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9/11 in Havana: Sujatha Fernandes on hip hop versus the war on terror

Francisco Salas15 September 2011

Sujatha Fernandes, author of Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation writes for the Huffington Post:

On September 11, 2001, I was living in Havana, carrying out research on the movement of Cuban rap when the planes hit the towers. The grandmother in the house where I stayed flicked between the two channels available on state TV. The images of planes crashing into buildings were unreal.

While many in the United States remember their bafflement at George W. Bush's slow response immediately following the attacks—he was reading The Pet Goat with a second-grade classroom in Florida—, Fernandes recalls watching Fidel Castro, who was also attending an elementary school function, react somewhat more eloquently as he issued a prescient warning:

I watched the live broadcast from the school where Fidel addressed a packed hall of elementary school kids. Resplendent in his military fatigues, for three hours Fidel cajoled, provoked, and meditated on the events of the day before a group of 10 and 11 year olds. He expressed his sympathies for the American people. He offered the resources of the country to assist in treatment of the victims. And he urged caution on the part of the American government.

"Whenever there is a tragedy like this one, no matter how difficult to avoid it may be, I see no other way but to keep calm," advised Fidel. "And if at some point I am allowed to make a suggestion to an adversary who has been tough with us for many years, we would advise the leaders of the powerful empire to keep their composure, to act calmly, not to be carried away by a fit of rage or hatred and not to start hunting people down, dropping bombs just anywhere."

But of course, the decade that followed has seen very little of calm and composure and much of hunting people down and dropping bombs from the United States. In response to renewed U.S. aggression under the banner of a  "war on terror," Cuban rappers like Sekou Umoja from the group Anónimo Consejo utilized the resources at their disposal—many of them coming from the Cuban state—to re-emphasize international solidarity and shared struggles around the globe.

In July 2002, rapper Sekou Umoja from the group Anónimo Consejo spoke passionately to a gathered crowd at the Casa de la Cultura. Sekou, formerly known as Yosmel Sarrías, had taken on an African name to emphasize his spiritual connections with Africa ...

"Afghanistan has been the first casualty of the war on terror," Sekou told the crowd. "Who will be next? Iraq? Maybe Cuba? We, as Hip Hop, say no to war and imperialism. Anónimo Consejo Revolución!" The crowd cheered. "Hip Hop Revolución. Put your fist in the air." More cheers and whistles. The aging sound equipment came to life with a few static groans. As the beat kicked in, Anónimo Consejo launched into their song, "No more war! No more deaths!/ Talkin' 'bout something real, this ain't a game/ Prepare yourself for what's coming/ I know what it is, stay calm, I take action."

While much has been said of how "the world changed irrevocably" after September 11, Sujatha Fernandes goes on to describe how cultures of resistance adapt to the constantly transforming crises of war and imperialism.

Visit the Huffington Post to read the article in full.