Music as a Form of Activism

A talk by Obsesión about the politics and performance of Afro-Cuban hip-hop


Fields of Knowledge
  • Performance
  • Public culture
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Initiative on Culture, Society, & Critical Policy Studies at Penn Social Policy and Practice

Contributing Institutions

Camra, CCP, Latin American and Latino Studies and the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania


Melissa Skolnick, Michelle Angela Ortiz

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought, Penn Social Policy and Practice, and Camra are pleased to announce "Music as a Form of Activism," a talk by Magia Lopez and Alexey Rodríguez Mola of the group Obsesión about the politics and performance of Afro-Cuban hip-hop, on Thursday, April 6, 2017 from 2:30-4pm. Magia and Alexey started making music in the early 90s during a time of political, social, and economic strife in the country. For over 20 years, they have continued to create socially conscious music in and about contemporary life in Cuba. As scholar Sujatha Fernandes argues in From Cuba Represent!, the lyrics of groups like Obsesión also mine Cuba's literature and history in their portrayals of the tribulations of street life.

As relations have shifted between the Cuban hip-hop community and the Cuban government in recent years, there have been increased opportunities for cultural collaboration as well as new challenges for cultural expression. Likewise, the transformation in U.S. and Cuban relations have enabled new opportunities for cultural exchange between artists from both countries. This event, organized against this backdrop, will consist of a short presentation by Obsesión, including a brief showcase of their music, and will be followed by public conversation.

Magia and Alexey will discuss their evolving role as cultural workers and how their Afro-Cuban identity is reflected in their music. Additionally, Magia will also address her efforts to cultivate a larger presence for women in Cuban hip-hop, and the role that artists, students and educators can play in performing new modes of citizenship. Please join us for this transnational conversation about how music can enable new forms of activism and cultural organizing. This is a bilingual program and translation will be provided.

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Alexey Rodríguez Mola (also known as El tipo este) and Magia Lopez together form the group Obsesión, which has been melding local Afro-Cuban sounds with U.S. hip-hop for decades. A crucial part of the Cuban hip-hop scene, the duo made their debut in 1996 at the Alamar festival, which included American hip-hop legends Mos-Def, Common, Talib Kweli, and Dead Prez.

Working to infuse a Cuban identity within hip-hop, Alexey and Magia integrated their musical production with participation in the local art scene and conversations around gender politics and racial discrimination. Alexey's involvement in La Fabri-K allows him to connect emerging rappers to artists from other disciplines, while Magia continues to raise the stakes for feminism through debates at each year's Alamar Festival. Magia is also the former manager of the Cuban Rap Agency, which helps aid Cuban hip hop artists in attaining radio exposure and recording contracts.

Beyond their musical endeavors, Obsesión's activities include development programs for prisons and disadvantaged Havana neighborhoods, and a plan to create two theatre troupes for children. In 2006 they attended the World Social Forum in Venezuela and performed at the Festival of Hip-Hop to Fight Against AIDS. Obsesión unapologetically celebrates Cuban blackness through profoundly political verses and a commitment to activism.

Further reading

"How Rap Duo Obsesión Made Hip-Hop Political in Cuba", Daily VICE, Video, 5:33 min

Sujatha Fernandes, "Straight Outta Havana", The New York Times, August 6, 2011

Sujatha Fernandes, "Fear of a Black Nation: Local Rappers, Transnational Crossings, and State Power," in From Cuba Represent!, Duke University Press, 2006

Marc D. Perry, Negro Soy Yo: Hip Hop and Raced Citizenship in Neoliberal Cuba, Duke University Press, 2016

"Hago desde
mi esquina
lo que puedo
un grano de arena
es tonelada de
algo bueno."

(I do what I can
from my corner
a grain of sand
is a ton of something good.)

-- Obsesión