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Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo

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This entertaining history of Cuba and its music begins with the collision of Spain and Africa and continues through the era of Miguelito Valdés, Arsenio Rodríguez, Benny Moré, and Pérez Prado. It offers a behind-the-scenes examination of music from a Cuban point of view, unearthing surprising, provocative connections and making the case that Cuba was fundamental to the evo This entertaining history of Cuba and its music begins with the collision of Spain and Africa and continues through the era of Miguelito Valdés, Arsenio Rodríguez, Benny Moré, and Pérez Prado. It offers a behind-the-scenes examination of music from a Cuban point of view, unearthing surprising, provocative connections and making the case that Cuba was fundamental to the evolution of music in the New World. The ways in which the music of black slaves transformed 16th-century Europe, how the claves appeared, and how Cuban music influenced ragtime, jazz, and rhythm and blues are revealed. Music lovers will follow this journey from Andalucía, the Congo, the Calabar, Dahomey, and Yorubaland via Cuba to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Saint-Domingue, New Orleans, New York, and Miami. The music is placed in a historical context that considers the complexities of the slave trade; Cuba's relationship to the United States; its revolutionary political traditions; the music of Santería, Palo, Abakuá, and Vodú; and much more.


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This entertaining history of Cuba and its music begins with the collision of Spain and Africa and continues through the era of Miguelito Valdés, Arsenio Rodríguez, Benny Moré, and Pérez Prado. It offers a behind-the-scenes examination of music from a Cuban point of view, unearthing surprising, provocative connections and making the case that Cuba was fundamental to the evo This entertaining history of Cuba and its music begins with the collision of Spain and Africa and continues through the era of Miguelito Valdés, Arsenio Rodríguez, Benny Moré, and Pérez Prado. It offers a behind-the-scenes examination of music from a Cuban point of view, unearthing surprising, provocative connections and making the case that Cuba was fundamental to the evolution of music in the New World. The ways in which the music of black slaves transformed 16th-century Europe, how the claves appeared, and how Cuban music influenced ragtime, jazz, and rhythm and blues are revealed. Music lovers will follow this journey from Andalucía, the Congo, the Calabar, Dahomey, and Yorubaland via Cuba to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Saint-Domingue, New Orleans, New York, and Miami. The music is placed in a historical context that considers the complexities of the slave trade; Cuba's relationship to the United States; its revolutionary political traditions; the music of Santería, Palo, Abakuá, and Vodú; and much more.

30 review for Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo

  1. 4 out of 5

    Murf Reeves

    This book was amazing. I have talked about going to Cuba for some time and a friend and I were talking about taking a vacation, so I finally decided to read this. A friend had given it to me a couple of years ago. This book blew my mind!! Being about music was the surface, but what this book really describes is the history of Cuba and how imperialism and slavery created Cuba. Ironically bringing all of these different people together also unintentionally created kinds of music that have been inf This book was amazing. I have talked about going to Cuba for some time and a friend and I were talking about taking a vacation, so I finally decided to read this. A friend had given it to me a couple of years ago. This book blew my mind!! Being about music was the surface, but what this book really describes is the history of Cuba and how imperialism and slavery created Cuba. Ironically bringing all of these different people together also unintentionally created kinds of music that have been influencing us since. If you are a fan of music, Cuba history or just an interesting read, this is a must!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Barry Hammond

    For anyone interested in the history of music, especially black music in North America, this book isn't just a must-read, it's a revelation. Not just a history of music, it's a history of music from a Cuban perspective. Cuban music legend, Mario Bauza, says it all, when in the opening of the Preface he's quoted by critic, Robert Palmer: "The Cubans, we came here and changed your American music from the bottom up! And nobody knows this! He is shouting. 'AND NOBODY WRITES ABOUT THIS!'" Well, Ned Su For anyone interested in the history of music, especially black music in North America, this book isn't just a must-read, it's a revelation. Not just a history of music, it's a history of music from a Cuban perspective. Cuban music legend, Mario Bauza, says it all, when in the opening of the Preface he's quoted by critic, Robert Palmer: "The Cubans, we came here and changed your American music from the bottom up! And nobody knows this! He is shouting. 'AND NOBODY WRITES ABOUT THIS!'" Well, Ned Sublette does. The book's 672 pages start off in prehistory, with the Phoenicians, and tracks its way into the 1950's mambo craze just a Fidel Castro is starting his rise into politics. And he's not just talking about music. He's giving you the social and political history that shapes the music, the economics of slavery, and much more. The amount of research put into this book is staggering. No one has ever tackled history from a black Cuban perspective before and the terrain reveals a topography that's completely different from what white European historians not only write about but what they can even see. There's revelations every few pages in this book with the research to back it up. Your take on North American music will undergo a sea-change and never be the same again. One of the things that got me reading it in the first place, was a quote from a musician in Ben Ratliff's book, The Jazz Ear, talking about being able to trace the history of the type of blues played in North America by the area of Africa the slaves came from. Sublette makes a pretty good case for his theories and drops a few other bombshells along the way, like: "I tracked the most common bass and saxophone riff in 50's rock 'n' roll back to its originator (Dave Bartholomew) and he told me he'd nicked it from a Cuban rumba record. An interview with Richard Berry, composer of Louie Louie," revealed that immortal song's origin in an obscure Cuban cha-cha record... I began to feel like a guy who's discovered a monument the size of Mt. Rushmore hidden in his own backyard." If any of the above intrigues you, you owe it to yourself to check this volume out. You won't be disappointed. Not only that, it's the first volume of a two-volume set. I can't wait for the next one, which he's no doubt still researching. Mt. Rushmore indeed. - BH.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Reggie

    What can I say? You want to know about Black people in Latin America? You want to know about US?Cuban relations to 1952? You want to know about good syncopated music? Read this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    sphamilton

    This is a wonderful book, the first half of an epic history which starts with an outline of the roots of pre-Roman Spanish culture and its African influences, and runs to 1952... It puts Cuban music in its cultural, political, historical, religious and anthropological contexts, and makes a very coherent case for its influence on jazz and rock and roll. It's incredibly readable, lovingly researched, full of ideas (I kept reading bits out in an annoying way as I worked my way through it). Sublette This is a wonderful book, the first half of an epic history which starts with an outline of the roots of pre-Roman Spanish culture and its African influences, and runs to 1952... It puts Cuban music in its cultural, political, historical, religious and anthropological contexts, and makes a very coherent case for its influence on jazz and rock and roll. It's incredibly readable, lovingly researched, full of ideas (I kept reading bits out in an annoying way as I worked my way through it). Sublette is also responsible for the only album I know which fuses salsa and country music, the wonderfully odd and enjoyable Cowboy rumba, and he has been travelling to Cuba to interview musicians and make recordings for about twenty years, so he knows his stuff. Can't wait for the next volume, but notice in the meantime that he's just brought out a book on New Orleans (which comes into the Cuba book a lot as well - the ties are close).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Wes Freeman

    Holy shit is this a good book! Wow! I switched from riding my bike to work to taking the bus just so I could have more time with this thing. Ned Sublette is a straight-up believer in Cuba and its music; he's a musician himself, and is bilingual, so he does his own translations (Spanish, apparently, has changed comparatively little in the last 500 years) and breaks the musicology down so that sleepy dudes on buses can understand what he's talking about while they're riding on their way to work. S Holy shit is this a good book! Wow! I switched from riding my bike to work to taking the bus just so I could have more time with this thing. Ned Sublette is a straight-up believer in Cuba and its music; he's a musician himself, and is bilingual, so he does his own translations (Spanish, apparently, has changed comparatively little in the last 500 years) and breaks the musicology down so that sleepy dudes on buses can understand what he's talking about while they're riding on their way to work. Sublette says in the intro he's gonna take his time with this here and he does, laying out the Spanish and African roots of the music for four chapters before he even gets going with Cuba. He has an interesting story and he knows it well, he puts it down so you can pick it up. Go ahead, Ned. Can't wait for volume 2.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Levinson

    This is another friend of mine and once again I will set aside the fact that he is the smartest person I know to tell you that this book is the finest work of musicological scholarship I have ever read. Even if you are not a Cubanophile you owe yourself the treat of reading this monumental work asap. The story stretches across Africa, Europe and America and you will be gripped by every page. Ned has made all this accessible to a layperson and at the same time this work will engross even the most This is another friend of mine and once again I will set aside the fact that he is the smartest person I know to tell you that this book is the finest work of musicological scholarship I have ever read. Even if you are not a Cubanophile you owe yourself the treat of reading this monumental work asap. The story stretches across Africa, Europe and America and you will be gripped by every page. Ned has made all this accessible to a layperson and at the same time this work will engross even the most sophisticated academic audience as well. I cannot say enough about this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Amari

    This is a thrilling history of much more than Cuba and much more than music. It truly provides a complete education; Sublette is very opinionated and assertive, and yet he enabled me to open my mind and ears to an utterly new way of thinking about music, history, and music history. Outstanding. My only complaint is that the writing can occasionally waver between academic (but in a very engaging way) and oddly colloquial. Sometimes the prose is noticeably awkward.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    This is deafeningly good book. It showed me how little I know and what impeccably good taste Mr. Sublette has.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Naeem

    I have read the first 100 pages -- astounding! This is the definitive book, I have been told, on Cuban Music. It is long and this is only volume 1.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    This book was an incredible read, and can delight readers with varied interests, because though it focuses, as the title says, on Cuban music. It also goes into detail on a myriad of other topics, taking a holistic approach to the development of Cuban music. This is necessary because Cuba, as with all parts of Latin America (and really any country for that matter), is an agglomeration. It is not just that the Spanish came to the Americas conquered the island and brought in slaves thus creating a This book was an incredible read, and can delight readers with varied interests, because though it focuses, as the title says, on Cuban music. It also goes into detail on a myriad of other topics, taking a holistic approach to the development of Cuban music. This is necessary because Cuba, as with all parts of Latin America (and really any country for that matter), is an agglomeration. It is not just that the Spanish came to the Americas conquered the island and brought in slaves thus creating a musical tradition. This book digs deeper than that and talks about the history of Spain and Spanish music pre-conquest. Author Ned Sublette also details the music from Africa pre-conquest and the regional variations of African music and how that contributed to the creation of Cuban music and what shape that took due to the region where the bulk of Cuban slaves came from. In the first half of the book, digging deep, Sublette touches on religion, how the African slaves kept their religion, mixed it slightly with Catholicism and what effects this had on the music. He also directs a great deal of attention to Cuba with reference to the global political economy throughout the centuries and the ways in which this impacted the music in the early days. The latter half of the books shows how Cuban music progressed within Cuba and how it travelled through parts of the world, making its mark on the development of music in the US and Mexico. The whole book is fascinating and a seamless read. The journey through the pages will fill you with knowledge on an array of topics, history, Africa, Spain, Cuba, Cuban politics, US and Cuban relations, Cuban pop culture, US music, slavery, many others, but of most importance, Cuban music. This is a must read!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    This book is full of amazing information from the earliest forms of music. Be ready for one of the most historical books you'll find on artists that helped create one of the greatest genres known to music. I might be slightly bias for my love of Cuban music and culture but I had a high lighter in one hand and post-its in another. This is definitely a book I will be referring back to sooner rather than later!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick Moy

    A tour de force of cultural history and musical analysis. This is not a crash course in Afro-Cuban music: it's a deep dive. Audacious in some of the connections drawn, but ultimately brilliant, compelling and at times, exhilarating.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Charisse

    An excellent, well-researched, and comprehensive reference on Cuban music, integrating popular and classical music with social, economic, and political history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Brilliant book. Worth reading again. Packed full of information. Wish I could see the dances described that are no longer here.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cody Malcolm

    The best book I've ever read about Music and Culture...

  16. 4 out of 5

    patty

    About 1/3 in - so far, what an amazing read on the history of Spain.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Curt Eriksen

    Unlikely to ever be surpassed as a history of the many diverse influences that came together to make Cuban music what it is today.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jorosel

    Re reading for the second time on my Kindle.Have the book edition sitting on my bookshelf.Have given it out as a gift to friends. Need I say more? Please tell me he has started the second book!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    A feast! I'll be buying a copy to keep around for reference. If you care about music you should read this. You don't have to be a Latin music fan.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eddie

    This book is fucking amazing and should be mandatory reading for all musicians and music lovers.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey Cobb

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ashish

  23. 5 out of 5

    Linda Crum

  24. 5 out of 5

    Herb

  25. 5 out of 5

    Martin

  26. 5 out of 5

    Robin

  27. 5 out of 5

    C Sullivan

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kim

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Moore

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brooke L Kantor

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