There are few countries in the world with so rich a musical heritage as Cuba. No visitor can fail to be moved by the variety of sounds that surround them, whether it be a street corner rumba or a
Casa de la Trova
. Music is everywhere - it seems that nothing can happen without it.
The origins of Cuban music lie in the movement of numerous, primarily European, and African cultures. Through the inauspicious conditions of migration, enslavement, war and colonization, elements of these disparate identities have fused into a Cuban identity, forged in the villages and on plantations, in tenements and dockyards. African music and dance forms whose paths might never have crossed on their own vast continent did so in Cuba, enriching each other, and drawing also upon European forms. The mirror image is equally true with European dances finding new, African interpretations, while musicians have absorbed African harmony and chorus styles as well as rhythm. Most of today's popular genres are neither Yoruba nor French, Ekiti, Ashanti, nor Spanish, but fusions from this vast cultural gene pool.
The Cuban music most universally accepted on the island is surely the
, which, in spite of its more urban variations and offspring, remains essentially rural. Played by Cuba's oldest and youngest musicians, it is a principal root of salsa, and, however unlikely it might at times seem, also
. In its various forms
still thrives both in the countryside and cities throughout the island, pointing to the nascent character of urban culture.
began its life in Oriente where old songs from Spain combined with African call-and-response choruses. The syncopated notes of the guitar and
(a small guitar-like instrument) contributed to other genres such as
, full of satire and humour, and soon evolved new ones such as the
, resulting in the famous '
. With the addition of bongo, maracas and marimbula,
developed into the style known as
. From Guantánamo (where
is still strong), the
reached Havana around 1909, along with elements of the new Permanent Army, and gained there the disdain of society, which disregarded and feared it as the music of the lower, particularly black, class. Persecuted by the authorities,
simmered in a few black neighbourhoods, existing there through illegal parties for some ten years. However, given Society's taste for expropriating the surplus value of the lower orders' uncouth labour, it was perhaps inevitable that they would eventually appropriate also their dynamic culture. By the early 1920s, and with tasteful modifications, small
combos were beginning to displace the cumbersome and expensive
orchestras from La Habana's exclusive dance salons. Capturing the most gifted writers and band leaders of the time this gentrification of
was not entirely without benefit to its continued evolution and precipitated its spread not just across social but also national boundaries. Although few if any recordings were made of
prior to this, a multitude followed, and whatever criticisms one might make, they remain a rich source of material for inspiration and re-interpretation.
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