to make a new mix based on the previous reference, yet incorporating various highlights and moving around audio takes that were recorded as filler. Drops from the end of the song were moved to the front, the middle highlights were moved to the chorus, etc. At this phase the song took on the title ‘Despierta America.’ It wasn’t until just before recording with Luis that I spliced the ending which said ‘Asi se penso, y asi se hizo, la verdad no se dice con permiso’ and threw it to the front as the intro of the song. Immediately immediately without having to think twice about it I gave it the title ‘Sin Permiso.’ The lyrics of the chorus stating ‘From our streets to the ntire galaxy’ sparked the idea of making it sound like the cong was being tuned in from an intergalactic radio.
I sent Intifada the reference and Luis began writing. It took a series of trips to record Luis. The first recording was ‘nice’ but Luis was uncomfortable with his flow style. In Puerto Rico I set up my laptop, protools m-box and a microphone in the headquarter apartments of Emetrece Productions/Puerto Rico. Its a very underground set up – but it works, and in comparison to the set ups in Havana, it is state of the art….. I recorded three different sessions with Luis. yielding seven version of the song – using different parts of his vocals on the final version until we were both content.
I produced the final mix for ‘Sin Permiso’ back in Minneapolis at the Emetrece Productions studio. The song makes up the third track of my Ph.D. thesis “Son Dos Alas: The Cultural Production of Hip-Hop in Cuba and Puerto Rico” soon to be defended in 2008 and pending publication.