Singer Randy Malcom jokes that he started learning about politics since he was in his mother’s womb.
Malcom, one half of the Grammy-winning reggaetón duo Gente de Zona, grew up in Cuba, where school children are taught the speeches of communist leader Fidel Castro, including a saying that means Cubans should be willing to die for their country: "Patria o muerte," “Homeland or death.”
Malcom helped write, and sang, a song that became a chant in recent anti-government protests across Cuba, and that reverses one of Castro’s most famous sayings. It’s called "Patria y vida," or “Homeland and life.” The duo collaborated with Cuban rapper Yotuel, and members of the San Isidro Movement, a group of artists who live in Cuba and have been protesting government censorship since 2018.
Related: Cuba’s promise of a homegrown COVID-19 vaccine
“In Cuba, they indoctrinate you since you’re a kid. They say ‘Homeland, or death, we will win,’” Malcolm said. “But it’s all lies. They teach you to defend a Cuba that’s for dictators, not a Cuba that’s for democracy or freedom of speech.”
For the first time, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has offered some self-criticism, saying that government shortcomings in handling food and medical shortages, and other problems, played a role in recent protests.
In the protests, many Cubans expressed anger over long lines and shortages of food and medicine, as well as repeated electricity outages. Some demanded a faster pace of vaccination against COVID-19. There were also calls for political change in a country governed by the Communist Party for some six decades.
Related: Protests across Cuba over food shortages, high prices
In this interview, Malcom spoke to The World's Latin America correspondent, Jorge Valencia, from Miami, Florida, where he and his music partner, Alexander Delgado, now live.
Malcom and Delgado performed “Patria y vida” last Wednesday for a crowd waving Cuban flags in Miami.
Jorge Valencia: How did you start working on this song?
Randy Malcom: Yotuel calls us and tells us he wants us to work on a remix of “Ojalá,” which is a song he wrote about Cuba. When we went into the studio, we wound up creating an entirely new song. And it was easy, because we were just talking about our lives growing up in Cuba. Then we sent it to the artists from the San Isidro Movement, who are doing really important work in Cuba. Then the song came out, it went viral and now it’s a part of what’s happening in the country.
Did you draw from a particular personal experience?
Sure. What’s more personal than the 30 years I lived in Cuba? When we were done with the song, all of us who sang in it cried like children, because we could tell that it was going to be very relevant in Cuba. We just didn’t know how far it would go. Now, people are going out and chanting, “Homeland and life!” What could make you more proud than that? What makes me sad is knowing that people are being killed for going out and fighting for their right to live with dignity.
Who are you in touch with on the island? What do they tell you?
I’m in touch with friends, and they’re in shock. Many of them are going out on the streets, and they’re scared because the police have guns and they have sticks and stones. All you have to do is go online and see the videos that are coming out, blood pouring down the streets and mothers crying because their sons are getting taken away. The whole world must see that.
How do you feel about a song that you participated in becoming a protest anthem?
Well, we never wrote the song for us. We didn’t do it to get attention. We did it for the people. We did [it] because we want change. The song is for Cubans who have been living under a dictatorship for the past 62 years and want freedom. We’re raising our voices now so that young people won’t go through what our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents went through. We did it so that our people will be free. That’s what we need: freedom for Cuba.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.