Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Global online fame for Cuban hip-hop crew

Global online fame for Cuban hip-hop crew

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Dancers rehearse in Havana. A troupe of young Cubans has attracted the attention of several stars abroad with their choreographies that mix hip-hop, reggaeton and salsa. AFP

Global online fame for Cuban hip-hop crew

In the country of salsa and rumba, a troupe of sneaker-wearing Cuban youngsters have burst onto the dance scene with a style until recently all but unheard of on the isolated island nation: hip hop.

Under US sanctions and with the Communist Party in charge of all aspects of daily life, including what people get to see on public television, Cubans have had little exposure to the American genre that has taken the rest of the world by storm.

But this changed suddenly with internet arriving in the one-party state in 2015 – and mobile internet since 2018 – with some 4.2 million of Cuba’s 11.2 million people now connected.

With no other platform on which to ply their trade, 16-member Cuban dance troupe Datway (a play on That Way) have taken to Facebook and Instagram to display their unique brand of hip hop moves, blended with more traditional, home-grown styles.

It has launched them to international fame, even catching the eye of Daddy Yankee, dubbed the King of Reggaeton – a Latin American music style that borrows heavily from hip hop and rap.

The Puerto Rican rapper, who co-starred on the hit single “Despacito”, took to Instagram to comment: “Too good #Cuba” about a dance number the troupe performed to his latest hit “El Pony” and posted online.

In the video, the troupe jumps and gyrates to the reggaeton rhythm in sports clothes and sneakers, dyed hair and bandannas, and watched by a ragtag of neighborhood kids in a poor district of central Havana.

The video has earned them 2.2 million views.

“Hip hop videos from other countries are always [set] in these very beautiful places,” Datway founder Dariel Lopez, aka Chaiky Dari, told reporters.

Much talent, little exposure

“We always look for places that are . . . well not ugly, because for us they are not ugly, but real – those balconies in need of a touch of paint, young people and children who are not very well dressed,” said the 23-year-old with his wild mop of hair, parts of it bleached blonde.

Chaiky Dari boasts 33,700 subscribers on Instagram, a high hit rate for a country with the third lowest fixed broadband speed, according to Speedtest, though it ranks 88th out of 134 for mobile speed.

Under a tin roof held up by walls covered in graffiti, the members of Datway train from Monday to Friday, shooting their videos on weekends.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The troupe jumps and gyrates to the reggaeton rhythm in sports clothes and sneakers, dyed hair and bandannas as they are watched by a ragtag group of neighborhood kids in a poor district of central Havana. AFP

The troupe of 18-to-32-year-olds have backgrounds in contemporary and folk dance, some even worked in circuses.

Sometimes they go out on the street, plugging in their sound system at the house of a neighbor – an old lady who sells fruit from her front steps.

“Abroad, Cuba is still seen as the country of salsa,” but “here there is also a lot of talent in hip-hop, with a lot of dancers from the street,” said Liuven Dopico, 28, who himself learned to dance “in the street” and “by watching a lot of videos.”

Datway’s idea, however, is not to abandon their Cuban dance roots.

“We often mix hip hop with traditional Cuban music, we mix it all and we create something truly beautiful,” said Dopico, his hair tinted turquoise.

“If it is a salsa we mix it with urban dance, if it is reggaeton, we add salsa steps to it,” added Dari.

‘The best!’

Fellow troupe member Paloma Duarte, 23, started off as a classical ballet dancer, then worked in a folk dance company.

Now, “I feel complete as a dancer, I have all the styles!” she said.

Duarte said the group receives frequent messages from amateur dancers, many of whom send in videos, as the hip hop phenomenon spreads.

But to encourage more youngsters, “it would be really good if at the level of the state, of television, there was some urban dance and not only salsa and rumba,” she added.

In recent weeks, the glowing comments of Latin stars such as Daddy Yankee and Ricky Martin – “The best!”, he wrote on Instagram – have propelled Datway to new heights, even signing a contract with a record company in Florida to appear in dance videos.

And when Puerto Rican-Cuban Reggaeton duo Ozuna and Ovi launched an online challenge, inviting dancers to choreograph a video for their new song “Envidioso”, the winners were none other than Datway.

The group received a prize of $10,000 – a fortune in a country where the minimum monthly salary is $87.

Half of the money will be used on “technology” – better internet connection and filming equipment, said Ernesto Rodriguez, 32, the group’s technical director.

“The rest was divided among the members, and I also gave money to the children” from the neighborhood, who appear in Datway’s videos.


  • Five-year-old Hanuman dances his way into hearts of Cambodia

    A young talent from a new-established settlement has emerged, captivating the online world with his mesmerising performances of the traditional Cambodian monkey dance. Roeun Kakada is a five-year-old prodigy who has taken the social media sphere by storm with his exceptional dance skills and dedication

  • Fresh Covid warnings as Thai hospital fills

    A senior health official reminds the public to remain vigilant, as neighbouring countries experience an increase in Covid-19 cases, with the latest surge appearing to be a result of the Omicron XBB.1.5 sub-variant. Or Vandine, secretary of state and spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health,

  • Honda shutters Siem Reap football club

    Japanese football legend Keisuke Honda, the owner of Siem Reap football club Soltilo Angkor FC, has been forced to shut the club down, after it failed to attract sponsorship for the upcoming season. Honda, the former manager of the Cambodia men's national football team, said

  • Hun Sen warns of regional tensions

    ASIA is becoming a dangerous geopolitical hotspot, with several countries announcing that they intend to send naval vessels towards Southeast Asia and on to the South China Sea, warned Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Heated geopolitical issues can easily escalate, namely to war. I am not

  • PM declares ASEAN Para Games open

    The 12th ASEAN Para Games officially kicked off on the evening of June 3 at Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh, with a spectacular opening ceremony featuring fireworks and performances by some of the Kingdom’s most accomplished talents. Tens of thousands of sports fans

  • Waterway job still pending for Kampot tourism port’s opening

    The search is still on for a contractor to expand and deepen the Kampot International Tourism Port’s waterway and deliver additional enhancements allowing safe access for larger vessels, nearly a year after the main construction work on the 4.25ha site was completed on June 30, 2022.