Cuba: I Am Time

By Gore, Joe | Guitar Player, April 1998 | Go to article overview

Cuba: I Am Time


Gore, Joe, Guitar Player


Musically speaking,

Cuba's violent collision

of African and

European cultures

was every bit as fruitful as the one

the that gave birth to most of

America's popular music. And

because everywhere the Spaniards

went, guitar was sure to go, Cuba

boasts one of the world's most

eloquent guitar traditions. But most

English-speaking guitarists have

little awareness of Cuban music,

and for good reason: Forty years of

bitter Cuban/American relations

and a stern embargo policy have

largely excluded Cuban recordings

(and artists) from the States.

But now, as if in anticipation

of the thaw most observers agree

will inevitably occur in the

coming post-Castro era, the musical

chill is lifting. A decade ago, it was

almost impossible to find Cuban

recordings in the U.S. Now, most

large urban record stores carry

many classic and current titles. At

the same time, an increasing

number of Cuban musical heavy-weights

are touring the States--something

that rarely occurred in

the past unless preceded by

defection.

There's also an apolitical

explanation for the Cuban guitar gap:

While the nation has always had

a brilliant tradition of funky

peasant music rife with guitar-family

instruments, many of the most

successful Cuban artists (at least

in the export market) pursued a

suave, sophisticated distillation of

the Afro-Cuban sound, one in

which the guitar was relegated to

a relatively minor role. Ironically,

the guitar is often most evident in

the Cuban piano vocabulary,

which is heavily informed by the

syncopated arpeggation

of the tres, Cuba's

high-pitched, double-course

soprano guitar.

Despite important figures such

as influential bandleader and

tres player Arsenio Rodriguez,

guitars carried a rootsy,

down-home

connotation until

their

rock-influenced

resurgence

in the '70s.

Even if Ry

Cooder didn't play on every track,

there would be no shortage of

godlike guitar work on Buena

Vista Social Club [Nonesuch, dist.

by Warners]. To commune with

the musical masters of differing

cultures has been Cooder's quest

for decades, but this astonishing

disc may be his crowning achievement.

Here he collaborates with

a phenomenal crew of older

musicians who specialize in the

old-fashioned, guitar-heavy son

style--Cuba's "country music."

In no sense is this a "Cooder

plus Cubans" disc. …

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