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.
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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 OrellanaCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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