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Capturing The Vibrancy Of Cuba's Underground Queer Oasis

When photographer Lisette Poole set on a journey to archive beauty in Cuba, the last thing she expected was to end up chronicling the lives of the island's queer collective. As a child, she'd always been drawn to the country, since her first visit at the age of 15. What began as a timid peek into the lives of the island's most marginalized culture ended up being the experience of a lifetime, in a revealing interview with British-based Huck magazine.

"I was living with a couple who took me out to the newly-legal gay clubs in Havana, and I met a performer one night," the young photo journalist recalls. "She’s a trans activist and actress in Cuba, and I’ve been following her for almost two years now.  I became inspired by the community, and was shooting so much that I got to a point where I felt at home on the scene. I’ve come to know many organizers in the community and they trust me. I never really thought that I would be covering an LGBT community anywhere, but I ended up falling into this because I found a group of people who were fun, inspiring and accepting. They wanted me to tell their story and welcomed me in."

The need to document such resilience is necessary, considering Cuba's track record in its treatment of sexual and gender minorities. After the 1959 revolution, in which Fulgencio Batista was removed from power, those who identified as LGBTQ were sent by Castro to prisons and work camps.

Almost 60 years after the revolution, the queer community still remains underground. "Cuba’s 'gayest city' is Santa Clara (a four-hour drive southwest of Havana). Here you will find Cuba’s only government-authorized gay establishment, El Mejunje. Recently celebrating its 25 year anniversary, the small open-air venue is an entertaining paradise for the LGBT community," says "Famous for its outlandishly flamboyant drag shows and party atmosphere, this is the place where gays, lesbians and their friends can be themselves without the fear of harassment from non-gays."

As for Havana, every Saturday night queer residents host a community get-together called "fiesta" in different locations, as a way to elude harassment from the police. The Malecón, a stretch of seawall on the city's northern shore, also provides a place of refuge for queers to socialize.

"Cuba under Fidel Castro has a long history of oppression against LGBT people," Poole confesses. "While same sex relationships were decriminalised in 1979 between consenting adults in private, reform only truly started, and slowly, when Castro admitted in 1993 that his attitudes to LGBT people had been wrong in the past, and he apologized. Real change only really took place when Mariela Castro became an active campaigner for LGBT rights. As Raul Castro’s daughter, people started to listen, and the opening of CENESEX (Cuban National Center for Sexual Education) pushed things forward. The first Pride Week (known as Anti Homophobia celebrations) didn’t take place until 2013."

CENESEX, founded in 1989, helped to educate Cuban masses about queerness from a health and educational perspective. Mariela, the organization's director, often travels in other Latin American countries to sit-in at queer conferences, seminars, and pride marches. In the early '90s, a film criticizing Cuba's queerphobic attitudes was produced by the government, and in 1995, Cuban drag queens led a May Day processional march. In 2013, Adela Hernandez became the nation's first transgender elected official.

Poole agrees that definite progress has been made, though it's not a queer paradise, yet. "I would definitely say that in the past few years there has been an opening and acceptance. Though some members of the LGBT community comment that they felt their only freedoms were relegated to the nightlife scene, in many ways this has begun to spread throughout many parts of society. There’s still a long way to go."

She adds that there is a growing sense of solidity between Cuban queers and their families, who have only begun to recognize their identities. "The thing is, Cuban people are very open with their beliefs—and unfortunately sometimes their prejudices—but there is also a very strong sense of community and bond here, and I think this makes the biggest difference. When I’m shooting Kiriam, a trans woman in Havana, her neighbors and family would sometimes call her by her male name, but she would tell me that the genuine love and acceptance they express overrides that."

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B-Real, DJ Muggs, Sen Dog, Eric Bobo of Cypress Hill attend a ceremony honoring Cypress Hill With Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on April 18, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
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It's About Time: Cypress Hill Receives Star On Hollywood Walk Of Fame

Cypress Hill doesn't always get the credit they deserve for their impact on hip-hop history, but they've been honored forever with a revered star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

With a career of 30 years, the legacy of the four-man group of B-Real, DJ Muggs, Sen Dog, and Eric Bobo (along with former member Mellow Man Ace) includes six platinum albums and 90s zeitgeist songs like "How I Could Just Kill A Man," "Insane In The Brain," and "Hand On The Pump." They released their self-titled debut in 1991 and the chart-topping follow-up Black Sunday two years later,  and have continued creating ever since, releasing their ninth and latest album Elephants On Acid in September 2018. Cypress Hill are considered West Coast rap legends, and the first Latino rap group to have multiple gold and platinum records. Anchored by Muggs' gloomy, gritty production and B-Real's nasal, charismatic rhymes, Cypress Hill is as much a part of rap history as anyone.

The group's ceremony included speeches from Latino comedian George Lopez and fellow West Coast rap legend Xzibit, who said 'it's about time' before detailing the group's illustrious career.

Xzibit pointed out Cypress Hill not only brought Latino representation in an industry that largely lacked it, but that they were staunch marijuana advocates way before today's growing legalization.

"The Grammy-nominated group showed us stoned is indeed the way of the walk. Long before the days of legal dispensaries and medical marijuana, Cypress Hill were advocates of that sticky icky icky oooh wee!" Xzibit shared. "...Cypress Hill are pioneers in their own right. Their accomplishments and accolades reach deep in the roots and history books of hip-hop, and today is another chapter in that saga. Yo B-Real, Sen Dog, Muggs, Bobo: you are our Rolling Stones, Ungrateful Dead, you are the West Coast Public Enemy."

Lopez insisted that out of all the 2,600 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, "there are none more important than the one we're about to unveil for Cypress Hill. There's a lot of actors, there's a lot of comedians, there's a lot of entertainers who are on this (Walk of Fame). But there's only one cypress hill, the first Latino hip-hop group. But to everyone who lives the American dream, not the last Latino hip-hop group to ever be on the Hollywood Walk of Fame."

Cypress Hill's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is unveiled

— Variety (@Variety) April 18, 2019

Xzibit says "it's about time" that Cypress Hill gets their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

— Variety (@Variety) April 18, 2019

George Lopez says there are 2,600 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but "none more important than the star we are about to unveil for Cypress Hill"

— Variety (@Variety) April 18, 2019

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Cypress Hill To Make History With Star On Hollywood Walk Of Fame

After 30 years in hip-hop, Cypress Hill is due to make history with their latest accolade. The multi-platinum selling group is set to become the first Latino American hip-hop collective to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The induction ceremony, presented by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, takes place on April 18 in front of Greenleaf Restaurant located on Hollywood Blvd.

George Lopez and Xzibit will help unveil the star alongside Rana Ghadban, president & CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The free ceremony is open to the public and will be live streamed via

“We are proud to honor the first Latino American hip-hop recording group,” said Ana Martinez, Producer of the Hollywood Walk of Fame said in a press release. “They have been successful as a group for three decades and we know they will continue their success for many years to come.”

Cypress Hill, comprised of B Real, Sen Dog, DJ Muggs, and Eric “Bobo” Correa, is noted as the first Latino-American hip-hop group to have platinum and multi-platinum selling albums with more than 18 million records worldwide. In the early 1990s, Cypress Hill became the first rap group to have two albums in the Billboard 200 thanks to the success of their self-titled double-platinum debut and their sophomore effort, Black Sunday. The album went on to sell more than three million copies and spawned the rap classic “Insane in the Membrane.”

Cypress Hill released their ninth studio album, Elephants On Acid, last year. Following the Walk of Fame induction ceremony, the group will perform at the famous Whiskey a Go Go club in Hollywood.


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Join us for our induction to the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

A post shared by Cypress Hill (@cypresshill) on Apr 9, 2019 at 11:36am PDT

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Miguel Drops Spanish-Language EP 'Te Lo Dije'

In an ode to his Mexican heritage, Miguel has released a five-track project that is the Spanish/Spanglish version of his 2017 War & Leisure album. Te Lo Dije features collaborations with fellow Spanish-speaking artists Kali Uchis, C. Tangana, Dante Spintetta and Emmanuel Horvilleur, as well as Mexican Mariachi girl band, Flor de Toloache.

Miguel's Spanish-language project is one that he has been teasing his fans with, hence the name of the EP, Te Lo Dije. The phrase means "I told you so" in Spanish and also happens to be the name of a song on the EP. On this collaborative effort, Miguel is mixing in his R&B vibes with his Latin ties, so for fans looking for a mixture of both, they can listen the Spanish version of his hit, "Sky Walker" featuring Spinetta and Horvilleur. Uchis can also be found on "Carmelo Duro" showing off her Colombian roots.

This is the 33-year-old artist's first Spanish-language project and he even said that he thinks he likes "these songs better in Spanish." The R&B artist took to his Instagram account to his express his excitement on Te Lo Dije, as well as give props to people who helped him through the process.

"FIRST RELEASE OF THE YEAR," he wrote. "TE LO DIJE (a selection of songs off of W&L en español)."


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FIRST RELEASE OF THE YEAR ! TE LO DIJE (a selection of songs off of W&L en español) I want to thank my cousin @yeyasmiles and @flordetoloache, @kaliuchis and @c.tangana and everyone that helped me translate these songs 🙏🏾. I think you might like these better in Spanish. Enjoy . Love you

A post shared by Miguel TV 📺 (@miguel) on Apr 5, 2019 at 9:22am PDT

Make sure to listen to Te Lo Dije here.

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