On the evening of November 1, 39-year-old rapper El Funky (real name Eliecer Márquez Duany) got on a plane in Havana bound for Miami, leaving his native Cuba for the first time in his life.
“Cuba looked so dark from above. There were so few lights. When you get here to the United States, it’s another world, another thing… It’s like a new stage in my life,” says El Funky, arms folded, head down. “Yeah, I cried,” he acknowledges softly. “I still do.”
El Funky spoke to Billboard alongside Yotuel Romero and Beatriz Luengo in Miami in his first in-depth video interview (above) since he quietly left his home country, after nearly a year of much-publicized strife and retaliation from the Cuban government against him and his longtime friend and recording partner, Maykel Osorbo.
Osorbo and El Funky collaborated in “Patria y Vida” (Country and Life), the subversive song penned by a group of Cuban artists whose title is a direct rebuke to the communist Cuban government and its “Patria o muerte” (Country or Death) slogan.
The song was originally penned by Romero (formerly of hip hop group Orishas), Beatriz Luengo, Alexander Delgado and Randy Malcom (of Gente de Zona) and Descemer Bueno, who all live in Miami. Romero insisted on adding Cuban voices, from within the island, and reached out to Maykel Osorbo, known for his anti-establishment lyrics.
“I felt we needed to show the two realities: those of us who live outside Cuba, and those who are still in the island, who live the streets there,” says Romero, who is now persona non grata in Cuba.
Romero reached out to Osorbo, who he had never met, and Osorbo also added El Funky to the mix.
The track, released independently on Romero’s Chancleta Records, is both poignant and aggressive and has become the anthem of anti government protests in Cuba. Its power of mobilization was a factor in the arrests of both El Funky and Osorbo; the latter has been behind bars in Cuba since May, when he famously fled from Cuban police aided by demonstrators.
“Patria y Vida” was nominated for a Latin Grammy for song of the year and best urban song — a development which helped El Funky finally obtain a visa to come to the U.S., where he will perform “Patria y Vida” during the November 18 telecast alongside Romero and other artists.
Osorbo, however, remains imprisoned.
Billboard spoke with El Funky, Romero and Luengo about the making of “Patria y Vida” and the song’s influence, the new anti-government movement fueled by the Internet and a new generation, and what the U.S. and other democracies still don’t get about Cuban repression. Watch the full interview here.