Introduction: A Krudxs Poetics
“Abortion is a celebration! Drink [some alcohol] with us,” our moderators, La Zea and Eliana Riaño Vivas, exclaim to the approximately 30 participants who have already joined in on the end-of-celebration concert. Las Parceras, a Colombian feminist collective and hotline in support of abortion, has held a month-long celebration called Agenda Abortera (abortion agenda), culminating in the final concert celebration, el Concierto Abortero (abortion concert) on September 26, 2020, that will bring together womxn performers (and other people who can abort) from local, national, and international levels to make a musical offering to the world of abortion activism. The artists included all-womxn, most of whom are Colombian, though there were also Peruvians, Cubans, Salvadorans, and Ecuadorians. The majority of artists were smaller “local” performers with the exception of Krudxs Cubensi, who have been performing internationally since the 1990s. Each artist was prepared with whatever repertory and music technology they regularly used, meaning some had a few simple instruments, some rapped a cappella, and still others used professional technology to achieve a maximum listening experience (disregarding the minor errors that came about from using the Zoom platform). The concert was free, and although it was live streamed, the experience was not very personal as the main focus was to create a recorded concert that viewers would later watch via Facebook streaming. As an audience, streaming a Zoom call on a Facebook live prevented interactions with the performers. While about 60 participants joined throughout the night, the bulk of listeners would come from the recorded performance on Las Parceras’ Facebook page.
What I want to highlight in this performance are the ways in which lxs Krudxs use and construct music as ritual performance in a Latin American/Caribbean transnational feminist discourse. To accompany my ethnomusicological discussion, I would like to bring sociologist of sound Tanya L. Saunders and her chapter on lxs Krudxs, “Kruda Knowledge, Kruda Discourse” in her book Cuban Underground Hip Hop. In exploring the early Black transnational feminist work of lxs Krudxs, Saunders writes, “in their music and hip hop performances, they highlight contradictions within hegemonic discourses… to develop an alternative liberatory discourse that includes the… demands of socially marginal groups such as Black women and Black lesbians.” I want to offer an analysis of their Concierto Abortero performance’s poetics of Krudxs, or what Saunders calls a liberatory “Kruda discourse,” to show the ways in which music and ritual serve local, national, and transnational discussions of feminism and queer justice.
“Aché, mucho ache”: Creating Sacred Space
Odaymar “Pasa Krudx” Cuesta (they/elle), co-founder of lxs Krudxs, appears on the screen dressed in an all white “muscle-tee” —a modernized version of the typical Afro-Cuban Santería religious vestimenta (outfit) often worn during cleansing rituals. They stand in the center of the camera shot, slightly smiling before starting a prayer in the sacred Lucumí language —they begin to conjure sacred space with heightened speech backed by the resonance of a mostly-emptied room, Lucumí bouncing from the walls and into the microphone, through the speaker into the attendees’ rooms or earbuds. In Odaymar’s hands rests a pure white candle offering the most light in the room and highlighting the tattoos covering their arms. While they stand in place, I can’t help but notice the background, a pine green wall covered in paintings of all sizes —some of sacred beings, others too small to be made out, and yet others seem to be representations of Odaymar and their (romantic/musical) partner Olivix “Olikrude” Prendes (they/elle) as different avatars of the orishas and Afro-futuristic beings. As the prayer continues, we hear Olivix also praying alongside Odaymar, though Olivix is not in the shot. Their prayer ends, and Odaymar puts the candle down, saying “aché, mucho aché” (blessings, many blessings).
There are many things I gather from this opening prayer, but what I want to highlight most is the simultaneous localization and transnationalization taking place through this prayer —a characteristic of Latin American/Caribbean feminist (spiritual) activism. In invoking an African-derived religion, lxs Krudxs localize themselves in a Black Caribbean feminist (diasporic) tradition of spiritual/religious activism tied up with some of the main concerns of the Concierto Abortero, namely body (abortion) and land (water) rights. In invoking a tradition crossed by the musical, cultural, and religious currents of the Atlantic and Caribbean’s violent comings-together, lxs Krudxs offer models of transnational feminism that center womxn/femme experiences as embodied ways of knowing and resisting logics of oppression. They align themselves with the margin, with those citizens of a local and transnational world who have been pathologized by mainstream societies, and invoke what will be a continued struggle between the local and the transnational in Latin American/Caribbean feminism and queer justice.
“Quédate en Casa”: Embodied Epistemologies & Global Pandemic
Lxs Krudxs’ work and their experiences represent a constant struggle between issues of local, transnational, and diasporic concerns, navigating the terrains of being Cuban, living in the United States, and continuing to participate in specifically Latin American/Caribbean discourses of the body and land as Black queer folks. This need to situate and contextualize spatially (in relation to the island and the US) also applies to lxs Krudxs’ temporal logics, as highlighted by their untitled song, “Quédate en Casa” (“Stay Inside”). Before going into the performances directly related to the autonomy of womxn and abortion as well as land rights, Odaymar and Olivx need to temporally ground us in an era of global pandemic, the unmistakable reason why we were brought together through an online platform in the first place.
Odaymar and Olivix finally appear together on the screen and the first verse of their rap reads: “nos tienen adentro con to’a la noticia/los números crecen en toda provincia.” It’s a slow beat, almost erotic even though we’re talking about a global pandemic. What does this tell me about the musical practices of the Afro-Cuban duo? That lxs Krudxs, grounded in a feminist epistemology of care and reciprocity, remind us that the times we live in are unprecedented. Rather than going along with machista organizing strategies that would have us front apathy in the face of hardship, lxs Krudxs’s queer/feminist activism and organizing is embodied through feeling/affect, through dance and ritual, prayer and rap, in all the forms they may come about. Their transnational/diasporic poetics of Krudxs calls us to feel as resistance, feel as change, feel as an encounter with the sacred. The chorus tells us: “quédate en casa, físicamente/Vamo’a viajar, con espíritu y mente/vamo’a decirle al virus detente.” Again, while a Western, patriarchal way of knowing might be restrictive, the poetics of Krudxs offers us alternative visions, modes of knowing and being that are often ridiculed in the West, including astral projection and other spirit-based practices (“vamo’a viajar, con espíritu y mente” refers to travel with the spirit or astral projection). In the Santería-based Afro-cosmovision we are offered, travel can and does happen across borders, across oceans and seas, between humans, animals, plants, and sacred beings. A poetics of Krudxs emphasizes the power of the body, the will, the soul, the mind (all connected, unlike the Western Body/Mind/Spirit division), to manifest, to create, to reframe and refigure, even to “tell [the] virus, ‘stop!’” from an embodied epistemology and praxis.
“Todavía”: Feminist Bodies, Bodies of Water
One of the overarching themes of the concert that fit generally into Afro-cosmovisions which protect natural elements, is the importance of water and bodies of water, considering our context, these bodies tend to be the (Black) Atlantic and the Caribbean. The concert opens with the voices of Afro-indigenous womxn singing about water rights. Within this framework, lxs Krudxs continue the discourse with a simple verse: “mi música es como el agua/todo el mundo la necesita.” Music is water; water is music. Water creates its own music and can be played to; water inspires music; water carries musical cultures and practices; water is the first medium to make possible a Latin American/Caribbean transnational feminist movement. And so, in the localizations of lxs Krudxs as transnational feminists, water becomes central to organizing and activism.
The penultimate song to be performed, “Todavía” (“Still”), is probably the most explicitly activist-related piece to be directly connected to Black transnational feminism(s). The chorus begins: “todavía hay tantos que no hemos tenido la opción [todavía hay]…/todavía hay cuanto llanto sin quebrar/me caigo y levanto, elevo mi canto, yo siento tu manto/es incierto el tiempo, es vida, es frustración, es resurrección, esto es canto.” This song is grounded in accountability and activism —even when we think we are the most oppressed, we can still be the oppressors (paraphrased from Odaymar). Lxs Krudxs are specifically talking about their position as Black queer womxn from Cuba, now living in the US, often perceived as the lowest rung of social outcasts, and yet realize that they too “contribute daily to the gentrification of cities” (contribuyo diariamente con el aburguesamiento del barrio). The poetics of Krudxs, which call attention to recognizing privileges and caring for people who “still don’t have the option,” is a pillar of this transnational feminism that calls us to to get up and raise our voices, even when we fall; to sing for others; to feel others how you feel yourself; to be and exist in harmony with the world and with each other. Their goal in “Todavía” is to create the foundations for a liberatory discourse or poetics, one that calls for accountability on all levels, one that calls for the mixture of dance, music, and ritual.
Las Parceras – Línea y Red Feminista de Acompañamiento en Aborto. “Concierto Abortero.”Facebook. 26 Sept. 2020. https://fb.watch/brMuil1M46/.
Saunders, Tanya L. “Kruda Knowledge, Kruda Discoure: Las Krudas CUBENSI, Transnational Back Feminism, and the Queer of Color Critique.” In Cuban Underground Hip Hop: Black Thoughts, Black Revolution, Black Modernity. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015, pp. 248-301.
José E. Valdivia Heredia (they/elle/ellx) is an undergraduate student of Latin American/Latinx Studies & Religion at Swarthmore College. While their main research interests pertain to Latin American and Caribbean religions, they also study at the intersection of queer/cuir Latin American studies, music, sound & performance studies, and art-ivism. During summer 2022, they will undertake an independent research project in Mexico City, tentatively titled “Queerness and Mexican Cultural Protectionism,” which will culminate into their Honors thesis on queer Mexican cultural productions. José works as an editor for the Swarthmore Undergraduate History Journal and is the co-founder of a forthcoming undergraduate interdisciplinary feminist research journal, Crossings.
Photo: “Orange the World 2017 – Uruguay” by UN Women Gallery is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.