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New book: Carlos Aldama’s Life in Batá by Umi Vaughan and Carlos Aldama, Indiana University Press

History, music, new book, Religion, traditions and folklore No Comments »
UPDATE: It is a pleasure to announce that Carlos Aldama’s Life in Batá: Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum, by anthropologist Umi Vaughan and Carlos Aldama, is now available from Indiana University Press, in both paper and hardback.  It seems that there may also be a significant discount available, so in a nice change, this may actually be affordable!  As always, please feel free to send comments and reviews, and congratulations to Umi!

From the publisher’s description:

Batá identifies both the two-headed, hourglass-shaped drum of the Yoruba people and the culture and style of drumming, singing, and dancing associated with it. This book recounts the life story of Carlos Aldama, one of the masters of the batá drum, and through that story traces the history of batá culture as it traveled from Africa to Cuba and then to the United States. For the enslaved Yoruba, batá rhythms helped sustain the religious and cultural practices of a people that had been torn from its roots. Aldama, as guardian of Afro-Cuban music and as a Santería priest, maintains the link with this tradition forged through his mentor Jesus Pérez (Oba Ilu), who was himself the connection to the preserved oral heritage of the older generation. By sharing his stories, Aldama and his student Umi Vaughan bring to light the techniques and principles of batá in all its aspects and document the tensions of maintaining a tradition between generations and worlds, old and new. The book includes rare photographs and access to downloadable audio tracks.


Chronicles of New York City Rumba (I)

By Berta Jottar, greater Cuba, music, traditions and folklore 10 Comments »

With this chronicle, EthnoCuba begins a new section, at the care of Berta Jottar, PhD

NYC: Sunday, February 13, 2011; 38 degrees, mostly cloudy.

Rumba is an Afro-Cuban performance culture characterized by its percussive music, dance and song; its main stylistic forms are the Columbia, the Yambú and the Guaguancó. Outside its native Cuba, New York City’s international metropolitan area is rumba’s second home with at least three rumbas open to the public every weekend.

This week, the rumba route begins on Friday, February 11th, at El Fogón Center for the Arts (point A on the map below); an alternative cultural center in the Bronx.

El Fogón’s rumba is ran by “Pupi” Felix Insua, former member of the mythical Cuban ensemble Yoruba Andabo, and current director of Oriki Omi Oddara. At El Fogón Victorian’ style room, the rumba has an international flair and is accompanied by good wine and friendly patrons. It is always a pleasure to see Pupi perform: he distills knowledge at both the kinesthetic and lyrical levels. El Fogón’s is not an open rumba, (a rumba where the amateur musician can seat and play the drum) but a rumba cerrá, a closed rumba where only those privileged musicians who know the rules of rumba and know that si no sabes, no te metas are allowed to participate. In Pupi’s rumba, you can hear the latest trends in rumba warapachanguera –the latest Havana style, both interpreted the Cuban way and recreated in pan Afro-Latino terms.

The Insua family, Pupi and his virtuoso songs (Stanley and Steve), share El Fogón’s stage mano a mano with local young New York City virtuosos, members of professional groups, like Caja Dura and Ilu Ayé, who are fluent not only in rumba, but in bomba and palo as well. Two new voices stand out: Yomara and Yadel; both young women who master the rumba columbia, the countryside style of Congo origin, rarely sung by women.

On Fridays, El Fogón becomes a rumba lab for hard-core rumber@s as well as for those wanting to learn. You know you are at a great rumba when you see Pupi tirar un pie… See the video below:

On Saturday, we continue our rumba journey to La Esquina Habanera in Union City, New Jersey (see point C on the map). Inaugurated by Tony Sequeira, a rafter who arrived to Union City with a vision and “plantó”; La Esquina is the corner where Afro-Cuban culture from both sides of the river meets. Read the rest of this entry »

Honoring San Lázaro in Santiago

By Grete Viddal, Religion, traditions and folklore 2 Comments »

Every year on December 17th, Saint Lazarus’ feast day, drums, or sometimes violins, can be heard throughout the evening in many neighborhoods in Santiago de Cuba as ceremonies (referred to as “bembés”) are held to honor this saint. San Lázaro’s statue is dressed with decorative cloth and offerings of foods, flowers, candles, and cigars are placed at his feet. Violin music is considered “sweet” and pleasing to him. San Lázaro protects devotees against disease and misfortune. This photo was taken in 2008 at the home of an espiritista (Spiritist) of Haitian descent. She held a combined feast for San Lázaro and Santa Bárbara. The violinists are a father and daughter.

In Santiago, the connection between San Lázaro and his Regla de Ocha/Santería counterpart Babalu Ayé is not emphasized. For example there was no mention of Babalu Ayé during the Vodu-inflected Spiritist ritual where I took this picture.

In 2008-2009, I lived for ten months in the home of a Santiagueran santera, a scholarly person who was very familiar with varied manifestations of Cuban religion. She prepared a large ceremony to add San Lázaro to her spiritual pantheon. Those officiating remarked that this ritual was “new” in eastern Cuba and more typically associated with Havana. In fact, some of the objects necessary for the event were brought from Havana, as they were difficult to obtain in Santiago, specifically the cazuelas or clay pots needed to house San Lázaro’s spiritually charged items, called fundamentos. Babalu Ayé was not emphasized during this ceremony either; participants referred to the ritual as “receiving San Lázaro.”  In Santiago, eastern Cuba, Santa Bárbara and her Santería counterpart Shangó are clearly connected, but San Lazaro’s link with Babalu Ayé appears to be less established.

Santa Barbara Day

By Grete Viddal, Religion, traditions and folklore 8 Comments »

In Santiago de Cuba, Santa Bárbara (December 4th) is honored with a procession that begins at the casa templo of the spiritual family of Reyneiro Pérez, prominent local practitioners of Regla de Ocha/Santeria, in the Los Olmos neighborhood, and proceeds through the city’s narrow streets to the central plaza, called Parque Céspedes.. Dressed in her signature colors, crowned, and grasping a sword, Santa Bárbara is carried on a palanquin. As the procession passes, people gather on their stoops and balconies to watch and throw perfumed water on the statue. If they can afford it, they drink white wine and toast each other. Everyone dresses up, preferably in red and white, because these colors are sacred to Shangó, the Santería deity associated with Saint Barbara.

Santiago de Cuba, Santa Barbara Procession, Dec. 3, 2008 (all pics by Grete Viddal)

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.

More on the Cuban Cacique Who Made the Headlines

art, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, traditions and folklore 1 Comment »

A few days ago, we mentioned the visit of an Indian cacique from Guantanamo to Camaguey, as reported by a local Cuban newspaper and reproduced by El Lugareño’s blog. The visit was part of an art exhibit entitled The Artist Magicians that brought together Cuban and Canadian artists (specifically, Vancouver native James K-M), as part of a project called “The Cuba Project.”  The Cuba Project has just posted several videos from the opening, including footage of a tobacco ritual (supposedly an ancestral practice) led by Panchito, the aforementioned cacique.

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