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Cuban Music Obsession or Cuba Is Its Music
Photo: Spencer Imbrock.
Photo: Spencer Imbrock.

A universal language with too much unexplored wealth, music plays a singular role in the composition, coordination and sustainability of identifying networks. Regarding its importance in the historic-cultural evolution of the Cuban nation, personalities have expressed themselves, like Fernando Ortiz, who in 1911 affirmed that the practice of popular music came from a sociocultural space that, when shared by the entire people, in turn offered a road to achieve a higher level of national consolidation. And he concluded with prophetic words: “Because it [popular music] is something more than the voice of art, it is the voice of an entire people, the common soul of generations” (Ortiz: 1987).

To speak of the identifying function of music it is necessary to start with the principle that all culture has music and it, as a sociocultural product, has an identifying function, which can be ethnic, social, etc., being the reflection of a specific culture and an identifying instrument valid for human beings and that, as pointed out by Rubén Gómez Mun (n/d) “is characterized for being permeable and flexible in the face of the different attitudes existing in an increasingly globalized world.”

It’s worthwhile recalling the double nature of globalization, which increasingly brings human beings closer making them assume homogeneous values, while leading to the search and strengthening of our roots. Don’t forget that one of the principal debates of the late 20th century and of the 21st to date has been the importance of the local and the global in the philosophy about production, dissemination and reception of popular culture and that even above the excluding models they already have thinkers trying to cross the polarities of the universal and the particular, like Roland Robertson (1995) with his concept of the glocal, or Jan Nederveen Pieterse (1995) with his notion of “interculturalism” or interpretation of diverse cultural logics.

Throughout the history of popular music in Cuba, it has always acted as a dialogical factor that has favored a sort of self-reflection, of looking inside ourselves and of pointing toward the different events of daily life in/of our history, from the point of view of the social as well as private problems.

Photo: Chris Bair.
Photo: Chris Bair.

That’s why, if at present we are discussing the identity of the Cuban and the cultural heritage, we must not forget the analysis of the type of music which in each period of our evolution as a nation has been building the sensitivity of the common citizen, the ways of seeing the world, the corporal experience, the generational “I” in the people. It should not be overlooked that there is consensus among the specialists in that music, beyond the artistic, is a cultural phenomenon that gives rise to identities. According to the aforementioned, it involves diverse elements for its socialization: discourses, symbols, leaders or heroes, attitudes, aesthetics, rituals and imagery. These elements can be called paramusical or sociomusical.

The study of the history and legacy of the work of a large group of popular music makers is a form of opposition to the tendentious exclusion of the most peripheral creation of the hypothetic cultural corpus of our country. It happens that, in the profession of writing history, without being necessarily abandoned, the traditional perspective seems insufficient, restricted by its own position: from the center it is impossible to cover at a glance an entire society without writing its history in another way than reproducing unanimist discourses.

Which is why writing a history of Cuba through the music that has been made during the evolution of the nation is extremely interesting. That is one of the most faithful of all the possible histories, since it is conceived from the critical view of the common citizens, a very important source from where roots, myths and rites emerge…, including, of course, popular music in all its manifestations.

In our case, music has contributed to saying what we are and to cooperate in a very efficacious way, first, in the consolidation of the identity and, then, in its perpetual transformation, spread, breaking up, integration, in a single word: mobility. Because music is that: mantra, pure vibration, spherical, it could never exist without movement, without resonance.

Photo: Bruno Cervera.
Photo: Bruno Cervera.

In the obsession we Cubans have for music, even expressed in the rhythmic cadence of the way our women walk or in the intonated curve of speech in areas of the country like the eastern zone, has a great deal to do with the fact that our culture has always been open to all and sundry and has had an astonishing ability to assimilate foreign cultural patterns. This type of “Cuban attitude” in the artistic in general and in the musical specifically has become emblematic in the famous melting pot at the moment of appropriation and consumption. The omnivorous passion we profess for the musical leads us to assimilate everything that gets to us from other parts of the world and, consequently, to a successive and perennial transculturation.

In the way music has accompanied the life of Cubans and in how life transpolarizes in what as people we have heard and danced to, it should be taken into account that the reflection of the historical-social problems in music also has to do with up to what point the market or politics don’t act as forceps for a certain musical manifestation. It is an almost impossible feat to escape from that historic directive, no matter what system. Of course no one has to expect that, in itself, music is explaining to us some type of phenomenon, giving us a master academic lesson of an event or of a historical-social experience. What it does leave us is a photo, a chronicle, a testimony – at times fleeting, at times much more transcendent – of what is happening in a period of time.

Cuban popular music has reflected the daily events of this country and through the lyrics of its melodies it has left a testimony of the history that as a nation we have lived. That is why, independently of the aptitudes, positions and creeds assumed by each one, the themes made by our exponents of the different genres and styles of popular music, and who have had as a source of inspiration life in the national territory, are still at least a precise diagnosis of the times, a portrait of the spirit that encouraged and moved it…. They are creations that have as a very important value the fact of persisting in the conservation of memory. An expression of the deep and authentic love of our musicians to make a better country.

Bibliographic references:

Gómez Muns, Rubén (n/d): “Una aproximación a la función identitaria de la música”,[http://www.metro.inter.edu/facultad/esthumanisticos/ceimp/articles/Una aproximacion a la funcion identitaria de la musica-Ruben Gomez Muns.pdf] [Consulted: 09-04-2011].

Nederveen Pieterse, Jan (1995): “Globalization as hybridization”, in Global Modernities, eds. Featherstone, Mike; Scott Lash & Roland Robertson, London, Sage, pp. 45-68.

Ortiz, Fernando (1987): Entre cubanos, 2nd ed., Ciencias Sociales publishers, Havana, pp. 114-126.

Robertson, Roland (1995): “Glocalization: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity”, in Global Modernities, eds. Featherstone, Mike; Scott Lash & Roland Robertson, London, Sage, pp. 25-44.