Yotuel Romero says Patria y Vida's win surprised him Afro-Cuban rapper Yotuel Romero discusses the song that won Song of the Year and inspired protesters in one of the biggest waves of demonstrations in Cuba in decades.

Latin Grammy winner to Cuban leaders: 'We're done with your lies and indoctrination'

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

More than 300 prominent figures from the art world, including the writer Isabel Allende, are calling on the Cuban government to release all arbitrarily detained artists on the island. Dozens are reported to still be in custody following a wave of popular protests last summer. Many of the people marching in those protests chanted lyrics from a hip-hop song that recently won big at the Latin Grammys. Elisa Baena of member station WLRN spoke to one of the song's creators.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF DESCEMER BUENO, GENTE DE ZONA AND YOTUEL'S "PATRIA Y VIDA")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in Spanish).

ELISA BAENA, BYLINE: A group of Afro-Cuban rappers and singers performed an acoustic version of the song "Patria Y Vida" at this year's Latin Grammys. The stage was full of candles to symbolize the blackouts Cubans have had to deal with lately under communist rule.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF DESCEMER BUENO, GENTE DE ZONA AND YOTUEL'S "PATRIA Y VIDA")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in Spanish).

BAENA: The song's name, "Patria Y Vida," is a poke at Fidel Castro's slogan, patria o muerte, which means homeland or death. Patria y vida means homeland and life.

(SOUNDBITE OF LATIN GRAMMY AWARDS)

UNIDENTIFIED LATIN GRAMMY HOSTS: The Latin Grammy is "Patria Y Vida."

BAENA: It won Song of the Year and Best Urban Song at the Latin Grammys. Rapper Yotuel Romero, who was born in Cuba and goes by just Yotuel, recalls how he felt when he went on stage to accept the award.

YOTUEL: (Speaking Spanish).

BAENA: He says he was really surprised because Song of the Year is a huge prize, and they were competing against musicians who are at their peak. Earlier this year, Yotuel and a few singers based in Miami collaborated with rappers in Cuba to record "Patria Y Vida." The Cuban artists recorded their parts clandestinely for fear the government would shut down the production. Maybe that's why it wasn't a surprise that the regime banned the song when it came out earlier this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish).

BAENA: It became a rallying cry during demonstrations that erupted across Cuba last summer amid the blackouts and food and medicine shortages. Hundreds of Cubans are still being held as political prisoners. Influenced by the hip-hop tradition of keeping it real, Yotuel and the group are advancing a Latin American musical form, the urban protest anthem. "Patria Y Vida" is a hopeful song that tells the Cuban regime its days are numbered.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF DESCEMER BUENO, GENTE DE ZONA AND YOTUEL'S "PATRIA Y VIDA")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in Spanish).

YOTUEL: (Speaking Spanish).

BAENA: The song says, your time is up. I was born in this century, and we're done with your lies and indoctrination. Yotuel says he doesn't want to get hung up on the past. He believes protest music should be about creating a new Cuba that will one day be free from the authoritarian regime. He's confident it will happen soon.

YOTUEL: (Speaking Spanish).

BAENA: Clearly, it's necessary to look to the future, and naming that future Cuba was very important for knowing what we're fighting for, Yotuel said. He says the fight is for a Cuba where young people can have a future, where you don't risk your life speaking out against the government and where people aren't dying to leave the country - in other words, where you don't have to choose between homeland and life. You can have both. Patria y Vida.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF DESCEMER BUENO, GENTE DE ZONA AND YOTUEL'S "PATRIA Y VIDA")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in Spanish).

BAENA: For NPR news, I'm Eilsa Baena in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUTUAL BENEFIT'S "TERRAFORM")

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