Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cuba's Cultural Genocide: Cuban Music & Musicians Blacklisted Pt. 1

"I think they kill my child every time they deprive a person of their right to think." - José Martí

"The man who uses coercion is guilty of deliberate violence. Coercion is inhuman." - Mahatma Gandhi

Over the years when it has been necessary to speak out against censorship of musicians and attempts at intimidation I spoke out and signed my name to opeds and petitions denouncing coercion, intimidation, and government attempts at censorship, but failed in taking a closer look at what was taking place in Cuba. According to the book Shoot the singer!: music censorship today edited by Marie Korpe there is increasing concern within the international music community that post-revolution generations are growing up without knowing or hearing these censored musicians and that this could lead to a loss of Cuban identity in future generations. What follows is a partial list of important musicians and groundbreaking music denied Cubans in the island. Text is taken from hyperlinked sources in each entry. I am not a musicologist but listen to their music and you be the judge.

Israel Cachao López

Known just as "Cachao" was a Cuban mambo musician, bassist and composer, who has helped bring mambo music to popularity in the United States in the early 1950s. He was born in Havana, Cuba. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, won several Grammy Awards, and has been described as "the inventor of the mambo". He is considered a master of descarga (Latin jam sessions). Cachao left Cuba in 1962. He spent two years in Spain, then came to New York City, where he performed with mambo bands led by Tito Rodríguez, José Fajardo and Eddie Palmieri. For decades, he worked almost entirely as a sideman.

Ramón "Mongo" Santamaría

He is most famous for being the composer of the jazz standard "Afro Blue," recorded by John Coltrane among others. In 1950 he moved to New York where he played with Perez Prado, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Fania All Stars, etc. He was an integral figure in the fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with R&B and soul, paving the way for the boogaloo era of the late 1960s. His 1963 hit rendition of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. With the cover of "Watermelon Man," Santamaria found himself garnering the acclaim of his former mentors. He would even visit the pop charts once again - a feat that, among his mentors, only Prado ever accomplished - in 1969 with "Cloud Nine." And he recorded prolifically through the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, before slowing things down last decade.

Miguelito Valdés

Born Miguel Ángel Eugenio Lázaro Zacarias Izquierdo Valdés Hernández (Havana, 6 September 1912 – Bogota, 9 November 1978), also called Mr. Babalú, was a Cuban popular singer of high quality. His performances were characterized by a strong voice and a particular sense of cubanismo. Miguelito Valdés was a street wise rumbero in tune with the Abukuá and Nañigo percussion rudiments he absorbed in Cuba. He is immensely responsible for the manner in which afro-cuban son, and salsa singers have evolved musically. He described the '70s salsa phenomenon as 'a beautiful continuation of something that started many years ago ... I'm glad it's still alive'.

Mario Bauza

He was one of the first musicians to introduce Latin music to the U.S. by bringing Cuban musical styles into the New York jazz scene, and is one of the most influential figures in the development of Afro-Cuban music, and his innovative work and musical contributions have many jazz historians to call him the "founding father of Latin jazz." In a musical trajectory that spanned over seventy years Mario Bauzá covered and mastered the realms of symphonic, Latin, jazz, African American, and popular dance music. He was a multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, bandleader, and teacher. He earned the respect of all the musicians he played with by being talented and by commanding respect by example. He was a true innovator of his craft and had the vision and determination to see it manifested.

Arsenio Rodríguez

Cuban musician who played the tres (Cuban guitar), reorganized the conjunto and developed the son montuno, and other Afro-Cuban rhythms in the 1940s and 50s. He claimed to be the true creator of the mambo, and was an important and prolific composer who wrote nearly two hundred song lyrics. Father of the son montuno, prolific composer and lyricist, unequalled tresero, creater of the conjunto format, it is impossible to overstate the importance of Arsenio Rodríguez in Cuban music. Arsenio defined the sound of Cuban music in the 1940s and is both the mother and father of the mambo, even if others would be its most popular figures. The reverbations of his musical revolution can be still be felt today. Despite all this, Arsenio remains on the margins of the official musical pantheon and is a largely forgotten figure.

Olga Guillot

Olga Guillot (born October 9, 1922 in Santiago de Cuba) is a famous Cuban singer who was known to be the queen of bolero. She is a native of the Cuban city of Santiago. In 1954, she recorded her song "Mienteme" ("Lie to Me"), which became a hit across Latin America, and earned her three consecutive awards back home in Cuba as Cuba's best female singer. 1958 proved to be an important year for Guillot, as she toured Europe for the first time, including stops in Italy, France, Spain and Germany. She sang alongside the equally legendary Édith Piaf during a concert held in Cannes. Olga Guillot kept a house in Cuba as she travelled around the world with her music, apart from her house in Mexico. But Guillot opposed Fidel Castro's Government, and, in 1961, she decided to leave Cuba for good and establish herself in Venezuela. Not long after that, she left Venezuela, making Mexico her only permanent residence country. First, jukeboxes were confiscated from corner bars and nightclubs (there were as many as 20,000 jukeboxes in Havana in the 1950s). Then, in 1961, at the First Congress of Writers and Artists, music was defined as an organ of integration into the new Revolutionary society. The bolero came to be seen as a reactionary genre, in bad taste, and ultimately, banned. Cuba's world-class composers and performers, many of whom had brought the genre to its golden age, were abruptly silenced. Finally, in 1968, in the Ofensiva Revolucionaria -- the Cuban equivalent of China's Cultural Revolution -- most of the 1,200 cabarets and dancehalls for which Havana was known were shut down (with only a couple of exceptions, including the notable Tropicana). Bolero lovers and performers were left with no viable venues. An entire generation was traumatized by loss of the very words and music that had defined the key moments of their lives -- coming of age, first loves, stolen kisses, secret romances.

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