After nearly two years in prison, Cuban rapper Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga, best known as “El Critico” from the underground hip-hop duo “The Unwanted Children”, has been released, along with several other political prisoners across the island. Remon was sent to prison in March 2013 after a violent government organized mob attacked his home in the Eastern town of Bayamo. The reasons for his incarceration were his protest lyrics, his public demonstrations against the Cuban system and for painting signs outside his home reading “Freedom” and “Down with Fidel”.
Yudisbel Roseyo, the young wife of El Critico, endured just as much as the difficulties as her husband during his time in jail. She was frequently followed, spied on, detained and even physically assaulted by Cuban secret police agents on countless occasions. Meanwhile, Angel Yunier suffered beatings and other forms of torture behind bars, and nearly lost his life in late 2013 when he underwent a lengthy hunger strike to protest his arrest. Upon arriving home on Thursday, January 8th 2015, the musician explained his bittersweet sentiments – happy for being home next to his wife and child, but aware that his release does not mean that neither he, or the rest of the Cuban population, are truly free. (Marti News published an article detailing how the majority of the released prisoners are under ‘conditional freedom’ or ‘extra-penal licenses’)
“…I’m not really free yet, because our country is not yet free, but I am now alongside my children and my wife. I am here again, confronting the situation that all us Cubans have to face”, he said in a brief interview he offered this blog a few hours after his release.
During the rapper’s time in prison, a strong solidarity campaign surged outside of Cuba, where many Cuban artists joined the call for his liberation. Some of these names included Gloria Estefan, Willy Chirino, Albita Rodriguez, Marisela Verena, and others. Meanwhile, local Miami rappers such as The Problem Kids also echoed his situation. Twitter saw the creation of the hashtag #FreeElCritico which received many hits, and several videos were produced detailing his story. Through his wife, Angel Yunier was kept informed of all this solidarity and, while clearly moved, he wished to share a message of appreciation to his fans, fellow artists in exile and other individuals who demanded his release.
“To all those people, to all those artists, who have deposited their faith in me, and have in one way or another recognized my work and have demanded my freedom, I will not let you down. I will keep enriching and making Cuban music, and I thank all of you for all your support and effort. I hope to one day be able to share words with you all in person, and thank you everything”, he stated.
Also while El Critico was in prison, two internationally known hip hop artists – Jay Z and Beyonce – visited Cuba for leisure. Some thought that, having the media power the two have, they would mention the rapper’s situation, or at least give a shout out to struggling Cuban artists who face censorship in state media, but that did not happen. El Critico had a few thoughts to share about them, as well:
“For once and for all, I’d tell them to get down from that cloud of fantasy and respond to reality. They can see this reality through us, those of us who have given everything, with all the limitations and repression we have. We do this so the world can see the truth. And they have access to this information, and the Cuba they saw here was the Cuba that the government let them see. They don’t know what it’s like to live like an everyday Cuban, they do not know what it’s like to live with food rationing cards, they don’t know what the Committee for the Defense of the Revolutions* are”, the musician declared.
*Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, or CDRs, are watchdog groups set in most neighborhoods of Cuba to keep an eye on any opposition activities and to spy to the government. Through their ‘work’, state police can arrest people who are suspected of ‘counter-revolutionary’ activities.
As for future musical projects, El Critico came out of prison with an itch to keep mixing sounds and creating new art. It seems that during his time in prison he let his creativity take over and, as soon as he returned home, went back at writing and coming up with new ideas. He wanted to make sure that his fans know that his underground project, The Unwanted Children, was not going to stop existing, but also hinted at some new and different material.
“I am going to keep writing songs for you [fans]. I’m going to keep writing so that you all know my reality, and the reality of all Cubans. I am working on re-mixing my first album, and I am adapting some songs to the guitar and changing things around. For this project, I’m taking the more underground sound and moving it to something with live instruments. I’m going to fuse rap with Cuban *son”.
*Son is a traditional Cuban music genre, driven mostly by acoustic guitar, bongos, keyboard, violin and other instruments. It was born in the Cuban fields, mostly played by farmers.
El Critico even let fans preview his newest song, titled “The Accent”, which he is still working on. You can definitely hear the mix between rap and a more acoustic sound.
The dissident rapper assured that although the Cuban government has upped the repression and violence, he will continue “doing opposition”, through his music and through protests. He seemed excited to share his music with the outside world again, and though he does not discard that he can be victim of another arbitrary arrest, he continues to speak his mind. Before finishing the interview, El Critico explained one of his most popular lyrics, from the song titled “My Crime”, where he raps, “Long live Cubans with everything they deserve”. What Cubans deserve, he said, is freedom.
“We Cubans deserve the best in the world, because we’ve been living in a prison. We have been raised in a fallacy, where we involuntarily are indoctrinated since we are children. And this fallacy has left Cubans with nothing, and has compromised many with this system, selling a false image, even while they know that the common desire is that we want change. For having suffered so much, and for having been victims of this system, Cubans deserve all the best”.