FEMINIST FRIDAY: Cuban Female Rappers & Palestinian Feminist Hip Hop

Welcome to another Feminist Friday column! That part of our week where we get to Netflix and chill by watching a handful of our favorite videos of the week, centered around an intersectional feminist theme. This week the content we’re sharing takes us around the world – literally. From Cuba, to Palestine and all the way to India. We’re focusing on pioneers, artists and stories that are all about women blazing new trails.

First up is a rap duo from Cuba who are solo artists in their own right and came together not just to create music but also to subvert typical ideas of what the rap genre is about. CGTN America recently featured a short documentary about La Reyna y La Real, showing how the voices of female rappers are an important evolution in Cuban history and rap.

“During the decade of the 1980’s, Hip Hop landed in Cuba. It was frowned upon by the general public and the government, who viewed it as a cultural invasion from the United States. That attitude changed in the next decade when a new generation of Cuban artists started to combine Rap music with the island’s culture. Our featured artists are two female rappers from Havana. They’ve dedicated their lyrics to the empowerment of other women while covering their struggles and triumphs. Our Urban Voice is “La Reyna y La Real.” La Reyna y La Real both recorded solo albums before getting together in 2012. They’re in the process of recording their first album as a Rap duo,” says the video description.

The second video is a trailer for a new feature film called ‘The Sweet Requiem’, an award-winning film by Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin – a husband and wife filmmaking team. Having its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and going on to screen at numerous film festivals around the world, ‘The Sweet Requiem’ is a tale of tragedy, retribution, and courage. Shifting between a present-day struggle to overcome trauma and flashbacks to a harrowing trek through the Himalayas, the film offers an unforgettable reflection on the refugee crisis in a part of the world too rarely reported on.

Dolkar (Tenzin Dolker in her acting debut) is a 26-year-old living in exile in Delhi. An unexpected encounter with a figure from her past sets off a flurry of memories she had long repressed regarding the journey that brought her here. Dolkar was only eight when she and her father left their Tibetan home in a desperate attempt to start anew in a safer land. As memories of what became a disastrous expedition take shape, Dolkar resolves to confront the man she believes responsible. ‘The Sweet Requiem’ authentically captures the life-and-death stakes of the real-life escape across the border, but the film’s deeper insights emerge from the complex and shifting allegiances Dolkar must navigate in exile. 

According to a press release, the film was shot in the Indian Himalayan region of Ladakh at altitudes of over 15,000 feet (4500 meters) in sub-zero temperatures, and immediately followed by a grueling shoot in Delhi where temperatures soared to 113°F (45°C). During the Ladakh shoot, two crew members succumbed to altitude sickness and were unable to continue working. Since there is no film industry within the Tibetan diaspora most of the actors were necessarily non-professional. Extensive casting was done among the exile Tibetan community in India and Nepal and several potential candidates were auditioned. Jampa Kalsang, the most experienced of exile Tibetan actors, played the role of the guide Gompo while 27-year-old Tenzin Dolker made her acting debut as Dolkar.

The final video this week comes from a group called DAM, who are said to be the first Palestinian hip hop group, featuring Tamer Nafar, Mahmood Jhere and Maysa Daw. The group has been around since the 90’s, and are known for their anthemic hits in Arabic. In June this year they released their third studio album mostly in Arabic, and featured plenty of feminist content in the lyrics.

Spoken-word songs like “Jasadik-Hom” (“Your Body”), un-peel the different layers of identity that affect how you inhabit your body. In Maysa’s case it was about her as an Arab, Palestinian woman living in Israel.

“It took me time to learn how to be in love with my body/ My feminine Arab body/ Standing in front of the mirror, I took off my glasses because they are masculine-made,” she raps in Arabic, according to Americamagazine.org.

She says the song was inspired by how American author Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about the experience of being black in the United States in his book Between the World and Me. “When we talk about women’s rights, a lot of times we ask for the permission of the men to give us our rights. Or to give us our equality. What is really powerful about [“Jasadik-Hom”] for me is that I come and say, ‘okay, I’m taking responsibility over my own freedom'”, she said.

Since its release on International Women’s Day, the song has become an anthem it itself for women in Palestine. Take a listen to the song below, off the album ‘BEN HAANA WA MAANA’ which is out now:

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