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From Five to Seven, Redux

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, media, Tales from the field 8 Comments »

From Five to Seven was the greatest radio show in 1990s Havana, broadcasting every day, between five and seven and between 1994 and 1999, on Radio Taino. That is the reason why I did a lot of my ethnographic fieldwork there!

It was devoted to Latin music broadly conceived, but as timba grew, the show became its main showcase. Major bands like Manolin El Medico de la Salsa, Manolito (el del Trabuco), Bamboleo and others became BIG because of this show.  At times it reached the biggest audience for all radio shows in the city of Havana, after Radio Reloj’s morning news and Radio Progreso’s mid-morning soap opera. From Five to Seven sounded commercial, it included commercial advertisements and played timba music alongside classic salsa (e.g. Fania) as well as the latest in merengue, cumbia and all sort of fusion styles from the Spanish Caribbean and North America. The program ended in late 1999. The program launched young and unknown voices to international fame: some of the hosts that achieved recognition in the show went on to work on radio and television in Europe and the United States, like Ismael Calá, who’s now a famous anchor person at CNN, in the United States.

Now From Five to Seven is back! and today is its first day on the air, at five o’clock central time (6pm Eastern, 3pm Pacific). Its director Juan Cañizares has recuperated the project although not in Havana but in Cancun. His plan is to lure to it some of those who worked with him in Cuba, and Karla is already on board. The show broadcasts daily on Radio Turquesa FM, in Cancun and the entire state of Quintana Roo, and on the internet, playing a lot of Cuban timba and reggeaton. I am hearing a lot of Charanga Habanera, Gente de Zona, Manolito y Su Trabuco, both their latest releases and their by-now classical songs. Along with the music, the fabulous voice of Karla, and the same super arriba energy. El Exitazo Musical del Caribe!!!

Felicidades Juan y Karla!!

HERE you can hear the program promo.

And here one of the songs that were played today, Mentiras by Manolito Simonet:

Gloria Rolando on the 1912 Massacre

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema, History, Race 3 Comments »

Gloria Rolando just visited UNC where she spoke about her work and screened selections of her three-part documentary on the 1912 massacre of the Party of the Independents of Color. The film seeks to uncover memories of this event through interviews with historians and communities throughout Cuba. You can read more about it HERE.

Thanks to Lisa Knauer for this information.

The Black Roots of Salsa. A documentary film.

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema, music 17 Comments »

The Black Roots of Salsa is a new documentary on Cuba’s rumba life, currently in post-production. As you can see below, the preview is stunning, so I caught up with its director and Zürich native, Christian Liebich, and he kindly agreed to explain what his film is about and what his plans are….

AHR: I understand that this film has not yet been released. What is it about, exactly?

CL: The movie is about the Black Roots of Salsa and the Evolucion of Rumba. It covers not only the musical aspects of this heritage but also dancing and the lived experience. It shows a complex culture through the lens of certain families who live their tradition and inherit them through the generations. The film starts with the state of contemporary Rumba, as shown by young practitioners in Havana. It also covers some of the genre’s history in its three variants: Yambu, Guaguancó and Columbia. As a non-religious manifestation, Rumba was accessible to a broad audience. Nonetheless its roots are set inside Afro-Cuban religions imported from Africa, namely the Abakua, Congo and Yoruba, all of which are covered in the documentary.

The film also addresses the history of Son, which received the ‘Clave’ from the Rumba, as well as the influence of both son and rumba in timba. Most of the material is shot in Habana, but there are some takes from Yoruba Andabo’ shows in Paris, Geneva and Madrid. Rumba culture is not just lived in the streets, it’s presented in theatres in Cuba and abroad.

AHR: Is this a full-length documentary? is it finished? Do you have a distributor? what are your plans for it?

CL: The editing is finished and the film is over two hours long (2″7′). We still do not have any distributor. We have submitted it to the New York International Latino Film Festival, which will take place in August 2010, but at this time we still do not know if it will be selected. Our hope is to premier it in NYC, and then screen it at Film and Salsa festivals everywhere possible, and then release it on DVD.  Currently subtitles are available in English, Spanish and German, working on French, Italian and Japanese.

AHR: How did you become interested in rumba and what prompted you to do this documentary?

CL: I am a passionate Timba dancer and am fascinated by the complexity of Afro-Cuban culture. I was lucky to find very interesting characters like, mainly, Adonis Panter Calderon, who is producing the documentary with me.  We started working together in this film in 2004. I am married to Ismaray Chacon ‘Aspirina’ who is the granddaughter of Luis Chacon ‘Aspirina’ and is deeply connected with her culture.

AHR: Is this your first film?

CL: I started with a handy cam in 2004 in Cuba. In 2007 together with my good friend Virna Hernandez, we did a film about a kids’ project entitled “La Rumba No Va a Morir” about a music and dance group led by Adonis Panter Calderón’s cousin Natividad Calderon Fiallo. That DVD is now in process. I have a Youtube channel with over sixty short clips.

The film is still looking for funders. For more information, you may download the production’s portfolio HERE or contact Christian Liebich.

On Academic Exchanges: A Dialogue with Ted Henken

academic exchanges, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Opinion No Comments »

Ted published today a follow up to our dialogue on academic exchanges in The Havana Note.  (You can read our early exchange, in an earlier post here “Amistad, Academia and U.S. Travel Policies“, and from there go to his initial piece in El Yuma). Since The Havana Note does not seem to permit comments (or I have not been able to find how), I am linking that piece here.

Research and Academic Exchange in Cuba Is Challenging (but Possible), by Ted Henken.

Nothing to object there. If anything, I would add one more entity to the list of culprits that obstruct academic research in Cuba, and that is the State of Florida. In 2006, the state of Florida banned the use of both public and private funds for research in Cuba. In 2008, a federal judge stroke down the part of the law that concerned private funds. To my knowledge, the ban is still in place in regards to public monies.

Now the state (or rather, its flagship university) is taking on Haiti. Recently, the newsletter of the American Association of University Professors denounced the case of two journalism students at the University of Florida who are penalized for their research in Haiti. I quote:

When the earthquake devastated Haiti in January, the two students were in a small
town close to the epicenter, shooting footage for their master’s thesis. Both were
evacuated from Haiti but vowed to return to complete their filming. They did so
later using private, non-university funds.
In the interim, however, the university had put in place a ban on “UF-sanctioned,
-sponsored, or -approved trips” to Haiti for students. Bougher and Safiullin were
told that their final thesis submission could not include any post-earthquake
footage because they had defied university rules in traveling to Haiti after the
university’s ban.

Hair Salons and Barber Shops Going Coop (Updated)

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Grete Viddal, News and Views, Tales from the field 2 Comments »

Vedado (Havana) state-owned hair salon. ©AHR

According to recent news, selected hair salons and barber shops in Havana are undergoing an experiment in management and administration. Unlike in the 1990s, these are not self-employed professionals who are allowed to run small businesses out of their home. These are tiny state shops (sitting three max) that are being turned to their employees who then run them autonomously. They must pay a rent (in hard currency) to the state as well as taxes, and obtain their supplies on their own, presumably at free market prices. They can then set prices according to supply and demand. Apparently, participation in this pilot program has been voluntary, and workers who did not want to be autonomous have been able to switch jobs with those who did at other salons. You can read a detailed account in this report of the Spanish news agency EFE.

Up until now (and still in most of the island) the choices were a state-run hair salon or a self-employed hair dresser. The state salon had fixed prices in Cuban pesos, while the independent professional was free to set prices and has to pay income taxes. In practical terms, however, the state shops lacked supplies, which the employees then obtained on their own and charged customers for under the table. While state hair salons and barber shops were technically inexpensive, the were really not, as one had to purchase products and services directly from the employees at bargained prices. My hunch is that this new system is designed to address (and tax) a de facto situation.

In Havana, this pilot project only affects a handful of Salons in two neighborhoods, none of which can handle more than three clients at a time. On the other extreme of the island, in Santiago de Cuba, it is doubtful that many peluqueros will sign up for this experiment, should it be an option there some time soon. According to Grete Viddal’s own hair stylist and salon owner Raúl, the cost of “cooperativizing” is prohibitive anywhere but in Havana. In response to Grete’s inquiry, Raul said that if the potential independent contractors of a salon will have to pay about 1000 MN per chair, this is a lot of money in Santiago – even if this covers the costs of doing business, the chair, electricity, etc. Raul says hairdressers wouldn’t be able to charge enough for their haircuts to cover expenses. Grete’s assessment is that “many services (they do manicures, pedicures, waxing, all manner of hair coloring and straightening, and more) at Quisqueya, the big salon in Calle Enramadas, the main shopping street of Santiago, cost a peso, two, three. Many haircuts (cost of haircuts depends on length of your hair) less than 5 pesos MN. If you have to pay 1000 MN a month, that’s a LOT of haircuts before you begin to make a profit!”

Below, see a picture of the entrepreneurial Raúl – a self-employed hair dresser- working on his most simpática client a few weeks ago.

© Grete Viddal

Thanks to A. Armengol for the news’ heads up.

A Vodú Party for the Gods

By Grete Viddal, Cuba Haiti, Religion, Tales from the field 6 Comments »

I went up a mountain, near Santiago, to houngan Pablo’s party for the gods. He lives in a place called Pilon del Cauto, near the river Cauto, about two or three (depending on road conditions) hours from Santiago, accessible by jeep, truck, or legs.

Guests arrived, some carrying a borrowed mattress to spend the night…

Pablo has a tonnel or space for ceremonies and parties. He has rented a sound system, and folks dance. Also there is much buying of goats: goat prices are based on weight. At the designated space, there is a  “mangemort” or altar table for the dead and another table for the “mangebla” or “mesa blanca” (called a manje blan in Haiti), with cakes and treats for the “sweet” spirits.

The white goat for the “mesa blanca” ceremony is consecrated with perfume and herbs. Tato and Pablo supervise the consecration of the fowl. Tato sprinkles the birds with a mix or holy water, perfume, herbs…

Houngan Pablo Milanes, mounted by the spirit Gran Bwa, sacrifices the goat. His son, behind, helps hold the animal steady. Gran Bwa then blesses congregants, while he is sitting on the body of the goat. He then dances the merenge with one of his assistants… Finally the goat is butchered and the meat readied for a night time feast…

NOTE on the usage of the term VODÚ: In the Cuban context the correct spelling for this religious practice is “vodú.”  (The Dominican spelling is often Vudu, in scholarly books in English it is Vodou. In French is Vaudoux. When writing about folk religion in the U.S. South, scholars sometimes term it “hoodoo.” Voodoo is an outdated and pejorative way to refer to Haitian spirituality.

Anacaona’s Yolanda Castro and Graciela, RIP

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Berta Jottar, greater Cuba, music, obituary 5 Comments »

Within a couple of days, two lead members of the historical all-women Anacaona Orchestra have passed away: first Yolanda Castro, founding member of the band, who passed in Havana on April 4th, and then Graciela Pérez-Gutiérrez (also known as Graciela Grillo), two days later. Graciela had left Cuba in the early 40s and sang with Mario Bauza’s orchestra, becoming a fixture of the New York Latin music scene. Unlike Castro’s, Graciela’s obituary has been published all over the U.S. press, including the New York Times. You can read about Yolanda Castro’s passing on the Cuba-based Cubarte’s page.

Friend and colleague Berta Jottar interviewed Graciela in New York in 2003. along with her students of the course “Sound and Movement in the Afro-Latin Diaspora” (Williams College). I persuaded her to upload the videos and share them with us, and here they are:

(Thanks to Berta Jottar and David Cantrell for their assistance)

Public Academics and the Cuba-vs-Exile Question

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, exile, Opinion 5 Comments »

Celia Cruz as Lady in White. Miami, Calle Ocho, 3/25/2010. Courtesy and ©  Marta Ramos

When it comes to Cuba, few academics dare to issue opinions. We complain about the continued irrelevance of intellectuals within U.S. society and call for the need to encourage critical thinking within the university. Yet few issue informed opinions on U.S. Cuban politics.  The field is extremely polarized between those academics who refuse to publicly acknowledge the death of the revolutionary utopia and who focus their critical energy on the ill policies of the U.S. government, and those -generally de-legitimized- whose exiled agendas guide their scholarship. In between there is a silent mass, among them the anthropologists, who are uncomfortable expressing an opinion that will align them with either camp. Anthropologists study other cultures and societies yet their ultimate goal is to criticize their own and not that of others, always respectful (fearful?) of foreign sovereignties.

There are some exceptions (as in this very blog concerning U.S. Cuba  travel policies), most often among non-anthropologists, even though they sharply separate opinion from scholarship. Our colleague Ted Henken is one. He does not shy away from informing his political opinion with his academic knowledge in his blog El Yuma. Nor does Isabel Alfonso, a professor at St. Joseph’s college in New York.    She recently wrote an essay entitled “The Stains of a March” critiquing the goals behind the March 25th march that took place in Miami under the auspices of Emilio and Gloria Estefan in support of Cuba’s political prisoners. Between fifty and one hundred thousand people attended the march, and in the name of unity, the goals overshadowed the means. She analyzed the organization of the march and denounced its secondary agenda:

“As a symbolic gesture, far from facilitating the hatching of a mature exile, able to tell apart lights from shadows, the march inscribes us once again in a history of accomplice silences before acts of violence that surpass the abuse against the Damas, such as the terrorist acts committed by Posada Carriles or the fifty-year long embargo against the island. Politically, the balance results in manipulation on both sides.  Washington lobbyists might use the march to create momentum and freeze the dialogue. Less travel, fewer academic exchanges, fewer points of negotiation….”

The essay was picked up by two very different web publications: the exile journal Encuentro en la Red (based in Madrid), and the official page of Cuba’s Union of Artists and Writers (UNEAC). Because this collusion between two normally ideologically-opposed forums is unprecedented, the essay deserves careful reading.  You can choose where to read it in its entirety, according to your own preference:

“Las Manchas de una Marcha”, Cuba Encuentro, March 31, 2010

“Las Manchas de una Marcha”. UNEAC webpage, April 2, 2010

For background, you can watch this short report on the march by The Miami Herald:

Update to Travel Insurance Requirements to Enter Cuba

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Health, News and Views, travel 7 Comments »

Cuban consulates have publicized today the details about the new health insurance requirement to enter Cuba as of May 1st. I translate selectively from the e-mail text:

The policy should be purchased prior to traveling but policies will be offered at Cuba’s ports of entry as well.  Only those with valid policies for the entire duration of their stay will be allowed into the country. Valid policies are those by companies represented in Cuba by ASISTUR. Those who are residents of the United States, and travel from the U.S., will have to buy a policy prior to traveling from HAVANATUR-CELIMAR, through one of their affiliated agencies. There are three different policies with different levels of coverage and their respective cost is between 2 and 3 CUCs a day (roughly USD 3-5).

You can download the specific “tabla de beneficios” or coverage table, by clicking HERE.

You can read the original post about this new policy HERE.

La Esquina de 23 y G

By Matthew J. Reilly, Tales from the field, urban life, youth cultures 1 Comment »

© Jorge Luis Baños

By 11pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights this park is full of hundreds, and at times thousands, of young people. These are boys and girls, and men and women, whose ages range from 14 to 35 years.  They are students at university or local secondary schools, some are unemployed, some work for the state, and others work informally or illegally.  Overwhelmingly they are white or light skinned.  This is a very fluid space with all sorts of people coming and going.  It is a rendezvous point, a place where people get together before or after they go off to one of the many clubs, restaurants, or cafés that populate the area.  This is the place to meet, the place to see and be seen- it is a nocturnal youthscape.

© Jorge Luis Baños© Jorge Luis Baños

Haitian Heritage Festival in Primero de Enero (Ciego de Avila)

By Grete Viddal, Cuba Haiti, Tales from the field 2 Comments »

This festival took place last weekend (March 27-28, 2010). The following images document a “vodu” ceremony that was performed within the festival context. (Text and photographs by Grete Viddal)

Cuban houngan Tomas Pol was soon mounted by “Towo” the spirit of the bull. However, Towo receives the sacrifice of a pig. In Cuba it is illegal, and too costly, to kill a bull, as would be traditional in Haiti…

The drummers Leonardo “Lionel” Martinez and his son accompany the ceremony. They are from Caidije in Camaguey province. Lionel has been to Haiti three times!

Everyone present lights a candle which is left at the altar, along with rum, plantains, an egg, water, sweet bread, root vegetables…

Subsequently Towo rides the verraco or uncut male pig, which will be later killed and prepared under the supervision of Hatian-born Benecio (with the hat, bottom picture)


Cuba Haiti: Musical Dialogues (III). Bonito Patuá

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Grete Viddal, Cuba Haiti, Tales from the field 1 Comment »

Bonito Patuá is a folkloric ensemble devoted to the performance of Hatian traditional dances. The group was founded in 1960, it is currently based in Camagüey, and has twenty-five members. You can see a video recording of a street performance of theirs during last year’s Festival del Caribe, in Santiago, HERE. Grete Viddal photographed them last weekend (March 27-28, 2010) during the Haitian Heritage Festival held in the town of Primero de Enero, in Ciego de Avila province.


all pics © by Grete Viddal

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