Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music

By Samponaro, Phil | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2007 | Go to article overview

Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music


Samponaro, Phil, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music David F. Garcia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006.

During the 1940s, radio announcer Manolo Ortega christened Arsenio Rodríguez "El Ciego Maravilloso" over the airwaves of La Habana's Mil Diez. "The Marvelous Blind One" was a prolific composer and lyricist and, as creator of son montuno ("son from the mountains"), the father of mambo. David F. García, a music professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examines both Rodríguez and his place in twentieth-century Latin music in this critical biography.

Through more than eighty interviews and analysis of Rodríguez's recordings, García explains son montuno's development between 1940 and 1968, presenting this style as always contemporary with the transnational mambo which Arsenio claimed to have created throughout his career. García is particularly concerned with the genre's performance. For the author, a racial and gendered discourse allowed Cuban dancers and musicians to articulate their identities through popular music. The genesis of Arsenio's style in early-1940s La Habana corresponded to a larger proliferation of black working-class social clubs whose social events revolved around the performance of music and dance. What made Rodríguez's style innovative was his conjunto's knowledge of traditional Afro-Cuban music and dances that Arsenio learned while young in rural Matanzas and La Habana. His pureness personified blackness and masculinity, values his audience admired. This appeal was replicated after Rodriguez moved to New York City. García demonstrates that Cuban immigrants and Puerto Rican dancers there immediately recognized son montuno, while most mainstream mambo and salsa dancers did not. For the immigrant population of El Barrio and the Bronx, Arsenic's conjunto offered an alternative to international styles of mambo, evoking, for example, Puerto Rican bomba and plena with which his style shared Afrodiasporic principles.

García gives new understandings to the music and experience of the African diaspora by chronicling the challenges, and responses, of black Latino musicians to their encounters with the racially structured and ethnically diverse dance music scenes of both the Caribbean and the United States.

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