Academic journal article Notes

Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis

Academic journal article Notes

Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis

Article excerpt

Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis. By Vincenzo Perna. (SOAS Musicology Series.) Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2005. [ix, 338 p. ISBN 0-7546-3941-X. $114.95] Index, bibliography, illustrations, music examples.

Vincenzo Perna, a freelance music journalist with a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from the University of London (SOAS), has written a penetrating and deeply informative book on timba, the popular and provocative Cuban music and dance style that emerged in the 1990s, during the economic tailspin euphemistically referred to as "el període especial económico" (the special economic period). In Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis, Perna presents timba as an innovative fusion of Afro-Cuban popular and folkloric styles with African American genres such as hip-hop and funk. Through a rigorous analysis of timba s flammable context and controversial lyrics, Perna successfully argues that timba "articulates the values of a largely black youth subculture that has grown up in the shadow of the crisis ... ultimately symbolizing the difficult, contradictory opening of Cuba to the outside world" (p. 4).

Perna takes the reader on a journey from timba's origins as an experimental artschool genre in the late 1980s, through its flowering during the període especial in the 1990s, and into the twenty-first century, where it seems to be yielding its defiant stance to Cuban rap. The book is organized in three sections: part 1: Setting the Scene; part 2: Matters of Style, and part 3: Dangerous Connections. In part 1, Perna introduces the reader to música bailable (dance music) from the Revolution of 1959 to the eve of the període especial in 1989. He highlights the painful "self-blockade" of the late 1960s and early 1970s, during which time the Revolutionary government shut down all the cabarets (the main venues for popular music performances), banned foreign music from the radio, and sought to stamp out "moral degeneracy," symbolized by the "long hair and fancy clothes" worn by Cuba's rebellious youth (p. 31). After a year, the state lifted the broadcasting ban on Anglo-American music, but this relaxing of the restrictions placed on foreign music only served to emphasize young Cubans' growing dissatisfaction with música bailable. Bassist and composer Reynaldo Crespo notes that "Cuban music went through a deep crisis . . . during the 1960s and the 1970s" because Cubans simply did not want to listen to Cuban dance music (p. 33).

In the midst of this musicopolitical crisis, in 1969 bassist and composer Juan Formell founded Los Van Van, perhaps the most famous Cuban dance band since the Revolution. Perna suggests that the modernized son genre created by Los Van Van, called songo, is one of the forerunners of timba, primarily because of the adoption of the drum kit. In 1973, pianist and composer Chucho Valdés founded a jazz group called Irakere, which specialized in "danceable jazz." Irakere's innovative fusion of jazz, rock, and Afro-Cuban folkloric rhythms represented a sound that was simultaneously modern, virtuosic, and traditional. Perna asserts that Irakere's hom section and its "modern traditional'1 sound make the legendary jazz band the most direct antecedent of timba.

In the 1980s, the growing number of Latinos in the United States helped propel salsa to the forefront of urban popular music preferences, and the sounds of Rubén Blades and the Fania All Stars soon made their way to Cuban airwaves. The reembracing of salsa by Cuban musicians, along with the innovative musical stylings of Los Van Van and Irakere, set the stage for the emergence of timba as a musical genre. In chapter 2, Perna gives an overview of the profound difficulties encountered by most Cubans during the decade of the 1990s. He argues that the economic crisis forced Cuba to interact with the rest of the world, allowing for the international exchange of goods, services, ideas, and expressive culture. It was precisely the período especial that forced Cuba to shift its economic focus from its former patron, the Soviet Union, to the vicissitudes of foreign tourism. …

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