UCLA Library Artist in Residence: Obsesion April 10-13, 2017

Photos by T-Kay Sangwand unless otherwise noted

Alexey and Magia at Magia's house in Havana, June 2016

Obsesion formed in 1996 and its two principal members are Magia López and Alexey “el tipo este” Rodriguez. In 2016, the group celebrated its 20 year anniversary in Havana with a multi-day symposium and performances featuring national and international scholars, artists, cultural advocates, and activists. They’ve released two full-length albums Un Monton de Cosas (2000) and El Disco Negro (2011) in addition to side and solo projects, such as La Fabri-K, and numerous guest appearances and compilation features. In 2003, they conducted a month long US tour during which they performed at the Apollo Theatre with hip hop legends The Roots. Since then Obsesion has been invited to the US multiple times for university visits and other cultural/educational exchanges. Over the years they have also held monthly Sunday peñas (community based cultural gatherings) in the Havana suburb of Regla, where Alexey lives. These peñas have attracted many famous attendees including musical artists Usher and Ana Tijoux. Obsesion’s long history has been enriched by their experiences outside the group as well. Magia is the former director of the Cuban Rap Agency, the Cuban government’s agency that supports rap music. Alexey produces music and releases solo albums under the moniker “el tipo este”. Magia and Alexey are deeply embedded in their communities and also form part of the collective Club del Espendru which empowers Afrocuban culture and business in Havana.

The Obsesion artist residency at UCLA Library built upon the relationships forged with Cuban cultural heritage institutions and individuals during the Arcadia-funded International Digital Ephemera Project, provided innovative programming to the campus community and public, contributed original materials to digital collections, and opened opportunities to collaborate with faculty and students.
Left photo L-R: Magia López Cabrera, Vanessa Díaz, Alexey Mola Rodríguez | Right photo L-R: Magia, Sharon Farb, Alexey, T-Kay Sangwand
  • 2015: UCLA Associate University Librarian Sharon Farb began conversations with Obsesion and long time Obsesion collaborator Dr. Vanessa Díaz (Cal State Fullerton / UCLA) to bring the Cuban hip hop group to UCLA.
  • June 2016: Obsesion invited UCLA Librarian T-Kay Sangwand to present on and launch her idea for a Cuban Hip Hop Archive / Archivo de Hip Hop at their 20 year anniversary event in Havana.
  • January 2017: Obsesion received their visas to visit UCLA.
  • February 2017: UCLA librarians Sharon Farb and T-Kay Sangwand celebrated this news with Obsesion in Havana.
From April 10-13, veteran Cuban hip hop group Obsesion came to Los Angeles as UCLA Library's Artist in Residence. The residency featured conversations with students, faculty and the public as well as connections with Los Angeles based artists and activists.

Obsesion's residency kicked off with a tour of UCLA Library Special Collections led by Genie Guerard (Manuscripts Curator) and Jennifer Osorio (Librarian for Latin American Studies). Some of the gems included artist books, early punk and hip hop photography, Cuban revolutionary newspapers, and social justice art prints. Read more about their visit here: Cuban Hip Hop Duo, Obsesion, Goes Underground (by visiting Library Special Collections on A-Level YRL)

Photos: Neil Hodge

During their residency, Obsesion met with 175 graduate and undergraduate students

"It was great that the organizer(s) contacted instructors of related classes where the artists could present and engage with students." - UCLA faculty
Seminar on Latin American Music with Dr. Steve Loza

Obsesion co-created a definition of activism with students of Chicana/o Artivism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race taught by Silvia Rodriguez

“I enjoyed the fact that they included our ideas and thoughts about activism because I felt that everyone was able to take something away from the whole visit.” - UCLA undergraduate
Obsesion discussed hip hop, Cuban traditional music, activism, black and brown unity with students of Music in Latin America taught by Dr. Nolan Warden

In addition to meeting with the UCLA community, Obsesion connected with Los Angeles based artists Maya Jupiter and UCLA Visiting Professor Bryonn Bain as well as Black Lives Matters co-founder Patrisse Cullors and BLM activists.

L to R: Noni, Alexey, T-Kay, Patrisse, Magia
UCLA Visiting Professor / hip hop artist Bryonn Bain invited Obsesion to record a track with him and LA-based rapper, Maya Jupiter at 4th Street Studios where renowned artists from The Beach Boys to Solange Knowles have recorded.
The artists took less than an hour to each write a verse and then recorded it. The forthcoming track deals with themes of migration, knowing one's roots and history, and diasporic consciousness. Keep your ears out for it!

The Obsesion residency featured two public events attended by over 100 people from the campus and wider community and was supported by 6 campus partners

"They were very real with their responses. They were not only passionate with their responses and activist work, but they were willing to admit that they didn't have the answer to everything. They humanized the role of the artistic duo because they're living, breathing, and seeing the struggle, just as I am." - UCLA undergraduate
"I loved their openness in sharing their values and what motives inspire them to create the music they do. I loved listening to them talk about their passion so genuinely which contrasts the many rehearsed lines artists in the music industry give." - UCLA undergraduate

Hip hop scholar Dr. Cheryl Keyes (Ethnomusicology) introducing the documentary and the speakers

"I loved their humanness. I loved how easy it was to ask them questions and how they were really truthful about their answers. I loved to get a view on how there world is and apply it to what we are living here today." - UCLA undergraduate
Q&A with Director Vanessa Díaz and Obsesion, moderated by T-Kay Sangwand (Photo: Matthew Vest)
“I really enjoyed the documentary. I found that it gave a lot of great context for the importance of the Cuban Hip Hop scene.” - Undergraduate from Occidental College
"The film was fantastic as were the interviews. I know the students really appreciated the Q and A and the duo were very candid in clarifying some key issues which are often misunderstood, for example, how censorship works in Cuba these days." - UCLA faculty
On April 13, the Obsesion residency culminated with a public conversation on hip hop, race and gender in Cuba held in the beautiful Powell East Rotunda.
“I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary aspect of Obsesion's panel discussion. We need more events where we can collaborate across the campus, share resources and foster more cultural awareness through innovative and creative programs like this one. It was fantastic!” - UCLA staff
“The presentation was fantastic and informative” - Los Angeles community member
"Their pride and passion was something! The way they talked about their music and how it is reflective of their community was truly admirable...And even though they are already quite popular in Cuba, they were still humble while talking to us." - UCLA undergraduate
“It was so wonderful to have the opportunity to hear Magia and Alexey speak. I had seen them in concert, but never had an opportunity to hear about their work in the community, and the incredible ways that they have empowered and politicized Cuban artists and youth. Even for someone who studies Cuba and has been there many times, I learned so much listening to their personal stories, and hearing about their creative process and community activism.” - UCLA faculty
“I really enjoyed being able to have an intellectual conversation with artivists that come from a country outside of the United States." - UCLA undergraduate

Photo: Gabriel San Roman

"There were a few questions about activism and how dissent is treated by the Cuban government and it was interesting to hear about their real lived experiences when dealing with the government and censorship - a topic I think many were interested in because many do not know much about daily life in Cuba. I only wish the events could have been a bit longer to really be able to have them speak more." - UCLA staff

While Obsesion's visas didn't allow them to do a concert, they did treat us to two songs, "En tu barrio" [In Your Neighborhood] and "Tú con tu ballet." This is the first time that live hip hop has been performed in Powell Library. Historically, there have only been classical music performances in the Powell Rotunda.

Photos: Gabriel San Roman
“I enjoyed the performance (occupying/using library space in an anticolonial way)” - UCLA undergraduate
"YES!!! I absolutely loved everything. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I loved it all." - UCLA undergraduate
Top photo: Obsesion with Los Angeles based filmmaker Kimberly Bautista who directed their "La Llaman Puta" music video. Bottom photo: UCLA Library staff and faculty and Obsesion - Aisha Finch, Vanessa Díaz, Magia López Cabrera, Sharon Farb, Alexey Rodríguez Mola, T-Kay Sangwand, Jennifer Osorio

Thank you to OC Weekly for covering the Obsesion residency: Afro-Cuban Rap Legends Obsesion Talk About Race, Gender, and Hip-Hop at UCLA

Read more reactions from the film screening and public conversation with Obsesion here: #UCObsesion

Thank you to our UCLA co-sponsors: Latin American Institute, Program on Caribbean Studies, Department of African American Studies, Department of Gender Studies, Department of Ethnomusicology, Chicano Studies Research Center

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T-Kay Sangwand
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Photos by T-Kay Sangwand unless otherwise noted.

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