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Protesters Make 'Patria Y Vida' A Rallying Cry In Cuba

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

During Cuba's recent protest, one song in particular has become a rallying cry for demonstrators in the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATRIA Y VIDA")

GENTE DE ZONA: (Singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ANAMARIA SAYRE, BYLINE: So the name of the song is "Patria Y Vida," which translates to homeland and life, which is kind of a clever play on a saying that has been used as kind of a mantra in Cuba since the communist takeover in 1959, which is patria o muerte, which means homeland or death.

SIMON: Anamaria Sayre is a producer with NPR's Alt.Latino - recently translated and annotated this song sung by an array of Afro-Cuban musicians. Some of them still live in Cuba. Some have been exiled.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATRIA Y VIDA")

YOTUEL: (Rapping in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SAYRE: (Reading) Pomp and circumstance for the 500 years of Havana, while at home in the pots, they no longer have food - what we do celebrate if folks are scrambling, trading Che Guevara and Marti for currency.

So essentially what they're saying here is that the Cuban government, the communist regime has been putting on a bit of a performance to show that they are this well-established, well-resourced example for the world of what communism and what this government could look like in practice, while the artists are are contesting that and saying that, you know, the people are actually starving in the streets. And they don't have access to these resources that the government is presenting to the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATRIA Y VIDA")

DESCEMER BUENO: (Singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SAYRE: You know, throughout this song, you can kind of see that this is a new generation. There is a fresh energy here. This is a moment where they are, you know, strong. They are representing themselves. And they are saying - this is the first time we hear them actually use the phrase patria y vida. They're kind of rejecting everything that they've been raised on, rejecting the only truth that they've known and saying, you know, we want both. We want both our home - we want both Cuba, and we want our lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATRIA Y VIDA")

MAYKEL OSORBO & DESCEMER BUENO: (Singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SAYRE: They very intentionally deviated from that structure of having an immediate chorus so that they could continually build tension, build a narrative of, you know, what the government is like, what the people are suffering, make all of these comparisons with all of these figures, you know, invoke all of these images, continually building a tension that doesn't get broken down by a chorus. They want you to be feeling kind of the mounting pressure, the mounting tension of the people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATRIA Y VIDA")

EL FUNKY: (Rapping in Spanish).

SIMON: Anamaria Sayre asked Lily Blanco, a Cuban American artist, what the song may say to the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SAYRE: And she said, I don't think they were trying to talk to the world really at all. The idea behind this was to create a song that could speak to Cubans. Someone's who not from Cuba won't necessarily get it. And that's not the point. In many ways, the point is that this is a unifying rallying cry for Cubans on the island, for Cubans who left the island so that it's something that they can all engage with and that they can all chant together.

SIMON: That's NPR's Anamaria Sayre. And you can find more on "Patria Y Vida" on Alt.Latino's newest episode.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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