Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

Las Tonadas Trinitarias: History of an Afro-Cuban Musical Tradition from Trinidad De Cuba

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

Las Tonadas Trinitarias: History of an Afro-Cuban Musical Tradition from Trinidad De Cuba

Article excerpt

The tonadas trinitarias are an Afro-Cuban musical manifestation native to Trinidad de Cuba, a town on Cuba's south-central coast. They represent a transcultural product of guajiro (1) and Bantu-derived musical practices, originating among members of Trinidad's Cabildo de San Antonio de Congos Reales in the late nineteenth century. Now confined to the local folkloric stage as tourist entertainment, in their original form they were performed by neighborhood groups of singers and drummers during nocturnal transits through the town's streets. In this article, I hope to accomplish three things. The first is to draw attention to and contribute to the gap in research on the music of Cuba's provincial areas (commonly referred to as las provincias)--particularly the central provinces--which are often sidelined in favor of research focusing on the cities of Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago. The second is to provide a comprehensive history of the origins and evolution of a local, small-scale creole (2) genre in Cuba, drawing on literary sources and the oral histories of elder musicians in Trinidad. Finally, I will assess both the positive and negative effects of state support of the tonadas trinitarias and the accompanying process of folkloricization.

My conclusions are drawn primarily from fieldwork I conducted in Trinidad in 2009 for my master's thesis, during which I interviewed various local musicians involved with the tonadas trinitarias and took percussion lessons in order to learn the parts. I also attended the daily performances of the Conjunto Folklorico de Trinidad, which are put on for tourists at El Palenque bar and restaurant. I met my informants through Cuban musicologist Enrique Zayas Bringas, a native of Trinidad, who encouraged me to document the tradition. Many of the musicians were longtime friends of Zayas Bringas, including members of the Conjunto Folklorico de Trinidad as well as elder musicians who were no longer active participants. These elder musicians proved to be my most interesting informants, and their accounts are included here. Since the tonadas trinitarias are currently only performed in staged tourist performances and primarily by younger musicians, the elders' recollections served to paint a portrait of the tradition in its original community-oriented context. Nonetheless, the input provided by my younger informants in the Conjunto Folklorico de Trinidad allowed me to contrast their experiences with those of the elder performers and assess recent changes, such as the effects of folkloricization.

The tonadas trinitarias (also referred to as simply tonadas (3)) underwent a process of folkloricization under Cuba's Revolutionary government. Hagedorn defines folkloricization as "the process of making a folk tradition folkloric," and uses the performance of Afro-Cuban religious repertoire by the state-sponsored Conjunto Folklorico Nacional in Havana as an example (2001, 12). She explains how the creation of state-sponsored folkloric troupes by the Revolutionary government in the 1960s was meant to preserve and elevate folk traditions by turning them into staged, choreographed representations. Afro-Cuban folklore was heavily impacted by this, as it was a primary source of material for the state's folkloric troupes. Afro-Cuban music and dance had long been looked down upon as vulgar by the economically and politically dominant white population, and yet they were also promoted as a unique element of national identity since the 1930s (Moore 1997). The creation of state folkloric troupes for Afro-Cuban music following the 1959 Revolution was a way for the state to promote the traditions in a controlled setting (the public stage) in a way that was both educational and more acceptable to the dominant (white) sectors of society. Notwithstanding the undertones of racism and state control, the state's creation of folkloric troupes had positive effects as well, particularly in the case of Trinidad's folkloric troupe, created in the early 1960s. …

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