Afrocubanismo was an early 20th-century Cuban aesthetic movement that focused on the recognition, assimilation, and validation of the African cultural features present in Cuban society.
The new ethos found musical expression in a seminal group of composers whose works reflected neonationalistic musical concerns that emphasized the manipulation of timbral and rhythmic elements in a modern harmonic vocabulary. These experiments marked a significant juncture in the evolution of the Cuban concert repertoire, forging the representation of race and class at the intersection of art/popular and rural/urban music dichotomies and establishing a discursive site for the negotiation of national identities.
Ultimately, afrocubanismo provided a transition from nationalism to cosmopolitanism in Cuban concert music, and mediated between ethnicity and social class to articulate a Cuban national musical identity founded on the hybridity of African and Iberian-derived cultures.
This according to “The rhythmic component of afrocubanismo in the art music of Cuba” by Mario Rey (Black music research journal XXVI/2 [fall 2006] pp. 181–212).
Above, Wilfredo Lam’s La jungla, a celebrated example of afrocubanismo in painting; below, excerpts from Almadeo Roldán’s Ritmicas, one of the works discussed in the article.
The Afro-Cuban music and dance genre rumba has historically been considered una cosa de negros (a black thing) and reviled due to racialized stereotypes that link the practice with el bajo mundo (the low life), excessive alcohol use, and violence. Nevertheless, the socialist government has sought to elevate rumba’s status during the past half century as part of a larger goal of foregrounding and valorizing the African contributions to Cuban identity and culture.
Rumba is the most significant and popular black-identified tradition in Cuba; in addition to its association with blackness, it is often portrayed as a particularly potent symbol of the masses and working-class identity, another reason why the government has aimed to harness rumba to its cultural nationalist discourse.
Despite the discursive valorization of the practice found in much Cuban scholarship and political rhetoric, rumba continues to be identified with a particular and marginalized sector of the population. In many ways, the complex situation of rumba performance conforms to the more general trend of contemporary racial politics on the island.
This according to “National symbol or ‘a black thing’? Rumba and racial politics in Cuba in the era of cultural tourism” by Rebecca Bodenheimer (Black music research journal XXXIII/2 [fall 2013] pp. 177–205). This issue of Black music research journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Above and below, street performances of rumba.
Instrumentos de la música folclórico-popular de Cuba: Atlas provides a definitive overview of traditional instruments in Cuba, including discussions of their history, construction, musical characteristics, function in society, historical dissemination, and performance practice.
The accompanying atlas shows the numeric dissemination by county for every traditional instrument played in Cuba on geographical maps of the island. The set was issued by the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana (CIDMUC).
Above, two of the atlas’s pages (click to enlarge); below, a Cuban group that features an unusual instrument—a leaf between the guitarist’s lips!