Music and Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba

By Nasatir, Robert | Afro - Hispanic Review, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Music and Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba


Nasatir, Robert, Afro - Hispanic Review


Moore, Robin D. Music and Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 2006. 350 pp.

In his compelling and beautifully written new study, Music and Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba, musicologist Robin D. Moore offers a comprehensive, general study of musical production in Cuba since 1959. The product of a fifteen-year love affair with Cuban music in all its forms, and eight years of active research both on and off the island, Moore's book explores the dynamic and often contentious relationship between music and government policy under the socialist regime. As Moore underscores, whether the genre is dance music, Nueva Trova, or Afro-Cuban folklore, to name just a few, the rhythm of the state is a steady fluctuation between suppression and support, and sometimes back around to suppression.

Throughout, Moore wears many hats, demonstrating a rigorous knowledge of history, anthropology, and political science, in addition to his musical expertise. The book begins with an introductory discussion of socialism and Marx's and Engels's limited comments on the role of the arts in the new society. He discusses at length the theoretical contradictions implicit in turning political theory into state policy, namely the tension between the individual artist and the masses in a worker's state. After this introduction, the book divides into three interrelated sections. Chapters one, two, and three are a loosely chronological overview of cultural changes in Cuba since 1959. Chapter one, "Revelry and Revolution: The Paradox of the 1950s," focuses specifically on the 1950s. Set against the political backdrop of the Batista coup d'état, the attack on the Moncada barracks, urban violence, the Sierra Maestra Campaign, and the 1959 triumph of the Revolution, Moore explores the sad ironies of the musical watershed. While Cuban music performed in the swanky Tropicana, Cabaret Monmartre, and Sans Souci reached new heights through the music of Beny Moré and Pérez Prado, the brutal poverty and repression outside the clubs went unchecked. Tourists eager for music, gambling, and sex-and often not in that order-danced mambo and chachacha but average Cubans could barely keep food on their tables. While Havana was undeniably two worlds in the 1950s, the creative and commercial success of Cuban music is not altogether surprising. As Moore observes, music provided an escape from the realities all around.

Chapter two, "Music and Social Change in the First Years," discusses the abrupt policy shifts that came about with the success of the Revolution and the consolidation of power by Castro's 26 July Movement. The revolutionaries were, not surprisingly, the subjects of many popular songs, notably those of Carlos Puebla. Music from those earliest years, like literature, film, and the visual arts, is typified by bursts of creativity and experimentation. Early 1960s Havana also featured a vibrant Jazz scene. Nonetheless, the situation changed quickly as nightclubs lost much-needed revenue previously earned through gambling and prostitution. State support was vital, and resulted in nationalization. The bail-out had far-reaching effects, however, as poor management, inexperience, attempts to dictate content, and paranoia combined to undermine the initial artistic euphoria. A further creative drain was the hemorrhaging of talent as waves of exiles fled the island. The Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) in 1961 further radicalized the island, along with the Missile Crisis of 1962, resulting in many more popular (and populist) songs, but an overall decline in support for the arts. Whereas the 1950s had been a time of much recording activity on the island, the 1960s and nationalization led to an overall drop in facilities, resources, and output, compounded by ill-advised state decisions regarding international copyrights.

The final chapter of overview, "Artistic Institutions, Initiatives, and Policies," addresses many of the cultural initiatives since 1959, considering their short and long-term successes and failures. …

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