In the vibrant streets of Havana, Cuba, a music phenomenon hailing from a geographically and ideologically distant land is captivating the hearts of young Cubans. K-pop, the South Korean music sensation that has already swept across the globe, has found its way to the shores of a communist island that once banned even the music of the Beatles.
Young Cubans like Mikel Caballero, a 17-year-old K-pop enthusiast, have embraced this music genre, finding a sense of liberation in its rhythm and style. Hours each week are devoted to perfecting meticulously choreographed K-pop routines performed by South Korean sensations such as BTS and Blackpink.
The introduction of mobile internet access in Cuba just five years ago has triggered significant cultural shifts in a nation still under the firm grip of a one-party state. Cubans now enjoy ride-sharing and food delivery apps, social media platforms, and access to entertainment sites like YouTube.
Cubans are increasingly participating in events like Halloween, a quintessential American festival, despite the enduring US sanctions against the Caribbean nation for over six decades.
Samyla Trujillo, a 14-year-old K-pop devotee, reflects the growing influence of this music genre in Cuban youth culture. She is drawn to the captivating performances of K-pop groups like BTS and Blackpink and aspires to dance like them. Her walls are adorned with posters and T-shirts featuring K-pop artists, and she watches K-dramas with subtitles.
In her Havana home, Trujillo and her friend Caballero transform their living room into a dance floor, where they diligently practice their K-pop routines. Trujillo has dreams of becoming Cuba’s first home-grown K-pop idol, and both friends share the aspiration of visiting Seoul, the heart of K-pop culture.
Alejandro Achin, 21, who won an amateur K-pop competition with his group in Havana and performed in Seoul, sees K-pop as a breath of fresh air for Cubans accustomed to the rhythms of salsa and Reggaeton.
K-pop has also found a home at South Korean cultural and language centers in Havana, one of which opened last year. Hohyun Joung, a South Korean teacher at the center, believes that K-pop’s appeal transcends politics. The songs often express the concerns and thoughts of young people, making them universally relatable.
K-pop’s influence is expanding rapidly in Cuba, demonstrating that music can bridge cultural gaps and transcend political boundaries. As young Cubans embrace this “completely new” musical experience, they find inspiration, self-expression, and a connection to a world far from their own, all through the power of music.