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Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo Paperback – February 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As the cofounder of the important Cuban music label Qbadisc and coproducer of public radio's Afropop Worldwide, Sublette is a well-known figure among elite mambo aficionados. Still, the sheer size and historical precision that makes this volume essential is a bit surprising coming from this proud nonacademic. The first two chapters, for instance, offer a fascinating narrative that explains the complex formulation of Iberian culture, beginning with the appearance of Phoenician traders in what is now the southern Spanish city of Cádiz in 1104 B.C. When the Cuban story finally kicks in with chapter five, Sublette makes the most of his prehistory to create a visceral and astute vision of the island as incubator of musical revolution. Most of the story has been told before, but rarely in such painstaking detail, and Sublette's easygoing and engaging writing style makes the reading almost painless, although sometimes his analysis is overly determined by politics. His most important accomplishment is combining information from rarely translated musicological works from Cuba with data from his active involvement with surviving giants of the music to produce one sustained, living history. Given all this, it is odd that he ends the book so abruptly, in 1952, especially since he has participated so much in the music's recent permutations. While not exactly for beginners, this book is a solid, supremely lush effort.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Sublette, cofounder of the QbaDisc record label and an expert on Cuban music, argues in this exhaustive history that the influence of the "fundamental music of the New World" can be heard in almost every genre of modern music from classical to hip-hop ("Louie Louie" is basically a cha-cha-cha). Equal parts world history and music history, Sublette's tome examines the music from a "Cuban's point of view." The story begins with Spain's earliest encounters with Africa and continues through Perez Prado and the mambo explosion of the 1950s. Sublette places the music in a historical context by offering thorough accounts of its journey across the Atlantic--the slave trade, Afro-Cuban religions such as Santeria, and Cuba's revolutionary history all have important roles in shaping the music's sound. Most music-history books tend to rely on extended laundry lists of styles and influences, but Sublette takes an informal narrative approach instead, making his work far more approachable both for readers new to the country's rich musical history and for devotees who have already succumbed to its rhythms. Carlos Orellana
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (February 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556526326
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556526329
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By music lover on July 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If all Ned Sublette had ever done in his life was release the catalogue of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas in the US, he would have made a great contribution. Now this. "Bendiciones, Ned!"
He says right from the beginning (and several times throughout) that he has not set out to write an encyclopedia of Cuban Music, so don't blame him for not mentioning everybody you can think of.
And that turns out to be a good thing, because it avoids the kind of laundry list, dash off a few names in a sentence and quickly move on to the next thing, superficial treatment Cuban music normally gets.
The book is called "Cuba and its Music" and it is just that. Rather than a complete history of Cuban music, it's really more like a history of Cuba for the Cuban music buff: A general history of Cuba from the perspective of someone who considers its greatest export to be music. A history which for example talks about the Platt Amendment but goes into more detail about the creation of mambo and the life of Miguelito Valdes than about average crop yields from 1765-1873.
As a Cuban music fan who is interested in the history of Cuba but was never quite able to wade through Hugh Thomas' book, this is great reading. (Though, damn, how could he leave out Carlos Embales???!!!) ; )
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By E. Newsum on August 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The best popular work on Cuban Music I have ever read. Background aspects of the music and history of the island that are unknown even to musicians that specialize in latin music are clearly presented. The author is definitely "en clave." Having spent eighteen years of my life dedicated to playing Cuban music, this book was equivalent to a gourmet feast.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel TOP 500 REVIEWER on June 25, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the finest book on the sociological basis of music I have ever read. Many good books will provide a new fact on each page or two, but I seem to learn three new bits of history on every single page of this extensive analysis of the origins of musical styles in Cuba. But this is more than about Cuba; it is about Al-Andalus/Sefarad and Renaissance Spain and the eary history of the United States, and about northwest and central African peoples, and about Renaissance Europe, and about the early history of Islam and Arabia. It is about differing social policy and its effect on the slave trade. It is about what gave New Orleans jazz the Latin tinge and makes that city a treasure. It is about the distinct origins of the polyrhythmic, polytonal structures of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music and the recitative, glissando-embellished, monorhythmic music of the blues and later jazz. We learn about Louis Gottchalk's first use of the African drum in classical music [performed in Europe] and why such instruments were banned in England's continental colonies and the early United States since 1739. We learn how Moorish, that is, black, line dance style was once the rage of western Europeans, and led to England's Morris dances. These are among the smallest of factoids that you will encounter reading this highly readable yet scholarly book.

Because I admire and particularly enjoy multidisciplinary cultural histories, Sublette's book is a feast. His explorations are ours. You will be fascinated, and you will be delighted. The book is an education. Buy it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jim Lepore on February 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is nothing written in English that compares to the scope and depth of this book on Cuban music. (Leymarie's Cuban Fire comes close in volume of information, but it lacks the cogent overview and insight that Sublette masterfully weaves into the details.) This is a history of Cuban music written by a musician (!) who understands the importance of credible research when defining context and cultural antecedents. Furthermore, he uses his perspective as an outsider--he is a North American--to our advantage. Coupled with his examinations of the complexity of a Cuban identity and aesthetic, our North American culture also becomes more transparent.

This is particularly true when it comes to dissecting the story that most conventional Western Hemisphere histories neglect-the profound cultural influence of West Africa. As Sublette notes, "the drum...what an African would call a drum-is conspicuously missing from European music before the sixteenth century." Was it the creolized cultures of the New World that finally gave Europeans license to return to the dance floor after centuries of Church proscription? Sublette presents a convincing case for this, while simultaneously providing an explanation for those among us who are rhythmically challenged...

Readers also benefit from the full spectrum Sublette's perspective--that of a musician who migrates comfortably between the music of the concert hall and the dance hall. "Dancing," he writes, "is an intense listening state. Dancing can be complex and it can be spiritual. African music is almost always music for dancing; and so is Cuban music, which is African music's grown-up child." No armchair scholar talks like that.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Marshal Sandler on October 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I spent time in Cuba in the fifties and find the first five

chapters of this book a must read , Understanding not only music

but the corellation between Religious History and music have

opened my mind into two worlds! Once you leave the bridge the

rest of the book is a great solo, tasty and exciting !Puede Ser

Marshal Sandler Farmington Hills Mi!
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