Meet Cínikos, the young alternative rock group crowdfunding their way to success in Cuba.
Cínikos rock band havana cuba
Cínikos, a young alternative rock group based in Havana currently managing a crowdfunding campaign to record their first album. Photos: Cínikos

Crowdfunding campaigns are very “in” right now, used for everything from raising money to pay for expensive medical treatments to covering moving costs so aspiring actors can kick start their careers in LA. While in the U.S. there are tons of platforms to choose from depending on your goals, if you’re Cuban, your options are much more limited. What’s more, the social media presence necessary to successfully manage a campaign can be nigh on impossible to achieve from an island where data is expensive and the internet connection seems to drop every other day. 

Despite these difficulties, in the last year or so, Cubans–especially Cuban artists–have turned to crowdfunding campaigns to finance their projects. The question is: why? To try and gain some insight, StartupCuba spoke with Alejandro Suárez and Camilo Domínguez, the lead singer and bassist of the new Havana-based alternative rock band Cínikos, to hear more about the band’s experience with crowdfunding in Cuba. 

Cínikos lead singer Alejandro Suárez
Cínikos’ lead singer, Alejandro Suárez (center), with lead guitarist Felipe Herrera (right) and drummer Daniel Suárez (left) at rehearsal.

Why did Cínikos decide to do a crowdfunding campaign to finance your first album?

Alejandro Suárez (AS): The decision to launch a crowdfunding campaign comes from our wanting to produce independent art. Cuba’s political culture bureaucratizes all kinds of art with the end goal of exerting control over it. This leads to a lot of mediocrity and opportunism. The independent movement is a way to get free of all this and be able to give free reign to creativity and your message, but it also creates a problem in that there is no support in a country where all support is channeled through institutions. 

Producing a quality product is tremendously expensive and Cuba is in perpetual economic crisis. So from that comes the necessity to crowdfund. 

What are the challenges of being a musical group in Cuba?

Camilo Domínguez (CD): The issue is really more being a band “like we want to be.” Without a doubt, being independent artists in Cuba is a pretty complicated undertaking. 

AS: I think the issue of being a band in Cuba is mainly economic, [but there are also] many more problems that have to do with being a rock band. This is for two reasons: firstly, while many people think it’s no longer an issue, rock music carries a political and social stigma perpetuated by the government since the latter half of the last century. There have been steps to fix this, but they haven’t been nearly enough. 

Secondly, there’s the issue of independent production, like we said before. Salsa and other “traditional” music groups are favored by the institutions, and reggaeton has taken over the streets and so is unstoppable in that sense. Being an indie/alternative rock or post-grunge group, however, is a completely different story. 

Verkami, crowdfunding cuba
Homepage of Verkami, the preferred crowdfunding platform for Cubans.

What have been the biggest challenges of running a crowdfunding campaign, especially from Cuba?

AS: ETECSA’s [national telecommunications company] incapacity. The internet connection in Cuba is very poor. Then you add to that the economic challenge of being able to maintain enough mobile data to create and upload daily content…

CD: Also, it’s really difficult for those who most listen to our music and who most support us–Cubans–to donate. In Cuba it’s hard to access international credit cards, and accessing foreign currency is also complicated.

*Donating in Cuban pesos or from Cuban bank accounts, assuming the average Cuban as enough disposable income to contribute, is impossible on crowdfunding platforms. *

What was the process of structuring your crowdfunding campaign like? Did you take inspiration from other Cuban artists who have done their own campaigns? 

CD: We’ve been learning as we go. Many friends and family members have helped us create content for social media. We of course did some research to see how others have done their own campaigns, but we decided to follow our own path and listen to those closest to us. 

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AS: Various Cuban artists have used crowdfunding to finance their projects. Structuring a campaign is complicated, you think that you have everything organized but no, everything is dynamic and constantly changing. There are times when you thought you were going to do one publication but then realize that doing a different one is better. [Our campaign on Verkami, a Spanish platform that’s more accessible to Cubans by virtue of being European,] has been a somewhat asphyxiating 40-day learning process. 

The rock band uses Verkami for crowdfunding in Cuba.
Cínikos’ first concert at the Bar Doble A in Havana.

Speaking of learning, what are some of the specific things you’ve learned during the campaign that you didn’t anticipate before launching it?

AS: I’ve learned about everything. I didn’t know almost anything about how social media worked. We’ve also learned how to optimize content production and what kinds of things are better to upload. Thankfully we’ve had the support of people close to us who have helped us with all of that. 

CD: We’ve also learned that it’s hard to have a wide reach on social media if you’re not able pay for promotions or ads! But anyway, basically we’ve learned that you’ve got to plan everything out and have everything well organized. 

What happens if you don’t reach your fundraising goal?

CD: [Verkami’s policy states] that if we don’t reach our fundraising goal, they’ll return all the donations we’ve received so far to the donors and we’ll be left with nothing. 

AS: It’ll have been a lot of hard work for nothing. We’d have to find another way to finance the album–it’s not optimal. 

Cínikos rock band havana cuba
Cínikos in concert in Alejandro and Daniel’s hometown of Vereda Nueva.

Besides recording this first album, what other plans does Cínikos have?

AS: After recording the album, we’d like to do a launch concert and some collaborations with other artists. Make some music videos and see if we can break into the national mainstream media. 

CD: [Facetiously] We’ve got some other things up our sleeve, but it’s not time to reveal them just yet. 

With four days left in their campaign, there’s still time to help Cínikos reach their goal if you want to contribute! As per Verkami’s policy, each donor will be compensated with a prize of their choosing, which you can read about on the band’s project page:

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Gabriela Rivero is a recent graduate of Harvard College with a major in Sociology and minor in Latinx Studies. She comes from a colorful Caribbean (Cuban & Venezuelan) and Mediterranean (Spanish & Italian) background, to which she attributes her love of sunshine and her addiction to guava pastelitos. Gabby uses her English–Spanish bilingualism in her work with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC), helping immigrants obtain asylum in the United States. She recently started law school at the University of Miami to become an immigration attorney —shocker!-— specializing in asylum law. She enjoys writing, cooking, singing, and playing tennis and guitar. However, Gabby’s favorite activity is traveling to Cuba, exploring her grandparents’ home country and visiting the friends she made while studying abroad at the University of Havana.

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