The Queer, Vegan, Afro-Cubana Hip-Hop of Las Krudas

Vita Dadoo-

Black feminism, queerness, and veganism constitute the tripartite agenda of Olivia Prendes and Odyamara Cuesta’s brand of activism. Also known as Pasa Kruda and Pelusa Kruda, respectively, Prendes and Cuesta are the founding members of the Afro-Cuban hip-hop group, Las Krudas.

Brought to Davidson College by Dr. Devin Benson, professor of Africana Studies, Latin American Studies, and History, Las Krudas engaged in a conversation and a performative display about race, gender, and the musical landscape that shaped and continues to influence social politics in Cuba.

For hundreds of years, Cuba has been the object of international intrigue and fascination. Since the 26th of July movement that spearheaded the Cuban Revolution and propelled Fidel Castro into power six years later, the paradisiacal island located south of Florida has occupied a precarious position in the world’s stage.

Cuba’s Revolution left a palpable legacy of social and economic reform that has dictated the island’s historical legacy and shaped its social, political, and economic landscape. Cuban historiography has perpetuated a discourse on social equality, particularly one that anchors itself on ideas of gender equality and racelessness instilled by the Revolution. For the past decades, female Afro-Cuban and queer activists have pushed against the revolutionary ideals in order to carve a space for themselves in Cuban history.

Dr. Benson’s course on Afro-Cubana Feminisms studies several of the women who have articulated the black female and queer experiences and, through their work in literature, film and music, claimed a space in the island’s historical cannon.

Las Krudas, in their pithy song titles, their celebration of the female body in all of its forms, and their invocation of orisha tropes, offer a compelling, yet necessary, black feminist narrative and provide a contemporary gaze on 21st century Havana.

Las Krudas began as theater and street performance artists in Cuba’s capital and soon after they met in the 1990s, Prendes and Cuesta formed the the hip-hop duo. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, other Cuban hip-hop groups such as Anónimo Consejo, Sesión, Doble Filo, and Instinto begun to experiment and sample Afro Cuban sounds in their music.

However, female participation was limited in the Afro hip-hop scene. Las Krudas, though eager to change the male-dominated hip-hop aesthetic, received pushback from those who advocated for a pan-hip-hop movement, one that overlooked women and failed to advocate for gender diversity. Nonetheless, Las Krudas’s efforts were fruitful and soon they were able to spearhead female-lead performances in music festivals and launch an all-female hip-hop collective.

The group’s activism in Havana gained considerable traction and popularity. Soon, the Almendares Amphitheatre became an important venue for the proliferation of hip-hop in the early 2000s. Backed by the Cuban government, the hip-hop, as well as the female hip-hop communities thrived.

But after two hurricanes devastated the island, the theatre allegedly closed for reparations, hip-hop festivals were cancelled, and new hip-hop record labels emerged.

Policing lyrics, particularly those that spoke poorly of the Revolution, became commonplace. Shows and performances were sanitized. Detrimental changes in the Afro hip-hop scene in Cuba lowered morale amongst the community.

This prompted a hiatus in Las Krudas’s hip-hop career. By 2006 they were performing on the streets of Havana again, saving money to leave the island and resume their vocation abroad. “It is very exhausting when you are different [in Cuba],” Prendes mentioned during an open, student-led conversation with Las Krudas in Dr. Benson’s class. “You are Cuban but you feel like an outsider… everything is sort of uniform… Cuba was dangerous.”

Olivia Prendes and Odyamara Cuesta now reside in Austin, Texas, where they continue to record new material, produce dream-like music videos that echo African, Cuban, and spiritual motifs, and support other female hip hop initiatives in their home country. Their musical career has allowed them to travel several parts of the world and meet iconic historical figures.

For instance, it was Assata Shakur, noteworthy member of the Black Liberation Army and American exile in Cuba, who suggested that Las Krudas stray away from veganism in their earlier recordings. “The world is not ready for that,” Prendes recalls her saying.

Las Krudas concluded their visit to Davidson with a concert hosted in the 900 Room in the Union. High energy, a little tongue-in-cheek, and playful, Las Krudas’s performance was a tour de force by any measure. Their type of intersectional feminism and the way its articulated through song, performance, and visual art is a testament to female inroads in a genre and a political climate historically dominated by male voices.