K-pop Fever Grips Cuban Teens

Photo of author

By LatAm Reports Editor

In the vibrant heart of salsa’s birthplace, Cuba, a new musical trend is captivating the youth. It’s not the salsa beats traditionally associated with the island but K-pop, South Korea’s global musical export. This cultural tide has reached Cuba’s communist shores, an island where once even Beatles’ music was prohibited.

Mikel Caballero, a 17-year-old Cuban K-pop enthusiast, finds a sense of liberation in this genre. “K-pop allows me to be myself, to free myself,” he declared. He, alongside his peers, dedicates numerous hours to mastering the intricate dance routines of K-pop groups such as BTS and Blackpink. The advent of mobile internet on the island just five years ago has significantly transformed Cuban society, still tightly controlled by its one-party government. Despite restrictions, Cubans have embraced modernity with social media, various apps, and even foreign festivities like Halloween, despite longstanding U.S. sanctions.

Samyla Trujillo, a 14-year-old who has been a fervent K-pop fan for four years, expressed her admiration for BTS, “When I saw BTS… I told myself: ‘I want to dance like them.’” Her enthusiasm grew with Blackpink, inspiring her to emulate these female icons. Her home in Havana, where she lives with her grandmother, frequently turns into a dance studio where she and Caballero rehearse K-pop choreography. Trujillo, once a traditional Caribbean dancer, now aspires to be Cuba’s first K-pop star.

Both Trujillo and Caballero dream of visiting Seoul one day, a sentiment echoed by Alejandro Achin, a 21-year-old who described K-pop as a refreshing change from the repetitive rhythms of salsa and Reggaeton that Cubans are accustomed to. Achin’s group won a K-pop competition in Havana, earning him the opportunity to perform in Seoul in 2019.

Hohyun Joung, a teacher at a Korean cultural and language center in Havana, highlights the universal appeal of K-pop, which she believes resonates with the aspirations and concerns of youth globally. Her center is a testament to the growing Korean wave in Cuba, with an overwhelming number of students and limited space.

Ia Gonzalez, a 20-year-old student at the center, is learning Korean and delights in understanding the lyrics of her favorite K-pop songs. “Korean is not difficult,” she insists, attributing her learning success to her passion for the culture.