This week we read from Robin Moore’s book Music & Revolution. The “Amateurs’’ Movement was prevalent between 1960 and 1965, but fizzled out by the 80s and 90s. The movement directly involved as many people as possible in the arts, and used moral prerogatives rather than money. Moore wrote about festivalismo, which was the support for performances and only on festivals, instead of day to day. Successful amateurs tried to change their status and wanted to develop “the musical potential of the average Cuban” (Moore, 88).
Specialized music education was also prominent in Cuba and it led to a decline of mass arts education and instead formed programs that assisted in the formation of an artistic elite. Skilled students were trained intensively at boarding schools at a very young age. The ENA (Escuela National de Arte) was established in 1962 and taught music of the Western Elite. The ISA (Superior Art Institute was established in 1976 ad was another redeemed music school. Moore points out the “ironies inherit in this approach to pedagogy” (Moore, 94), especially in a Communist system.
Cuban performers were government employees, they were assigned a skill level (A, B, or C), and this aligned with a monthly salary. And, it was difficult to change these ratings. The year 1968 marked the prohibition of all private enterprise and professional musicians had to graduate from conservatory programs. The CNC required performers to coordinate with agencies and go through evaluation that determined pay scale.
Dance Music was accepted and allowed between 1959 and 1960. In 1962 state institutions used dance music to reward people who were supportive of revolutionary ideas. One example of this was a government thrown party for factory workers. In the late 1960s however, support for dance music began to suffer. Major performers were cut off, and leaders changed their attitudes. Nightclubs began to be seen as a form of capitalist exploitation. During the early 1970s Cabarets and dances had practically disappeared from social life and it was almost impossible to study at the National Art school.
Moore wrote about Los Van Van, a band that was founded in 1969, and considered the “Rolling Stones” of Cuba. Los Van Van was a huge influence on timba music with their unique performances and new rhythms. They also modernized Cuban music by mixing it with foreign styles. Moore writes about the “Salsa Controversy” (Moore, 119). He explains that “Salsa” originated as a marketing term from New York City in the 1960s. Salsa evolved from Cuban Son and Conjunto music, however the term “Salsa” was possibly adopted to cover up its roots. In addition, Moore argues that Salsa was economically unethical, because America had an embargo against Cuban Music being sold, yet they created similar music and marketed it. I found this idea of a “Salsa Controversy” to be very interesting – feel free to elaborate on this idea if so inclined. Was the creation of Salsa music actually controversial, and would you consider it ironic due to the state of affairs between the US and Cuba and the embargo? Also, Moore brings up many ironies and contradictory aspects in the Cuban music scene, do you think these aspects are inevitable in a Communist system?
Another famous band that we learned about was Buena Vista Social Club (who wrote the hit song Chan Chan). Buena Vista Social Club played Nueva Trova, music which was for listening not dancing, and stressed the textual component. Nueva Trova had many influences – like rock and folk rock from the United States and Britain. Other famous performers of Nueva Trova are Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez.
On Monday, we started our new unit on Cuban Music. We read from Moore’s book, “Music & Revolution.” Cubans were given free education, but their traditional music started to disappear and Western types of music were being taught to the younger generation. One example of this is the Ministry of Culture, that was modeled after China; offered every community a Casa de Cultura, where youths could take music lessons, perform in community theater, and sell handmade crafts. These centers still exist and are used for tourism. Abel Prieto (b.1950) served as the Minster of Culture until 2012. He increased artistic freedom and performance opportunities for Cuban musicians (85).
Folklorism, peaked from 1961-1965, and was also seen in the Soviet Union and China. It became a musical trend that was intended to bring all of the people together. Choral and children’s groups would perform at festivals. The issue was that these groups were underrehearsed. Then in 1968, the Cuban government prohibited performing if the artist wasn’t signed to an agency. All musicians had to go and audition in front of conservatory trained musicians, and they were then placed into A,B or C categories based on their talent. The placement would determine the wage earned.
In the ENA (Escuela National de Arte) the conservatory was based on the other models seen in China and the Soviet Union. The music taught was not “dance music,” and the people in charge were not qualified for the job. The most talented musicians were sent off to the Soviet Union to continue training.
Even though dance music was prohibited by the government, the local people continued to create and perform it. When it grew in popularity the government was unable to ignore it and allowed it al long as it supported their ideas. This can be clearly seen in the 1980’s hit, “Amo eta isla” (1970) a nueva trova song with salsa influences from NY, mixed with Cuban sounds. Nueva Trova was a far reaching categorization of mid-20th century protest songs, which were more for listening than for dancing. The most famous musicians were Pablo Milané and Silvio Rodriguez.
Full Album: Buena Vista Social Club
In the Moore reading, she tells of how dance music was considered to be vulgar by PCC members because it is associated with ‘poorly educated Afro-Cubans’, which seems to me to imply a very clear classism (not to mention racism) still prevalent in a society that was intended to be classless.
I also wonder at the whole idea of morality in the socialist system. There is much argument against nightclubs as being places of excess and vice, and though this is loosely linked with capitalism, at times the moral argument seems disconnected from the Marxist argument. I imagine, then, that morality is considered an underpinning of Marxist in that capitalism is considered the embodiment of all social vice. And yet, clearly one can find dichotomies between the two, as with this racist comment.
Salsa music production was inhibited by Cuban authorities, and also the American government prevented the import of Cuban music. This caused a disassociation between original Cuban music and the diasporic salsa, but this changed with the thawing of American Cold War policies towards Cuba and also some lifting of bans by Cuban authorities.
Did progressivism coexist with strict government control over culture? Or even be aided by it? It seems this was the case in Cuba, given their Castro’s reforms, including his desegregation, crime reduction, national literacy, higher education and women’s’ opportunity initiatives. And at the same time, strict government control had negative impacts on its economy, independent modes of expression, and forms of private innovation. So while the creation of cultural agencies to support music production was useful for some folkloric, national music genres, it in many ways inhibited free musical expression and innovation.
Moore paraphrases Fredrick Starr’s discussion of Soviet Jazz by saying that “whenever government officials began to support particular genres of music (swing, bebop, etc.), it was a sign that they were no longer popular with the public” (Moore 168), but then goes on to cite nueva trova as an exception to this trend. I also wonder if a government’s recognition of certain music (like jazz in the Soviet Union) is not just a sign of its unpopularity but maybe the cause of it, sort of like if our parents starting saying “word,” as a sign of affirmation, no one our age would want to use it that way anymore. But Moore reminds us that when the Cuban government officially recognized nueva trova it remained relatively popular for awhile (Moore 169). Perhaps the Cuban people felt closer to their government than the people of the Soviet Union, or at least those involved in the first wave of nueva trova who were basically raised on early the revolutionary sentiment of the PCC. Moore also mentions that the government was reluctant at first to acknowledge nueva trova because the questions being raised in that genre were the same that were being raised amongst party officials (Moore 47), which I found interesting.
I am wondering what both the positive and negative effects of the private ownership of music are, especially as read through the lens of socialist regimes, often times in comparison with capitalist systems. For example, in Cuba, part of the revolution with the PCC was the ending of private ownership of music as an enterprise/commodity/career, and established a standard at which musicians could literally be called musicians, as well as standardize the pathways through which they made a career. In capitalist systems, like the U.S., there is no rigid ownership of music BY the state, and it is allowed to be privately owned, but often times this is lamented, musicians are called sell outs when they sign to a major record label, the DIY scene is always flourishing among some subculture group to thwart the man. Again, this is begging the question that has come up in every unit, the idea of artistic freedom versus state support. Maria brought up an interesting point at the beginning of class that after her experience being a musician, state support might have been nice, while most of our class, rather inexperienced with making music as a career, had the idealistic view of wanting to be a musician in the US, where music making wasn’t censored. I guess as we near the end of this class I am simply getting a larger understanding of the general ways socialism interacted with music, the modes (although varied through the different case studies) in which music is produced after state control, and really getting to the question of what is freedom, and artistic freedom, because I believe it is arguable that in the US there are somewhat constricting guidelines, tacitly understood, or more socialized by the government in some way that we believe we are creating music that is somewhat divorced from state control or a set of guidelines.
I have been very interested in the relationship between socialism and moralizing initiatives in music and the arts. In the readings in Moore, I have drawn many parallels between the relationship between the institutions and the people in both the Soviet Union and in Cuba. The performance of dance music as a reward for those who work towards the goals of the socialist cause, reminded me of the Komsomol dances in our Yurchak reading on the “True Colors of Communism.” Similarly, I was reminded of Alexandr’s (Komsomol member) enthusiasm for rock music and the idea that listening to Western rock was not always an indication of subversive lifestyles, but in fact, could serve to strengthen and individual’s ties to Party goals. The transformation of nueva trova from subversion to government support reminded me of this, in the fact that though nueva trova was initially banned by the government, the PCC soon understood that its Western influences were not inherently subversive to the aims of the Party. I find the binaries between good culture and bad culture to be remarkably fascinating in the socialist cases. Though they seem very set in perceiving what they are not, socialist regimes, such as the PCC, often contradict themselves in their aims for progression as they are simultaneously isolated from the globalized world system.
This week I was particularly interested in the various mediations that take place when Cuban music is, first, influenced and inspired by an influx of Western/American Tourists prior to the revolution and then, second, influenced and inspired again by a Western/American version of its OWN music post revolution. For me this idea is intriguing because it shows that the “Imaginary West” that inspires youth culture in socialist states is also intimately connected with a kind of Imaginary nationalism as well. Salsa, a profitable and palatable American version of Cuban rhythms, is fed back to Cuban musicians post revolution. A response to or incorporation of these influences by a Cuban musician is both a response to an idealized idea of American culture but ALSO a response to an idealized and imaginary idea of Cuban culture. In particular I am thinking about the EGREM created ensemble Estrellas de Areito that tried to “reclaim” salsa as a Cuban tradition. How can we understand their influences?
When I was thinking more about the specialized music education in Cuba, I made a connection to the development of the Suzuki Method in Japan. After the devastation of World War II, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki created the Suzuki Method in hopes of bringing beauty back into the lives of Japanese children. It is interesting that two countries recovering and adapting from incredible chaos and drastic changes in their country approached the (re)learning of music in such different ways. Of course the Cuban Revolution is not comparable to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it is still worth noticing the differing tactics of rebuilding. It is also important to note that the government was controlling the conservatories, while Dr. Suzuki (who was not affiliated with the government) was independently creating his method. After the Cuban Revolution, there were new socialist conservatory models that were rigidly militaristic and called on musicians to be revolutionary idealists and participate in rallies, etc., which interfered with their practicing and ability to become serious, professional musicians. In Japan, Dr. Suzuki had a different approach to teaching music. First and foremost, there was a focus on beginning music education at an early age. Parent involvement, listening, repetition, and encouragement were also emphasized. The Suzuki Method was more about the gift of learning and loving music, while the Cuban conservatories seemed to be more concerned with using musicians as political propaganda. Dr. Suzuki also believed that it was important to have well trained teachers training these young musicians, while the Cuban conservatories were, for the most part, run by unqualified, non-musicians. Cuba and Japan reacted differently to disorder and confusion and although new music methodologies still emerged from these places, Cuba’s institutionalized music seemed to have more of a negative effect, while Dr. Suzuki’s method has had a more positive and long-lasting effect on Japan — as well as on the international music world.
I found it strange that Nueva Trova as musical genre didn’t have a shared musical markers across songs that indicates clearly that the music is nueva trova. This the case because nueva trova is too much of a hodgepodge, taking influence from vieja trov, filin music, rural dance repertoire, instrumental string traditions from Spain as well as and perhaps most significant was the influence of Rock and Roll. Moore suggests a number of different ways to categorizing the music that steps away from the sonic aspect of music. One thing that make nueva trova unique is its emphasis on lyrical content. It is a listening genre over a dancing genre. But this emphasis on lyrics still makes it difficult to categorize “Lyrics are a central feature of nueva trova, but the lyrical themes with which it is associated are nearly as difficult to generalize about as its musical style.” So with both the music and lyrics out you can’t really keep looking at the songs themselves and so Moore suggest looking at the people who made it specifically that first generation which included Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes. This makes me wonder if perhaps nueva trova was more of a musical moment that was responding to specific time. Moore tells us “Nueva trova is more directly tied to the Cuban revolutionary experience than any other form of music.” With that in mind does that mean as we move away from the revolutionary period, (especially with the reality of Fidel’s nearing death) can nueva trova still be produced? Can new music be considered nueva trova?
When we first began our foray into socialist Russia in the beginning of the semester, I was interested to see how socialist ideologies would come to be adapted within different cultural frameworks. The similarities are quite striking, particularly with the ways in which the production of musics, across the broad, are often influenced by Western artistic aesthetics and ideologies (to return again to the concept of the imaginary West). The differences are just as fascinating, particularly in the very ways that these Western aesthetics are adapted into local traditions to form such varying forms of new musics.
This week the influence that Soviet artistic policy had on the Cuban administration seemed very clear. The creation of musical unions in order to standardize practice was a familiar tactic, as was the establishment of community centers of culture which were reminiscent of the orchestras and opera houses we looked at earlier in the semester. As one might expect, some of the same problems that plagued the soviets persisted in Cuba, in particular the struggle to form a national music that was both appealing to the listeners as well as correct in its message. I find it interesting that in each of the cases we have studied, regardless of size, the country has contained a multitude of identities both racial and ethnic that had to be homogenized into a new unified society. I suppose it would be the case in nearly any country, especially those affected by colonialism, however given the size of Cuba these tensions chafe against each other with little room to breathe. I look forward to seeing how religion exacerbates this problem next week, especially given the fact that socialism is founded on a atheist model (so far as I know).
I’ve been really interested in the story of Ry Cooder’s project (not only his…) that became the Buena Vista Social Club. It occupies a strange space between progressive genre/culture blending and age-old white savior narratives (whether that was the intention or not). We saw the latter aspect of the project illustrated in the trailer for the film in which a successful white musician goes to another country to record with (financially) struggling Cuban musicians. At its core, the collaboration was probably a positive endeavor, bringing back to life the careers of many cuban musicians. However when one looks at the situation from more slightly more zoomed out perspective, we can see that this musical collaboration is something of a microcosm of the very relationship that brought about the Cuban revolution – that is, Americans coming into the country and feeding the economy with touristic imperialism. Though the case of BVSC is less cut-and-dry, we still have to wonder is this is the right way to bring vitality and popularity to Cuban musician?
I’m especially struck by the sound of jazz-influenced dance bands such as Los Van Van and Irakere, particularly how they synthesized disparate styles that the governmental authorities did not initially allow, and how both over time became hugely influential and important in the Cuban musical scene as well as internationally. A band like Irakere admits influence from many styles that the authorities did not approve of–American funk and jazz, 1950s Cuban son, and Afro-Cuban religious music (such as Santeria melodies). Irakere’s name by itself asserts the internationality of the group’s background, as it is Yoruba for “jungle” or “lush place.” A song like their famous “Bacalao con Pan,” there are many other similarities to non-Cuban music. The use of electric guitar comes directly from American rock and jazz fusion. The rhythms and style of singing assert a strong African influence and, along with the unified horn melodies, nearly remind one the contemporaneous Nigerian Afrobeat creator Fela Kuti. Of course, the montuno section at the end is very Cuban, adopted from the son tradition. But with this combination of sounds (and even more), it is surprising that the Cuban authorities even eventually accepted Irakere. The Cuban Communist Party seems to have come to realize the difficulty of controlling musical expression, as well as the usefulness of letting people listen to different forms of music, much quicker than their Russian or Chinese equivalents. Perhaps the small size and geographical placement of Cuba contributes to this different path, but what is notable to me is that music beyond the government-approved genres could thrive in Cuba and even gain official acceptance and be allowed to tour internationally.
Reading this part of Moore’s book was interesting to me. The usage of specialized education in music reminded me of the elitism that can still persist to this day. It was unsettling to see so many of these musicians being determined by one group of people of how good they were in terms of their talent and whether they could be professional or not. This hierarchical perspective of music is a perspective I find popular in places of academia/conservatories sometimes.
The salsa controversy was interesting – I find it surprising that while America was so critical of Cuba, this part of their culture still became so prevalent in the US. Salsa seems to me to be a melding of the Cuban, Latin American, and US cultures together. It emphasizes also the geographical proximity of the US and Cuba – despite the government’s efforts, this proximity allowed a lot of things to be shared. In this case of Salsa, despite its origins, this is now a part of this culture that has become important on an international level.
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