It was a difficult road and one that was fraught with middle- and upper class resistance along the wayAt the turn of the 20thcentury, newly independent Cuba was looking for an international identity and had a problem on its hands.On the one hand, European-derived forms were too European and felt like cheap copies.On the other hand, the Afro-Cuban stuff was simply too backward, too drum-oriented, not modern enough for the nationAnd yet, the World’s Fair of 1889 in Paris had illustrated quite clearly that theprimitive and negritude was IN.Composers like Debussy were fascinated by Gamelans, artists were thrilled by African masks, and audiences were going crazy over Josephine Baker’s shows.Jazz was beginning to make inroads in Europe and, by 1920, a tango craze hit all of Europe.In the wake of World War I, moreover, there was a definite lack of confidence in the efficacy of social Darwinism. If the most “developed” countries in the world could use mustard gas on each other, then perhaps the theory wasn’t worth much. If this was the case, maybe Africa and the East might have some things to teach Europe. At any rate, people turned to l’arte negre for a variety of reasons and the stagewas set for a new craze to hit the streets.Back in Cuba, rumba was being banned on the streets and performed in cleaned up form in the cabarets. Some of these performers got overseas and, in 1927, the first stage rumba was performed in Paris.By the 1930s, the rumba was being danced all over Europe and in the US. There were even dance manuals to help out the novices.All this to say that while rumba hit Paris and the world, the rumba of the urban poor was still quite maligned in Cuba and still being appropriated by the elites on their own terms.When tourists became increasingly interested in rumba, things began gradually to change. The top-tier clubs began hiring more Afro-Cuban musicians (for authenticity), for example. Ruben Gonzalez has this to say about the racial discrimination within the music industry: “After I came back from Panama, I joined Senen Suarez’s conjuntoand we played at The Tropicana (one of the top clubs)…When I joined a big band like that, they’d be saying behind my back to the director, couldn’t you find someone a little lighter? And he’d say, but he’s the one who can play the music! Anyway, this isn’t any different from any other Latin American country. Ever since the ‘Discovery,’ there’s been racism, and so it goes on…”It also became apparent that the rumba was now firmly entrenched and enmeshed in the modern son.
This dance band tradition, of which son is the most famous component, gradually became the international face of Cuba.So, rumba found its way into the world and into a more benign genre, and thecombination of these two processes made it possible for the elites to embraceit.Outside recognition, inside re-definition!
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- Summer '19
- Music, taiko, native american music, native american church, Peyote song