Today was the first day of our Cuba Unit: Intro to Cuban Music. We began with a brief overview of modern Cuba and its geography. Spain did colonize Cuba, but there is also a lot of French influence. We reflected on how Obama’s lifting of the trade and financial embargo against Cuba has made traveling to Cuba much easier. Before, people would either have needed to travel through a missionary or educational trip, or go through Canada. Gemma brought up an interesting point that Cuba almost seems frozen in time. For example, the cars still being driven today are from the 1950s and while the exteriors are beautiful, the insides are crumbling because the cars are, in fact, very old. Cuba gained its ostensible independence in 1952 (although 1952-1959 was a trial period for the government), and the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, began in 1959. What is really remarkable about Cuba is that its dynamic culture and music emerged from a very different set of circumstances, compared to the Soviet Union and China. The Cuban Revolution was an unexpected kind of revolution.
The readings for today were chapters one and two from Robin D. Moore’s book, Music and Revolution: “Revelry and Revolution” – The Paradox of the Cuban 1950s and “Music and Social Change in the First Years.” Moore’s book seems to be written in a neutral-positive style, perhaps even overcompensatory to a negative image of Cuba. However, as Maria pointed out, it might seem like this because it is easier to reflect on the bullying role that the United States takes on towards Cuba. Moore explains that while Chapter 1 provides an overview of the Cuban 1950s, it also addresses the clear disconnect between the growing political period of unrest and the artistic life that was emerging (27, 2006). On page 27 he asks, “how a country with many social problems, and one eventually in a state of civil war, could have simultaneously been the site of amazingly vibrant musical development.” The paradox of the Cuban 1950s is the bustling scene contrasted with the growing instability.
During the 1950s, there was an illicit quality to the burgeoning nightlife and character, especially in Havana, where they refer to this time period as “The Fabulous Fifties” in Havana. Tropicana: Havana’s Fabulous Nightclub and Casino was one of these hotspots in the nightlife. Some key terms from today included: Son, Trova, Danzón, Chachachá, Mambo, Montuno, and Clave. These terms are important because while they are different types of rhythms, these rhythms also give names to the genres. For example, Bolero is a rhythm, but it is also a genre. We also talked about Joseíto Fernandez’s Guajira Guantanamera, which was associated with the hillbilly singers/country music of America. It was composed in 1929, and then recorded in 1941 by ACA records. Pete Seeger also performed this song but reconfigured it into a peace song.
After 1959, there was a massive exodus of the more elevated musicians and intellectuals and a huge drain of the middle class who migrated to the United States. Since copyright was abolished in the 1960s, stars of the 1940s and 1950s left because it was no longer lucrative to be a musician. Restrictions were put on prostitution, cabarets became nationalized, and privatization closed people off from being able to make the money that they had been making. The Eisenhower radio station tried to broadcast anti-communist messages into Cuba, but Cuba blocked them and sent messages back to the United States. This led to a radio war over shortwave radio.
In general, there was a centralization effect with politics and media. Diversity was seen through state sponsorship and there was almost a more democratic approach, but at the same time more restrictions were put on content.
There is so much ambiguity in what is ideological, official music, and what is revolutionary or merely disengaged from political meaning. This amorphous aspect of music is not only inherent to the art form itself, given the multiplicity of musical interpretation, but also significant in terms of the ambiguity of culture itself. The fact that a folk-rock fusion cooperative emerged through the efforts of Pablo Menendez and Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés and Noel Nicola despite official rulings against rock music could be seen as a shift in what was politically and socially acceptable. Or it could also demonstrate the potential that any culture has for innovation despite strict ideological rules, due to the amorphousness of culture given the complexities within any group of people. And there are always inherent contradictions. For instance, though Menendez proclaims that his song Cuba Va! is an “anthem — of rebellious, youthful energy, national pride, and anti-imperialist euphoria”, the song is inspired by the same rock music deemed to be imperialistic by Cuban officials. Indeed, innovations such as the electric guitar and wah-wah pedal were invented by American capitalists. No matter how much the Cubans wished to distinguish themselves from American influence, there was inevitably always some foreign influence. Still, the use of rock devices to create a Cuban socialist sound could be considered a manner of distinguishing Cuban socialist culture from foreign influence.
A common theme in Cuban music and politics is the idea of the revolutionary. At that time period, however, there were many different interpretations of what it meant to be revolutionary, as in the U.S. it was a time of protest and rock and roll, while throughout Latin America, there were independence struggles taking place. The different forms of music reflected this unrest as Cuban music synthesized the revolutionary qualities of original musicians with the so-called revolutionary music upheld by the regime. Meanwhile, in the U.S., rock music represented the growing youth movements. And yet, these various modes of “revolution” were so abjectly different in their ideologies, despite their common theme of separation from the status quo, that there was conflict between them.
In Moore’s description of the paradox of the Cuban atmosphere in the 1950s, I was struck to think about how the music seemed to be flourishing in the nature of its hybridity and because of the demands that were asked of the entertainment life and music by the public. It is interesting to see this weird sort of detachment of music from the state and from the political affairs simply because the music making did not reflect the states affairs at the time (which were corrupt and ill advised), but also be inextricable from the state in the very nature that the music making at this time was supporting the illicit nature of Cuba’s nightlife and public market, and that the music was catering to the publics demands of it.
I am eager to learn more about the fusions of Cuban and african musics and am wondering if this will come with the deepening of our focus into Cuba and its race relations, if those are to be had for this class. Anyhow, I think this role of music as a reflective way to view society and politics as well as a form of the state that can be divorced from the current political climate in its nature is worth engaging with and is a read of music in socialist countries we haven’t yet seen in such clear terms.
I really enjoyed listening to Cuban music and I’m excited for this section of the course! I was particularly interested in the American reception and perception of Cuban music. Growing up watching a lot of “I love lucy,” I was thinking back to the way Cuban music and culture was portrayed in this show, which was hugely popular during the 50s and 60s. It was interesting to see where these cuban songs which I grew up were placed in the culture of their country. Like those that were played in the pre-révolution caberets and clubs, there was a consciousness that they would be for American ears. However, these songs, as the pre-Castro culture we were talking about in class today, represent a limited, commercialized version of Cuban music. Along the same lines as the fact that the US supported many parts of the Cuban revolution without readily admitting it – what was the draw of this music and culture to Americans, even after the US had instituted the embargo? To me there seemed to be an illicit “otherness” that was a draw to mucn of the American population.
What I thought was most interesting in the reading this week was Moore’s conclusion that the paradox he set forth at the outset was not really a paradox after all. It might seem that a vibrant and flourishing music scene is antithetical to political corruption and instability, but in the case of Cuba it was dependent on it. Hybrid forms of Cuban folk/jazz bubbled up organically because the demand was for something foreign and fresh. Rich white people weren’t coming to Cuba to scold and censure the art there, they came to soak it all up (along with drugs, alcohol, and gambling) because it satisfied a desire for the exotic. The question then becomes is the corrupt environment that supported the musical vibrancy justified because of that support, and if not, how can the same vibrancy come out of a more agreeable environment?
Based on what we have learned so far in this unit, I found it to be interesting how different music was received in Cuba as opposed to the Soviet Union and China. In the reading we learned about how 1959 was a pivotal year, the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro. After 1959 elevated cabarets became nationalized and other restrictions were imposed. While there was a restricted music scene in Cuba after 1959, the restrictions were still much less severe than those of our other Socialist examples. In the Moore reading it spoke about punishments for the musicians who deviated from the acceptable music, however these punishments included being removed from the music scene, or expelled from certain music schools, nothing as intense as in the Soviet Union, where composers were assassinated.
This week I was excited to move into Cuba, knowing a little more about this region than the others and yet I was still surprised by some of the context provided by Moore. In particular the information about the political songs made by hugely popular artists during the early days of the Castro Regime. The major boom in the export of Cuban music before the revolution, which lead to a wealthy class of professional musician, eventually lead to the pull-out of their support and exodus from the country. I was wondering if there was so much support from commercially successful artists in the other revolutions that we have studied so far. Certainly the evolution in the mass distribution of music affected the earning potential of artists in Cuba, therefore it strikes me as interesting that people such as Celia Cruz would be so in favor of a Socialist change in government. Perhaps the initial socialist leanings of Castro were less extreme than their eventual outcome, however it would be interesting to investigate the reasoning behind the commercial artists’ political support.
I found that the transition from our unit on China to our unit on Cuba was facilitated by the notion of cultural hybridity that Gregory Lee addresses and interprets in his essay “East is Red Goes Pop.” As a nexus of influences, such as Spanish and French colonial tastes, Afrocuban culture, and even American Jazz, Cuba’s rich diversity could never have developed without France, Haiti, and Spain. (43) It is interesting that the hybridity of Cuban artistic (specifically musical) culture during the first half of the 20th century did not translate to politics. The idea that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is overtly present within Cuban politics in the post-revolutionary era (i.e relations between Castro and Communism, the United States, the USSR). I was particularly interested in the presence of satirical critique and its role, as presented within Moore’s second chapter, in Cuban musical culture, such as Los Tradicionales, the quartet established by Carlos Puebla, a singer and composer from Manzanillo. The group became socially engaged after Batista’s coup in 1952, drawing inspiration from government corruption and failed public works initiatives. I was also deeply entertained by the lyrical criticism of Russians during the wave of nationalism which arrived in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs.
On another note, I was reminded of the Sonic Pathways lecture by Moore’s discussion of the Blanquita theater, which was repurposed to serve as a temporary holding facility for some of Castro’s 100,000 captured opponents. The palimpsest of purpose within the Cuban landscape and urban layout present the hybridity of these transformed spaces.
In Revelry and Revolution – The Paradox of the Cuban 1950s, Moore highlights the presence of hybridity in the Cuban music scene. He describes how the creation of multiple musical styles revolved around the basic foundations of a Cuban music style, known as son. A discussion that I thought was especially interesting was Moore’s description of Danzon music. While Moore characterizes Danzon as an Afro-Cuban fusion music style, he explains how this genre is generally seen as only being Cuban. This complete lack of recognition for the African origins of Danzon music raises many questions for me. In the previous unit, one author commented on the difficulty of trying to distinguish domains between different musical genres. While I do think that it is extremely hard to create clear boundaries between different musical styles or forms, I strongly agree with Moore that all of the influences that shape a musical practice should be acknowledged, rather than ignored.
It was interesting to fully switch to another region with Cuba. Everytime we move to a new unit it gives me a chance to look at how socialism is being utilized in this different country. The class started with us being asked the question about what did we already know about Cuba. Within that question itself, it was realized how so much of the basic information we didn’t know about the country (e.g. like myself admittedly not knowing about the actual geography and location of Cuba). It was cool to hear the music played and recognize some of the rhythms in part due to my involvement in Carlos Valdez’s Latin Ensemble last year.
I find the influence of the American Mob on Cuban life in the 1940’s-50’s to be very interesting. It provides a context for how much powerful figures from America, (even illicitly powerful) can affect life on the island of Cuba. It provided for me a smaller narrative that showed how much we bullied Cuba, its proximity primed it for all sorts of exploitation from the US. Moore didn’t really get into it but I wonder how the taste of the Mobsters affected the diverse development of sound coming out of the island in the late 40’s to 50’s. I’m sure the mobsters brought down some of their own musicians from the states that must of led to very interesting cross pollination, introducing a certain kind of Jazz.
It is interesting how the entertainment industry was so dependent on a corrupt political regime. The government, which had largely ignored musical practices (outside of commercial entertainment) prior to the revolution, turned to music (as we have seen in the Soviet and Chinese cases also) to spread ideology. Whereas political instability had prompted tourism and the music industry, or supported it, a new political instability under Castro threatened it, and new musical practices became prominent and there became a place for the artist and the intellectual.
Cuba was a completely new topic for me, I like that I’m being introduced to its history through music. I really liked the NPR piece, “Cuban Rock and Revolution,” and I found it interesting that the main guitarist, Pablo “Mezcla” Menéndez was from San Francisco but became famous for his involvement with the protests in in Cuba. The music that we listened to in class reminded me of the music my Grandmother was a fan of when she was alive. I would like to learn more about the artists who became popular after the big clubs were closed.
I was intrigued by the songs Moore discusses in chapter one, for when we listened to them in class, I found myself recognizing them. I am admittedly not knowledgeable about Latin American forms of music, of course, but “Que nos separa” and “Mi sacoco” seem familiar to me, and I think it is very possible that I have heard them without realizing their origin, genre, or title. Similarly, the melody of “Guajira Guantanamera” is not alien to me (though Peter Seeger’s cover was quite a surprise). In these short recollections, I suppose I am curious about the permeation of various Cuban music forms into the mainland U.S., beyond Cuban emigre communities in places such as Florida. For the “decadent” 1950s genres such as mambo and chachacha, for their antecedents–son and danzon–and for their successors–Nueva Trova, new folklore music, and revolutionary song–how exactly have these separate musical forms fared in the greater American cultural consciousness? Of course, I expect that mambo and chachacha would persist with strength in emigre communities, but what has been their influence on American music? How tangible is that influence today? I expect that we will discuss more modern Cuban music and the relationship between Cuban and American music since the 1960s, but I am especially curious about how these forms exist (perhaps under the radar, at least in a modern popular sense) outside of Cuba proper. How did I come to recognize these songs, even though I was unaware of their identity at my earlier instances of listening? Or is this some instance of mistaking melodies and arrangement for other, similar ones–a case of faulty memory and misattribution? Regardless, I am excited to learn about Cuban musical forms and their propagation outside of Cuba.
I’m interested in the ways US imperialism is linked to the changes in both policy and culture in Cuba (though those two can be intertwined frequently). The presence of the US is obvious on one hand, but also easily overlooked. When viewed in light of the high decadence and touristic imperialism of the 1940s and 1950s, the correlation between US presence and Cuban culture alterations becomes a little clearer — that is to say, it becomes painfully clear why Cubans would want independence.
We, as Americans (in history as well as the present day), have a strange way of being so omnipresent that we become unaware of the ways in which the US interferes with the lives of foreign countries, Cuba being one of them. But the US relation and incursion is worth investigating deeply.
What I found most interesting about these first chapters of Moore’s “Music and Revolution” and our class discussion was the surprisingly large role the United States had as an imperial force in Cuba and as a consumer and producer of the arts in Cuba. For this very reason, in the years directly after Batista and the sharp drop in American influence in Cuba, I am wondering if there is any music that is not so much a protest against the Cuban political situation but against the United States in specific. I know musicians like Carlos Pueblo and his band indirectly addressed issues with the U.S. as they ironically treated Bastista and the decadent social climate. Was there music that more directly handled these issues? While Castro became a new musical subject, did lasting enmity with the U.S. play any role in composition or lyrics as well?
The decadence described in the first chapter of the Moore brought up some interesting questions for me with regards to the relationship between socialism and fun. I was thinking about how the kind of hedonistic environment described by Moore must have in certain ways been a blast to be a part of, and obviously had to do with the rise of an incredibly vibrant music scene. But does this kind of decadence always lead to exploitation? Similarly does the Marxist response to this kind environment have to be totally reactionary, as we saw in the Chinese case with regards to Yellow music. How is it possible to meld Marxism and fun?
Speaking to Lee’s notion of cultural hybridity, and with the hindsight provided to me by the completion of our case study of Cuba, one of the most interesting aspects of socialist Cuba for me was the role of the United States in the formation of the cultural landscape of Cuba. Particularly interesting were the many American genres that helped to facilitate the growth of Cuban genres like filin and timba, which fused elements of jazz, funk, rap, and traditional Cuban genres like the bolero.
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