For over six decades, the slogan of the Cuban revolution, penned by Fidel Castro, has been “Patria o Muerte” — Homeland or Death. But in the past week, that life or death motto has been turned on its head as protesters both in Cuba and beyond are now clamoring for “Patria y Vida—Homeland and Life” in the biggest anti-government protest since the Cuban Revolution.
“Patria y Vida” is the title of the subversive song penned by a group of Cuban stars and hitmakers that reside in and out of the island. Yotuel Romero (of hip-hop group Orishas), Descemer Bueno, Alexander Delgado and Randy Malcom (of Gente de Zona), Maykel Osorbo and El Funky wrote the track as a direct rebuke to the Cuban government, “to show how a dictatorship behaves with its artists; that if you propose an exchange of ideas, you hit a wall,” says Romero.
Originally released in February on Romero’s indie label Chancleta Records, the track struck a chord — now, it’s the anthem of a movement. According to MRC Data, the song was getting about 13,000 daily global on-demand streams per day, between June 30 and July 8. And of those streams, about 6,000 per day were in the U.S. In the past few days, streams of the song have exploded. On July 13, the track registered 303,000 streams globally with 173,500 of those in the U.S.
“The song is a battle cry that speaks directly to the regime and says, ‘Enough!’” Delgado told Billboard.
“It’s been the motor behind everything that’s happening,” adds Malcom. “‘Patria y Vida’ talks to the reality of every artist on that song. There isn’t a single lie in that track. The new generation took it as its battle cry and I’m so proud. It will be part of the history of this country.”
Gente de Zona have been performing “Patria y Vida” at rallies, including one July 14 in Miami, the epicenter of the Cuban resistance.
In Miani, SBS radio station WRMA, Ritmo 95.7 FM, has been instrumental in fueling the song’s popularity, playing it every hour on the hour since its release. Nearly 30 stations are playing the track nationwide, and in Ft. Myers, Flor., WTLQ-FM has the song on heavy rotation.
“This week it has 104 spins,” says SBS programming evp Jesús Salas, noting that on Thursday (July 15) night, hundreds of people stood in front of SBS Miami headquarters chorusing the track. “It’s the anthem that sparked this whole movement with the musicians, the artists. This is coming from the culture of art and youth, which is what causes change in any movement in any country.”
Whether “Patria y Vida” can effect long-term change remains to be seen, but it has galvanized people outside and inside the island.
“’Patria y Vida’ has been the anthem of this fight,” says Robin Pedraja, a Cuban journalist who publishes the respected music magazine Vistar, and who lives and works in Cuba. “I ratify what Yotuel has said: ‘Patria y Vida’ is the anthem of the Cuban people. For the past four days, it’s been our chorus. We greet each other by saying: ‘Hello brother. Patria y Vida.’ I believed myself to be a revolutionary because I’m in my country taking culture to another level. Now, I don’t know. But I do know I’m with the people.”
Pedraja’s words are extraordinary considering he lives and works in Cuba, is free to travel in and out of the island, has “never” been censored in any way and, most importantly, has always considered himself a revolutionary.
Now, for the first time in seven years, Vistar published a post that is political in nature, outlining the chronology of Cuba’s protests and ensuing violence.
The violent confrontations began on July 11 when Cuba’s communist president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, exhorted “all revolutionaries and communists” to take to the streets and confront protesters. “The order to battle is given: Revolutionaries to the streets,” said Díaz-Canel in his address, broadcast in all media on the island.
His battle cry was taken to heart. In days since, the crowds protesting against Cuba’s repressive communist government have been attacked and beaten by police and government sympathizers, and dissidents have been yanked from their homes.
In response, people like Pedraja — along with well-known influencers, artists and musicians — have raised their voices in protest inside the island.
“We all want to live in a country that has rights and respects freedom of speech,” said popular rapper Yomil, whose longtime musical partner, El Dany, died a year ago due to what Yomil has said was medical negligence. One of the island’s best known and most commercial acts, Yomil has been marching despite, or rather because of, his fame.
“I’m a Cuban who comes from an underserved neighborhood, and if I weren’t a public figure, I would still be supporting my people because I’m one of them,” Yomil says. “Our responsibility as artists is to be close to the truth and be the voice of the people because we have the influence to support them.”
There is a long history of Cuban artists speaking out against the regime and singing against the regime. Acts like Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Pitbull, Willy Chirino and Celia Cruz (during her lifetime) were vocal, even ardent critics of the Cuban government. But they spoke as part of the exile community.
What’s new is that many of the artists clamoring for change are Cubans who live in Cuba.
“[Orishas] songs always denounced what happened in Cuba, but metaphorically,” says Romero, who still has family in Cuba and who until very recently went frequently to the island. “Because we were afraid of repression, of bullying. Cuba was like a capsule. Until one day, the floodgates open. Because the harm is chronic, you don’t realize you’ve been sick. But that’s been the Cuba I’ve seen since I was born, with problems, internal blocking, Cubans not allowed to go inside hotels.”
Being vocal still has consequences. Osorbo, one of the artists on “Patria y Vida,” remains jailed in Cuba since May, accused of “attack, public disorder and evasion of prisoners or detainees,” according to reports published by On Cuba News.
Now, access to the Internet and social media has made a new generation bolder. As has been the case with protests in other parts of the world, social media has proven to be a great communicator.
“Before, if your opinion and it wasn’t in line [with the government’s] the consequences could be dire. Fear ate us up,” says Malcom, who used to live in Cuba full time. “Now, we see a new generation that doesn’t believe in lies. The Internet opened our eyes.”