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Ultimate Chivichana – Cuba on Red Bull wheels!

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Consumption & material culture, Cultural production, News and Views, Sport, traditions and folklore, youth cultures 2 Comments »

Since 2004, Red Bull has been sponsoring in Cuba ultimate sports on wheels. They first built a skating park in the Parque Almendares, with ramps for skate boarding, and this year they have taken to convert a quintessential guajiro activity into an ultimate sport, what we might call “Ultimate Chivichana”!  A Chivichana competition just took place the day before yesterday in Playas del Este, and some pics were sent via cable to various papers [thanks AA].

Red Bull, as you know, is an Austrian maker of power drinks, whose marketing strategy revolves around the sponsorship of ultimate sports. Here’s their Cuba promo:

And here is a video of a June 2010 Chivichana competition that took place in Paseo de Cojímar, in Havana. Watch the home-made board devices because you will soon see them in museums. The chivichanas are going to go the way of the surf boards, new materials, new designs… can’t wait!

For comparison purposes, you might want to watch Cuban filmmaker Waldo Ramírez‘s documentary La Chivichana on the use of this “thing” as a mode of transportation in Oriente. The video won a Coral award in 2000.

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.

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.

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

Oyotunji African Village, 1970-2010

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, greater Cuba, Religion 5 Comments »

Oyotunji African village is turning forty. At the height of the Pan-Africanist movement, Oyotunji was established as a kingdom in 27 acres of South Carolina soil to honor Yoruba traditions.

Oba Ernesto Pichardo has shared with us a historical picture of Oyotunji, In 1978, he initiated a series of trips to the village which culminated in a 1984 ceremony in which the land and the temple were consecrated to Babalú Ayé, an Orisha that was not present  in the village before.

See below an image documenting that first tambor to Babalú Ayé (with Oba Pichardo singing and Oyotunji’s King dancing).

Later in the 1990s, anthropologist Kamari Clarke, then a graduate student at UC-Santa Cruz (now a professor at Yale’s Dept. of Anthropology), conducted ethnographic research there for her doctoral dissertation. Her resulting book, Mapping Yoruba Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities, was published by Duke University Press in 2004.

For a review of recent writings on Yoruba revivalism, you can download here on .pdf Kenneth Routon’s 2006 essay “Trance-Nationalism: Religious Imaginaries in the Black Atlantic” (Journal Identites 13, pp. 1-20).  The article includes a review of Kamari Clarke’s book, as well as James Lorand Matory’s Black Atlantic Religion, and Christine Ayorinde’s Afro-Cuban Religiosity.

© Ernesto Pichardo 1984

Twenty-two PhD Dissertations on Cuba in 2009

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, dissertations 5 Comments »

There were twenty-two PhD dissertations focused on Cuban matters, deposited in American universities during 2009, all in the humanities and social sciences. The three first are ethnographic and I include their abstract.

1.The nocturnal negotiations of youth spaces in Havana by Reilly, Matthew J., Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009, 300 p. Based upon ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Havana, this dissertation explores the linkages between youth and public space. This project focused on a thirteen-block area of Calle G, Cuba is clearly reflected in the discourse of these young people and the identity politics they engage in. Youth are creating their own social space outside of the sphere of state regulation and influence, and this venue provides Cuban youth with a space to explore and create their own identities in relation to local as well as transnational cultural flows. This public space serves as a venue in which to display the various lifestyles of Cuban youth, lifestyles that are often predicated on access to hard currency.  Furthermore this project addresses the role of urban culture through both music and fashion in the evolution of youth subcultures.  Havana’s youth, through their nocturnal negotiations, their play and their imagination, have transformed the abstract space of Calle G into a collectively-created alternative social space. Therefore they are claiming their spatial rights, their rights to be in public and be a public, and thus their right to the city.

2. Becoming Santeria: A transnational study of cultural politics, media and religion in Cuba and the United States by Beliso-De Jesus, Aisha Mahina, Ph.D., Stanford University, 2009, 289 p. This dissertation examines the cultural processes by which Santeria religious practices are reinvented, circulated and transformed through contingent transnational processes, travel, tourism, consumption and religious media. I write about first, how shifting local and transnational politico-historical contexts shape the positioning and cultural politics of Santeria practices in specific ethnographic dynamics; second, how Santeria practitioners from diverse social historic locations reconceive ideas on religion, diaspora, citizenship, race and sexuality as they negotiate with everyday practices, rituals, travel, and laws in transnational communities. This ethnography is based on 24 months of participant observation, interviews, and archival research–carried out from 2004 to 2007–with Cuban and U.S. Santeria practitioners, Cuban government officials, religious tourists, Cuban and U.S. religious associations and churches in Havana and Matanzas, Cuba and New York, Miami and the San Francisco Bay Area. I studied the everyday interactions between Cuban and “foreign” Santeria practitioners in Cuba. I traced the trajectory of legal and illegal U.S. religious tourists in Cuba before, during and after travel and examined how practitioners move and indeed transform religious and national boundaries, forging ties, creating new hierarchies and negotiating knowledges within these translocal communities. Furthermore, I examined the recording, circulation and viewing of rituals and religious media between the United States and Cuba as actively imagining multiple diasporas and homelands simultaneously through translocal communities. By examining the simultaneous re-imagining of multiple diasporas and homelands, that is, how the United States, Cuba and Africa are linked and interrelated, this ethnography emphasizes the hetereogeneity and fluidity of Santeria practices.

3. “Donde nace lo cubano”: Aesthetics, nationalist sentiment, and Cuban music making by Hope, William M., Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009, 317 p. This project is a comprehensive cultural analysis of Cuban Son and Punto Guajiro performance, situated within Cuban cultural nationalisms and the Cuban Revolution. This dissertation seeks to understand the interrelationships between aesthetics, music making, and processes of cubanidad, understood as an aesthetic disposition; one linked through the social practice of music making to a range of ethical and political orientations . The focus on music making provides a window into the struggles of and within Cuban cultural nationalist projects; the social revolutionary process of the last 50 years as manifested in the changing relations between artists and the revolutionary Cuban state evidenced in socialist cultural policies; and the shifting role of the market in shaping the opportunities and constraints of Cuban musicians on the world stage and at home. This dissertation provides ethnographic specificity on the racialized, gendered, and classed dynamics of contemporary expressive cultural practices of Cuban Son and Punto Guajiro through the examination of a group of Guantanamero musicians, their familial and community contexts, and the manners in which they are positioned within national and transnational discursive fields of artistic production. I argue that it is within each performative manifestation that such musicians give embodied substance to processes of cubanidad.

4. The fruits of citizenship: African Americans, military service, and the cause of Cuba libre, 1868–1920 by Charleston, Sherri Ann, Ph.D., University of Michigan, 2009, 356p

5 .The desired revolution and the New Man: Assembling and negotiating cultural and intellectual practices in Revolutionary Cuba by Porben, Pedro P., Ph.D., University of Michigan, 2009, 428p

6.The circulation of transatlantic ideas and people in Cuban slave society, 1791-1844 by Paul, Eric A., Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2009, 206p

7. Reading revolution: Politics in the U.S.-Cuban cultural imagination, 1930–1970 by Gronbeck-Tedesco, John A., Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin, 2009, 430p

8. Tension under the sun: Tourism and identity in Cuba, 1945-2007 by Gustavsen, John Andrew, Ph.D., University of Miami, 2009, 382p

9.The cartooned revolution: Images and the revolutionary citizen in Cuba, 1959-1963 by Someillan, Yamile Regalado, Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park, 2009, 421p

10 Not blacks, but citizens. Racial politics in revolutionary Cuba, 1959–1961 by Benson, Devyn Spence, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009, 229p

11. Leading the life of a Modern Girl: Representations of womanhood in Cuban popular culture, 1919–1929 by Lotz, Lizabeth M., Ph.D., The University of North Carolina, 2009, 222p

12. Let there be candy for everyone: The politics of sugar in Cuba, 1902–1952 by Speck, Mary Elizabeth, Ph.D., Stanford University, 2009, 427p

13. Eduardo Chibas: The incorrigible man of Cuban politics by Ehrlich, Ilan, Ph.D., City University of New York, 2009, 508p

14. El nuevo escritor caribeno y su puesto en la narrativa latinoamericana contemporanea: A proposito de tres antologias del cuento reciente by DeJesus Rivera, Albert, Ph.D., University of Houston, 2009, 283p

15. Hombre nuevo en nueva tierra: The aspirations of recently arrived Cuban immigrant adolescents by Alvarez, Maria, Ph.D., The University of Iowa, 2009, 299p

16.Citizenship, religion and revolution in Cuba by Watson, Carolyn E., Ph.D., The University of New Mexico, 2009, 303p

17. Cuban-American women’s anglophone novels of the 1990s by Ignizio, Graham, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009, 183p

18.Cultural maps, networks and flows: The history and impact of the Havana Biennale 1984 to the present by Rojas-Sotelo, Miguel Leonardo, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2009, 563 p

19. Detective novel in Puerto Rico and Cuba: The cases of Wilfredo Mattos Cintron and Leonardo Padura Fuentes by Ramos Collazo, Jose Antonio, Ph.D., University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, 2009, 343p

20. (Dis)enchanted writings: The poetics of ruins in Cuban contemporary narrative by Gomez, Ivette Miriam, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine, 2009, 202p

21.A contraluz: Politica cultural de la revolucion cubana by Aviles-Quinones, Alicia, Ph.D., Tulane University, 2009, 309p

22.Arte abstracto e ideologias esteticas en Cuba by Menendez-Conde, Ernesto, Ph.D., Duke University, 2009, 299p

In addition, there was one thesis for the qualification of Doctor of Music Arts:

Leo Brouwer’s “Estudios Sencillos” for guitar: Afro-Cuban elements and pedagogical devices by Castilla Penaranda, Carlos Isaac, D.M.A., The University of Southern Mississippi, 2009, 105 p.

El Reggaeton Cubano (or Cubatón): Kola Loka

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, music 5 Comments »

Reggaeton is not just “urban music” (as now hybrids are called). In Cuba it’s also rural music. It has been around in Oriente for about fifteen years, partly thanks to the dancehall and merengue radio stations of Jamaica and Dominican Republic respectively. I remember when Candyman (from Santiago) played in Havana in the late 1990s for a public made out of Palestino immigrants.

One of my favorite contemporary groups is Cola Loca, a group originally from Santiago and Guántanamo.  They are natural-born guajiros (and cultivate the guajiro look). In improv controversias (over a reggaeton beat) they are invincible. Watch  HERE a reggaeton controversia, where Kola Loka’s Robinson comes up with a rhyming commentary on the rationing card regimen: “Esta es la ley de la nueva libreta / El que coge azúcar blanca / no coge azúcar prieta…. Esta es la ley de la nueva libreta / el que coge leche en polvo no coge la de dieta…”  Their lyrics tell stories and make fun of daily life. Those looking for the sophisticated polirhythm and chord progressions of timba music will not find it here, yet there are elements of son and changüí to be found in some of the tracks. (Debbie Pacini tells me that there are also background bachata guitar-based sonorities)

Below see videoclips for two of their recent hits. One depicts a generational clash, in a rural area of Oriente, between a conservative machete-bearing guajiro father and his teenage daughter (which ends up with the father “converting” to the new rhythm). The other one, La Estafa del Babalawo, mocks the commercialization of santeria and the babalawos who try to take advantage of their ahijados by charging outrageous sums (in kind) for their services. (sorry no subtitles)

NO ME DA MI GANA AMERICANA (I don’t feel like it)

LA ESTAFA DEL BABALAWO (The Babalawo’ Scam)

* For more on reggaeton, see the edited volume by Rivera, Marshall and Pacini Hernandez, Reggaeton (Duke University Press 2009). It includes a piece on reggaeton in Cuba by Geoff Baker, an ethnomusicologist at the University of London.

Music Bridges to Cuba: Calle 13, reggaeton con clave

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, music 12 Comments »

Next Tuesday, the Puerto Rican band Calle 13 will be in Havana playing at the Tribuna Anti-Imperialista. They are often branded as reggaeton, but many of their tracks are a sort of ecclectic mix of styles that at times reminds of Manu Chao and other Latin hybrids. Although they follow on the footsteps of Juanes and other pop and rock bands that have gone to Cuba in recent times as part of a “music bridges” trend, the visits by Puerto Rican musicians have normally considered “something else” (de un pajaro dos alas, etc). Most notably, Fania All-Stars played there in 1979 as part of the famous Havana Jam (facilitated by the thaw of  the Carter administration). Then, however, Cuban youth were said to be more interested in Billy Joel and the Weather Report (also part of the festival) than in salsa, according to the New York Times

More recently, Cheo Feliciano played in Varadero (in 1997), and a project called De Aqui P’Allá and De Allá P’Acá attempted a musical exchange between the two “wings of the bird”  But I don’t recall anything as massive as what a Tribuna Anti-Imperialist concert promises to be; a type of super concert that has been mostly hijacked by Anglo-American rock and pop (and Juanes), genres that have come to enjoy a respectability in Cuba that Latin genres like reggaeton are still far from getting.

Today the “heavy” type of reggaeton is tremendously popular in Cuba, much to the dismay of the cultural authorities. In fact, prejudice against reggaeton runs high, not only in Cuba, among the bien pensante educated middle class but also in exile. Calle 13’s trip, while not provoking the massive opposition that Juanes did, has been criticized in exiled circles, particularly after the duo showed on national Spanish language TV their ignorance of the plight of Cuba’s political prisoners. Comments in blogs have put down reggaeton musicians (as Calle 13 are often considered as such) as ignorant, and mocked the music as a genre for the uneducated masses, in a way that is reminding of what  timba and, before, rumba, had to contend with. In Cuba, furthermore, reggaeton is often critiqued by the cultural intelligentsia as a commercial import that has nothing to do with the island’s musical heritage (son).

The fantastic documentary La Clave (2009) is built around the opposite thesis: that reggaeton (at least its Puerto Rican variant) is a direct product of salsa music, with its sophisticated clave and arrangements. A whole generation of reguetoneros -who are musicians of the new digital generation- are paying tribute to their salsero forebears, who are happy to collaborate with them, both in concert and in recordings. HERE is a segment of La Clave worth watching, with Andy Montañez and others showing the many points of encounter between reggaeton, bomba, and salsa.

Calle 13 come from the ecclectic Puerto Rican reggaeton tradition depicted in La Clave (they call it “urban music”). Not only they work, in most songs, over a clave base, but they also feature social and political lyrics very much like those in 1970s salsa. They call for pan-American solidarity, chronicle the plight of migrants, and highlight life in the barrio as their primary source of identity. The have recorded with a variety of Latin American musicians, including Rubén Blades, who they have branded as their maestro (see the video clip for their Grammy winning La Perla, which pays homage to the great Puerto Rican singer Ismael “Maelo” Rivera, who used to sing his “Guaguancó para La Perla”).

This is a video clip, corresponding to their 2007 song about Latin American migration to El Norte, which they performed at that year’s Grammy awards along with the Cuban group Orishas. The video clip is an anti-imperialist manifesto with an “anthropological” look. It also features a sort of pan-American geography that cuts from the Altiplano Boliviano to the US/Mexico Border without a pause. (I would call it “a post-modern geographical pastiche”)

About Amistad, Academia and U.S. Cuban travel policies

academic exchanges, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Licensing & visas, News and Views, Opinion, travel 4 Comments »

ENCASA‘s Ruben Rumbaut informs us of their involvement with the Amistad Project: The Amistad slave ship replica is on its way to Cuba. With permission from both the Cuban and the U.S. governments, it will dock in Matanzas on the 22nd to visit the Slavery Museum there, then sail to Havana for the celebration of the U.N.’s Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The ship will stay in Havana for a week. Here is the  LINK to the press release.

This past week has been momentous in terms of support for increased cultural and academic exchanges with Cuba. An opinion piece that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education a few days ago argued for a modification in U.S. Cuban policy to allow for lifting restrictions (severely worsened by the Bush administration), so that U.S. academics can conduct research in Cuba without U.S. government interference. On the other side of the academic aisle, so to speak, others have argued that without a political opening in Cuba, these pro-travel academics are only playing into Cuba’s window dressing game, for real research is impossible while the Cuban government does not allow U.S. scholars’ unrestricted access to research sites. Their position is that to press for academic exchanges in the U.S. without simultaneously demanding change in Cuba is hypocritical. Our CUNY colleague and El Yuma blogger Ted Henken has taken issue with this counter argument (made mostly by, in turn, a colleague of his, economist Jorge Sanguinetty). According to Ted Henken, it is possible to do real research in Cuba even if one does not have proper research authorization from the Cuban government. Furthermore, some research is better than no research, and students will still benefit from the opportunity.

While I agree with Ted and with the spirit of the Chronicle’s letter on the need for a radical change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, I would also like a situation in which research would be facilitated also on the Cuban end. A tourist visa is not enough. Not all research projects are created equal. Some of them are impossible to carry out without explicit on-site permission and facilitation (I am aware that this is not unique to Cuba; there are plenty of research arenas in the United States that are off limits to foreign, and at times also native, scholars).  To wit: Without a proper research affiliation in Cuba, there are archives, survey populations and marine reefs, among many other possibilities, that are off limits.  While some might be able to carry out their investigation without any extravagant need for additional support and collaboration (say someone conducting research on Cuban street slang), others (say someone wishing to study the garbage disposal system and its ecological impact) might have a harder time with only a tourist visa and no institutional support. Furthermore, ethnographic research (which is after all the inspiration for this blog project) requires a lengthy stay. I am of the old fashioned opinion that proper ethnographic fieldwork cannot be bypassed and substituted by a few short trips; much less if such research is the basis of a dissertation-type project.  Since the opening of academic relations in the 1990s,  such research has typically been conducted under a student visa; which by its very definition is not fit for a post-graduate scholar. And only very exceptionally have post-graduate scholars been able to obtain a research visa: the process is long and cumbersome, to say the least. Their alternative has been, precisely, short trips as tourists; trips that in a couple of unfortunate cases had no happy ending precisely because the person overstepped the boundaries set by the tourist visa.

Henken seems to be advocating complete freedom of research, and I do agree in principle with that position, but in a world of international states and borders it is unfortunately a utopia.  In the end it comes down to whether the ends justify the means. For as long as a specific research or student visa is required by the Cuban government as a prerequisite to conduct bona fide academic research on the island, as responsible university professors we cannot advocate the breaking of that country’s laws.  I, for one, would very much like to see U.S. roadblocks disappear, and subsequently, I would also like to see the parallel Cuban bureaucratic process  eased.  Let’s hope that the Amistad journey will stand as a symbol not only of the past but also of the future.

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