In the Astley reading, the notion is introduced that seemingly Western influences such as rock needed to be assimilated into Cuban culture in a controlled manner so as to ensure that these became authentically Cuban as well. To me this represents a profound sense of fragility surrounding Cuban culture as a whole, which relates to the overbearing cultural impositions of the socialist regime. Of course, Cuban culture is still authentically Cuban culture, and foreign influences will inevitably affect that, but not with the effect that Cuban culture somehow is no longer Cuban culture. The state’s monopoly over what is deemed to be authentic Cuban culture is in and of itself, artifice. Except that the pretense of what is authentic and what is not serves a cultural purpose as it reflects some insecurity about what Cuban culture is or should be among either the people or the government such that culture merits regulation by the socialist state. That is to say, I think that Astley’s view that Cuban music had to be “authentically Cuban” represents a pervasive sense of nationalism.
I am curious as to whether the loosening of state regulation in the 1990s and early 2000s in Cuba influenced the Cuban musical underground similarly to how Russian perestroika influenced underground music of the time. I think there are similarities in that the lifting of censorship in both countries meant that there was greater personalization of self-expression.
On another note, I find it interesting that both Cuban and Soviet rock music seem to have suffered due to state controls. Both communist states viewed rock music as a Western influence that had to guarded against. However, just as Western rock music was secretly exchanged within the USSR on X-Rays, and various Western commodities gained a sort of novelty value, Cuban culture was also influenced by the West. Porno Para Ricardo is an instance of this as their music was influenced by Western rock as well as traditional Cuban music. Therefore, both regimes were susceptible to some degree of Western influence, although clearly Western cultural values took on remarkably different meanings in these new contexts.
I was especially struck by the Rafael Rojas quote (…”Between the old Cuba and the new, a bridge is visible: the cadaver of the Revolution”) which highlighted the similar features of pre-socialist Cuba and late Socialist Cuba; class division, brothels, “sensuality,” and a lot of live music. As we saw earlier, there is a flourishing music scene nestled in a struggling economy, almost in response to it, as a pain-reliever. We experienced the same thing during our own Great Depression. But as it is the job of our class to dig into and examine this flourishing music scene, which happens to thrive in the impoverished underbelly of a struggling society, we probably don’t feel as obligated to imagine the reality of this struggle for your average Cuban citizen. What does it mean when music (and all art) is a necessity and not a luxury? As I reflect on our study this semester, I can’t help but wonder if this all might have been different if Marx had just included a little more about music and art in his founding of Communism, how much less paranoid these regimes might have felt toward the politically ambiguous but artistically interesting figures like Shostakovich, for example.
In “Cold War Kids” a chapter from Vazquez’s book, Vazquez writes mainly about young children of Cuban immigrants and their connection and relationship to Cuba. She also compares the “cold war kids” to children of Korean and Vietnamese descent. Vazquez talks abut the four waves of immigration to the United States, Early 1960s (the privileged/conservative), mid 1960s (middle class and “disillusioned”), third a group of economically and racially diverse immigrants, and fourth the rafters. I thought that Vazquez brought up some interesting points, but I felt like I was reading a piece of personal writing. In this weeks Moore reading, Moore argues that socialist states usually fail to reach their Utopian goal, however he also claims that the U.S.’s economic exploitation and policy towards Cuba was unjust and counterproductive. Moore acknowledged that Capitalism too is flawed and sympathizes with Cuba – in class we talked about how today this is a common view, but when the book was first written Moore’s stance may have been unpopular.
In his conclusion on “Musical Politics into the New Millennium,” Moore shifts to the use of the first-person narrative and explicitly expresses his opinions on the interactions between the United States and Cuba. He reduces the U.S.-Cuba relationship to its simplest parts–the struggle between Capitalist and Socialist states. Moore’s criticism does not simply rely on the Capitalism-Socialism dichotomy or the standard “Anti-Cuba” discourse. Instead, he exposes the flawed nature of both systems and how they both act productively and counterproductively in their relationship with each other. While he identifies the exploitation seen in Capitalism, he also identifies how Socialist states can deteriorate into hierarchical and authoritarian systems of power. Similarly to Moore, Vasquez writes transparently and weaves her own personal narrative into her description of the shared experience of “Cold War Kids.” While Moore’s conclusion discusses Cuban music in terms of its significance domestically, Vasquez discusses the ability of Cuban music to alter U.S.-Cuban relations. Moore describes music in Cuba as a means of escapism that allows Cubans to forget about the struggles of everyday life. Vasquez’s discussion focuses on the ability of Cuban music to act as a means of “building bridges” between the U.S. and Cuba.
When Moore was conducting his research in Cuba, people told him that it was the wrong time for him to be writing about music. He replied with the provocative response that it was, in fact, the time to be observing the interplay between ideology and music because Cuba was experiencing a period of transition. I found this to be a very intriguing and important statement. Many people might think that the time to conduct research is after a revolution or after a time of change in a country — that after everything settles down is when the most productive research would occur. And although that might have some truth to it, investigating and researching during those chaotic times might actually provide more fruitful evidence of what is happening between the people and the country, in all facets of is culture. However, research conducted during times of chaos and confusion is not necessarily more informative than the research conducted after the conflicts have (seemingly) been resolved. If anything, it seems that the most valuable findings would come from utilizing research from both times (during and after) to analyze the evolution of the country.
In light of Vasquez’s chapter on “Performances of Cuban Music” and Moore’s “Musical Politics into the New Millenium,” I am curious about the future of the musical relations between Cuba and the United States. The recent reopening of relations between the countries, as well as the ability of cross-cultural exchange of music and musicians (at least in its relative success since 1999 or so, when Los Van Van played the Miami Arena) suggest a positive future, but the continued vocal antagonism of the Cuban emigre community the U.S. seems to preclude this. The power of this group should not be understated–both in its economic and political power especially in Florida, and it’s occasional use of bombings and bomb threats and the like in order to inculcate fear in the those people who would promote what they see as fully socialist music. I wonder how long this will last–until the first generation of emigres passes away? Or will such attitudes persist beyond their lifetimes? I am tempted to write off the emigres, at least those who have such a steadfast and strict opposition to any Cuban music–those who define all music produced in Cuba as Communist propaganda, and those who oppose any acceptance of this music. I do not deny their experience, of course; they have clearly suffered and lost their homes, their land, their holdings, and much more after the Revolution. Their hatred for Castro’s regime is easily understood, as they are those who had the least to gain from it and the most to lost, and did lose. But the categorical rejection of any music from Cuba, regardless of the musician’s political views or lack thereof, troubles me, as this definition of any geographical musical form as a monolithic force of the enemy denies the agency of individuals and the true heterogeneity of music in any society. However, it is difficult to expect those who have lost out due to the revolution to see the music of that state any differently.
Moore’s own opinions at the end of the book made his/her (not sure) message all the more powerful. I’m excited to see how Cuba will affect the U.S.’s music scene. Since Cuba already has an impact on American music, it will be interesting to see how it changes and inspires American musicians. Hopefully more Cuban artists will be able to come to the U.S. and perform and/or collaborate with American artists as well. Hopefully the artists that perform and collaborate with U.S. artists are not just the ones already famous ones, hopefully unknown artists will have the opportunity for collaboration.
The truth is, most Americans do not know a lot about Communism. The U.S. sells it to us as scary and evil; but like many bad things, many good things came out of Communism. There are two sides to the story and the music in Cuba should be available in the U.S. I mean really, Cuba is like 90 miles away from Florida and we weren’t allowed to go there until very recently. We are one of the only countries that sees Cuba as a threat (even though we are the bigger and scarier bully).
The conclusion to this book was a fitting end, especially after reading the introduction in our very first class. I think this conclusion was helpful in constructing a lot of themes from class, tying up loose ends yet characterizing the prospect of the unknown in a future of the fate and transformation of music that may come. I think Cuba offers an interesting point at which to access these questions though, it feels more relevant and just closer than China and Russia, and it feels like a more clear future will be able to be perceived. I wonder if the open relations with the US and Cuba now will give way to another kind of world music phenomenon? Or if Cuba will go through another facet of the golden fifties as more US citizens travel there. I also think these things hinge on the economic realities of Cuba as well as future US legislation and administration. I am glad to have learned these things about Cuba and will keep reading up on the relations between the United States and Cuba and hope to remain informed on how music grows and changes in these relationships.
Moore’s conclusion very nicely summarized many of the thoughts that I had regarding our case studies of Russia, China, and Cuba. In the week prior to this discussion, we discussed the negative impacts that the capitalist United States had on the culture of socialist Cuba, particularly with regard to touristic imperialism and the commodification of cultures. And yet, as Moore argues, we see, too, the negative ways in which socialism affects its own cultural landscape, particularly through the hierarchization of musics, the racist depictions of indigenous musical and cultural practices, and the extents to which the creative arts in general can be suppressed and delegitimized.
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