As the borders of Communist Cuba are beginning to open up, many are discovering that the island wasn't as sheltered as they once thought it was. Though late in the game, musical styles as far-ranging as rap and punk started to make their way through the streets of Havana—and further throughout the country—in the 1990s.
It's a surprise to many (even expatriates) to discover that Cuba has had an underground music scene for the last 30 years. Though recently sensationalized by the lurid media monster Vice—thanks to their story on Los Frikis, a collective of Cuban punks who purposely infected themselves with the AIDS virus so as to receive free living in state-run sanitariums—the Cuban punk and hardcore scene is spirited, vibrant, and powerful.
Because much of this music was illegal, little is known about many of the early bands' histories, though their music can now be found out and about on the internet. Probably the earliest known Cuban punks were Rotura, who started playing in 1991 and self-released a 12-song cassette demo in 1992, titled Jodidos Y Perdidos.
One of the better-known early Cuban punk bands is Eskoria, which formed in 1994, self-releasing the Puta Vida demo that same year, as well as being put on a split cassette, Cortando Kdna$ (on Mexico's Herejía Music), with another Cuban punk outfit in 1995.
The other side of that cassette contained Cuban punks Detenidos, which began in 1993 and released a self-titled demo the year before the split tape. It's been said that in 1995 they self-released another cassette, titled Carne de Cañón, but it has yet to surface in trading circles.
One of the more recent bands that has garnered some attention is Porno Para Ricardo, due to the numerous arrests of lead singer Gorki Águila for his criticisms of the Communist regime. Forming in 1998, the band was originally championed by the Cuban government, and even received airplay on national radio and airtime on TV. By 2001, the lyrical content made them targets of the state, and Águila was arrested in 2003, where he served a four-year sentence. In 2004, the band was nominated for the British Index on Censorship prize in their music category, and a documentary was made about the group in 2007. Gorki was again arrested in 2008, citing what the authorities claimed was "dangerousness" and antisocial behavior.
Switching over to hardcore, we first come to Akupunktura, featuring ex-Eskoria bassist Ernesto. Playing melodic metallic hardcore, the band has self-released four demos (Sueño Azul, Uno Ahí, Sin Miedo de Ti and Hasta Cuando) since forming in 2003.
A rather new split tape, Al Fin Por Fin, released in 2015 by Solidarity Rock showcases some older tracks from two of Cuba's best-known hardcore bands: Adictox on side one, and Arrabio on the other.
Adictox began in 2010 and released two albums—¡¡¡En la Calle!!! in 2011, and 2 in 2014—both on La Paja Records. They have played a few festivals in their native country, as well as toured in Canada and Mexico, but are not allowed to play the U.S. due to the embargo against Cuba.
Arrabio—who started playing in 2008—gained a bit more popularity than Adictox after they hooked up with Roger Miret of Agnostic Front on the track "No Hay Ley" on their 2012 LP, Hecho En Trinidad (on Teenage Rampage Records), which one can purchase from their Bandcamp page.
If your appetite for Cuban underground music has been whetted, hunt down tracks by Cosa Nostra, Limalla, Gatillo, and Barrio Adentro for more punk and hardcore madness. But, if you want to really get down in it, take a trip to the huge island that's just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, and personally envelop yourself in the local music scene. I'm sure you'll come back with some great music, as well as a killer sun tan.