a glimpse of the joy and genius of contemporary Cuban culture
February 8, 2010 2:17 AM   Subscribe

You dig this Canto para Shango? Well then, you might want to peruse more of the Cuban folkloric and popular music and dance on offer at Boogalu Productions. Check out the top video on their YouTube channel for a dizzying display of the varieties of musical expression emanating from today's Cuba.
posted by flapjax at midnite (10 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I can recommend the Tremendo Vacilon DVD, which I have watched many times. The tune that Changui Santiago play which is about half way through sounds like heaven would sound. One day I am going to rip that section and loop it FOREVER.

One thing about the Afro Cuban folkloric music that is worth consideration is that it is not supported by the government, afaik. Certainly when I was in Havana I was shown what appeared to be anti-rumba activities on the part of the authorities. You will also notice that echoes of colonial racism can still be seen in that the vast majority of people in the folkloric scene are of dark skin, whereas salsa, timba, nueva trova etc. have a larger proportion of light skinned players. Folkloric music is very much tied to the religions and the induction of trance through repetitive music, something readers of empath's recent thread will be familiar with. The spirits are summoned and 'mount' the dancers at some point during the many hours of the ritual ceremonies.

When I was in Havana there was a localised power outage in the area I was staying which lasted several hours of the daytime. During this several rumbon (rumba parties) started up spontaneously. When the power came back on everything went back to normal and relative quiet as the black market videos and DVDs from Mexico and Miami were played once again.

Related: Afro Cuba de Matanzas in rehearsal with dancers, locos!
posted by asok at 3:07 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

You dig this Canto para Shango?

Yes! I love the way they end the song with a self-fade, getting quieter... and quieter...
posted by Faze at 4:45 AM on February 8, 2010

Que rico! Gracias.
posted by Jode at 6:20 AM on February 8, 2010

You will also notice that echoes of colonial racism can still be seen in that the vast majority of people in the folkloric scene are of dark skin

You don't think this has MORE to do with the fact that Chango, Yemaya, and the other orisha come out of Santeria and other syncretic religions that blend West African/Yoruba traditions with Catholic stories? While the others you cite came out of European... stuff? Those of predominantly African descent are still the people practicing, and still (by and large) people with lower socioeconomic positions in the country. There's your present-day racism. You may have seen "anti-rumba" activities because a) the people are poor b) there are phases when large gatherings are discouraged c) any number of whimsical reasons by which the government works.

The OLD racism here is that those brought to Cuba from West Africa were forced to convert to Catholicism under penalty of death, and this was one of their means of perpetuating their beliefs and still surviving. Some (~25) of the casinos (meeting houses, no gambling) set up by the slaves in the 1800s still exist today, and still hold services. The line between the syncretic service and a Christian service is very, very fuzzy.

The stories are really quite fascinating, as is the reasoning used to tie their stories together. My favorite is that Chango is syncretized with Santa Barbara. They're responsible for similar domaines, wear red and white, and carry swords. But you may notice that Chango is a DUDE. The story goes that he and Santa Barbara were having a torrid affair while her husband is out. Husband comes home early one night while Chango and Barbara are together. Chango dresses up in her clothes, grabs her sword, and runs out into the night, so they are not discovered together. (I was never sure how she explained the guy's clothing on the bedroom floor.)

If you want to talk about religion and racism and Cuba, I'll through out two brief points:
1) Cuba has been - since the Revolution in 1959 - getting increasingly darker. The people who had the most to lose in nationalization? The ones with European roots. They are the ones who first headed out to the US, etc. Still today, they are the majority of the people emigrating.
2) In my experience, santeros are pretty open in Cuba, it's just there, it's part of the cultural background. In the US, there's a lot more secrecy and scorn on the subject. See above about conforming to other people's religions...

You'll see a lot of similar religions up and down Latin and South America. Candomble in Brazil is particularly well-known. And if ANY of you happen to be in Montevideo, Uruguay in early February (3? 4?) make sure to participate in the rituals for Iemaja.

Really this is a fascinating set of beliefs and stories and art and music (&c) that arose from some bloody and terrible times in the past. Guess that goes for a lot of religions though.

(Sorry, you got me started. If someone brings up the Chinese in Cuba, I'll start rambling again.)
(I used to study in Havana. I would love to go back to Cuba.)
posted by whatzit at 7:55 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

On a related note, I was surprised to find out that Ricky Ricardo's signature song "Babalu" (from I Love Lucy) is sung to the Orisha deity associated with insanity, aging, illness, disease and death.
posted by msalt at 9:28 AM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh hey. I'm going to Havana in a week. Where do I go to catch some of this stuff?
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:38 AM on February 8, 2010

Oh hey. I'm going to Havana in a week. Where do I go to catch some of this stuff?

I recommend preparing yourself first with a Spanish speaker, if you have one, and some googling. In your online research, look for things like folclorico, santeria, santero, casino, cabildo, babalao. You might find some cultural associations (the people who work them really know their stuff) or big events, as well as some reading to better appreciate your visit. The Spanish speaker ideally does your searching, and even better, comes with you to Cuba.

You can see some things on the streets. If you see someone out wearing all white, and a lot of beads, they are usually a santero (someone who practices santeria). If you are a curious person who acts in a respecting way towards their culture and beliefs, you can get an earful. Keep them talking and this can include connections to visit community centers or homes (where services and music are practiced) or invitations to see a babalao (a type of head priest; sometimes they will do fortune-telling or blessings for you in a private audience). Cubans are really, really friendly in general and are as curious about your culture as you are of theirs, especially with the limited information they have from outside. Also, there is now much less stigma and danger (for the Cubans) in meeting foreigners as there was in earlier years (oh another thing I can ramble on, the CDR...). Of course, do be wary of anyone offering to be your guide or friend for a special fee. There are plenty of people who are interested primarily in exchanging knowledge.

Where do you find these people on the streets? I saw santeros all over, but you really need to get out of Habana Vieja and Veradero. Wait in line with the Cubans (not the foreigners) at Coppelia and chat someone up over ice cream. The real education is in the older, working class, less touristed, less wealthy neighborhoods. By and large, they are still safe areas, you just won't see other foreigners. As for the casinos and cabildos, you won't find anything big or old in Havana. The one I went to was in the sticks near where Benny Moré was born.

Don't be discouraged by people who might tell you "we don't do that stuff anymore," because you hear the same thing from some West Africans about their native religions, and it's the same people - those who have converted to Christianity (or in Africa, Islam, as well), and scorn the native religion as something primitive. Not everyone has this attitude, but some do. You see it in the US Cuban communities, too.

Have fun, talk up the locals, and I'm sure you'll find something good.
posted by whatzit at 12:02 PM on February 8, 2010

I recommend preparing yourself first with a Spanish speaker

Learn Spanish, then be prepared to forget all about it as you struggle to understand Cuban Spanish. It gets easier once you get used to having to fill in the last syllable of each word mentally.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:03 PM on February 8, 2010

I got carried away earlier; don't despair if you don't have a Spanish speaker. Like elsewhere in the world, more and more people (especially younger people) are eagerly learning second languages. In Cuba, English is really popular now. Russian was required until the USSR fell.
posted by whatzit at 4:39 PM on February 8, 2010

Oh hey. I'm going to Havana in a week. Where do I go to catch some of this stuff?

Callejon de Hamel (get there early to have a seat and have some coins ready to drop into the collection bowl) on Sunday, UNEAC (ticketed venue) on Wednesday (occasionally) and Theatre/Cabaret Nacional (?) downstairs on San Rafael next to Hotel Ingleterra (Paseo del Prado) right next to the Capitolio in Centro, this is also a ticketed venue. All these places have rumba shows that while tourist friendly are treated seriously by followers of Santeria and give you a feel for what is involved. Getting into a genuine ritual is less likely to occur, and will take longer to sort out. Also, the sessions last many hours.

Thanks whatzit, yes the socio-economic and historical reasons for racism are many and prevalent. It just always struck me how different the crowds were at the timba clubs to the rumba sessions.
posted by asok at 6:43 AM on February 12, 2010

« Older I DIDN'T MEAN IT, GIDEON!   |   My other car is a minimalist Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments