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Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo Paperback – February 1, 2007
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
Furthermore, his writing is not of that academic ilk that is afraid to offer opinions, or reveal passions. (For starters, he states that he likes Cuban music because he "has good taste.") Nor does he shy away from connecting the dots or hazarding wide-reaching theories. He is the first author I have come across to point out that the geographical origins of the African slaves-those coming to North America from the Senegambia, those to the Caribbean from the coastal areas-largely explains the differences in the musical styles (melismatic vs. polyrhythmic) between these two regions of the Western Hemisphere. Shouldn't this information be part of our cultural literacy?
The subject of this book is huge and Sublette is certainly up to the task. (Did I mention the extensive index?) I have also found, thanks to this text, that I am listening to Cuban musicians (eg. Chano Pozo, Miguelito Valdes, Arsenio Rodriguez) with new ears. That's quite a gift. Chevere que chevere!
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I'm almost finished reading it.
Very informative starting way, way back.
Shedding a new light on Cuban music, jazz and their relationship