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Session 2-1 (CMS-SAM-SEM)
Music and Society in 20th-Century Cuba

Max Lifchitz (SUNY at Albany), Chair

This panel focuses on issues affecting the creation, conceptualization, and performance of Cuban music from a number of distinct and complementary perspectives. It reflects diversity and collaboration by bringing together performers, musicologists, and ethnomusicologists from the United States, Canada, and Cuba itself. Presentations contrast methodological differences, and also diverse musical styles, devoting special attention to classical and popular repertories. As opposed to most academic work on Cuban music (which tends to foreground Afrocuban folkloric genres), this group focuses primarily on notated, formally composed works. In this way we create a forum for interdisciplinary analysis that is more accessible and pertinent-and perhaps also more challenging-to the established musicological community.

 

The History and Social Meanings of Jazz Band Performance in Cuba 1930-1959
Leonardo Acosta (Havana, Cuba)

Leonardo Acosta's work examines issues of musical borrowing, cultural imperialism, and grassroots transformation as demonstrated by the rise of the Cuban jazz band. As a professional journalist as well as a saxophonist and performer for years with the orchestra of Beny Moré, Acosta provides unique insights into the history of Cuban popular arts. His presentation considers the unique meanings of and audiences for jazz in Latin America. This music circulated in the 1920s and 1930s primarily among middle-class white/Hispanics since they were the only listeners who had easy access to North American 78 rpm records and sheet music. Despite an early association with elite groups and performance venues, however, the genre soon attracted many Afrocuban musicians such as Alberto Socarrás and Mario Bauzá. These artists viewed jazz simultaneously as a high-status music, a means for achieving upward social mobility, and as an oppositional form developed and perpetuated by black artists in the United States.
Acosta's analysis focuses primarily on the following issues: 1) the extent of North American influence in Cuban popular dance traditions, 2) the distinct "readings" of jazz among various racial communities within Cuba as opposed to those in North America and Europe, and 3) the stylistic changes apparent in jazz repertory as it was reinterpreted by Cuban performers who found ways of reconciling North American musical aesthetics with their own.

 

Discourse about Music in the Writings of Fernando Ortiz, 1906-1955
Robin Moore (Temple University)

Robin Moore's paper examines the publications of Fernando Ortiz (1881-1969) on Afrocuban music and on their relation to the world of Cuban classical composition in the mid-20th century. Considered the "founding father" of Afrocuban studies, Ortiz published prolifically on music and dance beginning at the turn of the century. He collaborated with many composers and actively promoted the incorporation of folkloric elements into symphonic works. The paper examines the ideology of Ortiz and his contemporaries with special emphasis on their frequently contradictory attitudes towards Afrocuban culture. It suggests that intellectuals, beginning in the 1920s, began to view African-derived drumming and dance traditions positively as a symbol of national expression, and yet continued to regard them as primitive or backward forms that needed to be stylistically "purified."
Using Ortiz's work Los negros brujos (1906) as a point of departure, the presentation describes his initial attitude-essentially racist and dismissive-towards Afrocuban arts. Later, in the context of changing racial discourse in Cuba surrounding the Guerrita del Doce and also to WWII, Ortiz's attitude towards Afrocuban expression gradually became more favorable. The same genres of drumming and dance that he considered a menace to the nation in the 1920s are described a decade later as materia prima from which to construct an idealized Cuban national culture. Using musical and score examples, the presentation concludes by demonstrating various techniques used by Gilberto Valdés and others influenced by Ortiz to stylize Afrocuban expression for the concert hall.

 

Music, Technology and Folklore in Post-Revolutionary Cuba
Andrew Schloss (University of Victoria)

Andrew Schloss's paper focuses on the surprising mix of technological, experimental, and folkloric components in recent Cuban music. The reasons for this are unique to the island and are the result of many factors, including many that were inadvertent. The Cuban revolution of 1959 has had numerous side-effects that were not planned, understood, or even recognized as they happened. Probably the most significant political event following the revolution was the U.S. blockade, which isolated Cuba to an extraordinary degree from the rest of the world (not only from the United States). Although this has been a lamentable and damaging policy in many ways, it actually served to intensify Cuba's musical life. The global revolution in mass media was, by pure coincidence, almost simultaneous with Cuban socialist revolution. The exclusion of American mass media from post-revolutionary Cuban society has been a central factor in preserving the tremendous richness of Cuban folklore.
Schloss will discuss the work of several contemporary Cuban composers and popular music groups whose creative lives were shaped by these factors, and whose work involves a mix of contemporary and traditional genres with strong influences from folkloric elements. In particular, he considers the incorporation of sacred Yoruban batá drums, derived from centuries-old traditions, into popular, contemporary, and electroacoustical compositions. He will also analyze the "Buena Vista Social Club" phenomenon and its recent impact on popular music.

 

From the Negrito to the Negro Tragico: Black Masculinity in the Cuban Zarzuela
Susan Thomas (Brandeis/Tufts University)

Susan Thomas's paper focuses on the history of the Cuban zarzuela. This genre was born in 1927 when Rita Montaner appeared on the stage of the Teatro Regina, cross-dressed and blackened, in the role of a negro calesero in Ernesto Lecuona and Eliseo Grenet's La Niña Rita o La Habana en 1830. La Niña Rita paved the way for a lyric theatre that would focus on nineteenth-century themes, cross-racial love affairs, and tragic outcomes. The zarzuela borrowed from the familiar cast of characters of the teatro bufo, and the characters largely fulfill their expected roles: the mulata entices, the Spaniard fumbles, the white woman acts virtuous. In the character of the negrito, however, there is a fundamental change. Although the comic negrito of the teatro bufo still appears as a secondary character in the zarzuela, a new vision of the black man appears, that of the negro trágico, whose origins lie not in the comic stage but in the abolitionist literature of nineteenth-century novelists.
This paper explores this new addition to the popular stage and posits that with the appearance of a new personality composers invented a new musical genre: the black man's lament. Taking three of the most famous of these negros trágicos-José Dolores, José Inocente, and Lázaro from Cecilia Valdés, María la O and El Cafetal, respectively-Thomas examines how composers and librettists construct this new image of the black man and work to place this new portrayal of race and black masculinity within the socio-cultural confines of twentieth-century Cuba.

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