The tonada trinitaria is an Afro-Cuban musical genre native to the town of Trinidad de Cuba.
The city became one of the Caribbean’s foremost sugar exporters in the early 19th century, and thousands of African slaves were brought to work in the neighboring Valle de los Ingenios. It was here that the local musical practices of African slaves, their descendants, and white peasants meshed, producing an environment conducive to the creation of creole musical forms, of which the tonada trinitaria is a prime example.
The tradition took shape among the Black urban population following the collapse of the city’s sugar-based economy in the late 1840s. The first tonada groups appeared during the first war of Cuban independence (1868–78), propagated by musicians of the Cabildo de San Antonio de Congos Reales. a cultural and religious center of Bantu-derived Christian traditions.
The tonada groups consist of a chorus, a lead singer, three small drums, a güiro (gourd-scraper), and a hoe blade struck with an iron beater. The guía, or lead singer, begins by introducing the tonada (a two-to-four-line text). The percussion joins in, providing a steady rhythmic accompaniment, followed by the chorus, which repeats the tonada. In call-and-response style, the guía improvises his text based on the theme of the tonada. These themes include love, social commentary, patriotism, and puyas, which poke fun at a certain person or situation.
The tonada groups represented certain barrios (marginal neighborhoods) and performed during all-night transits through the city streets, stopping to give serenades at homes or meet with each other in competition. The tradition evolved as new generations took over and elders retired.
This according to History and evolution of the tonadas trinitarias of Trinidad de Cuba by Johnny Frías (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2010; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2010-50525).
Bachata, a genre originating in the Dominican Republic, can be considered music of both political and social resistance. From the direct connection between the inception of the genre and the death of the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo to the initial marginalization of the genre by the socially elite—as well as bachata’s relationship with nueva canción, a left-wing political movement—both the origins and rise to popularity of bachata are linked to political and social conflicts.
Today bachata’s wide popularity sets it apart from its humble roots and resistant nature; however, many songs with a strong social message suggest that bachata was and still is a music of the people, and a number of recent novels and films use the genre to portray social messages and to connect the music with the Dominican people.
This according to “Insolent origins and contemporary dilemmas: The bachata genre as a vehicle for social commentary, past and present” by Patricia Reagan, an essay included in Sounds of resistance: The role of music in multicultural activism (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2013, pp. 373–95).
Above, Juan Luís Guerra, whose 1991 album Bachata rosa (below) was particularly influential in changing the reception of bachata.
In most genres of Caribbean music women tend to participate as dancers or vocalists, but in Dominican merengue típico they are more often instrumentalists and even bandleaders—something nearly unheard of in the macho Caribbean music scene.
In a complex nexus of class, race, and artistic tradition that unsettles the typical binary between the masculine and feminine, female musicians have developed a feminine counterpart to the classic male figure of the tíguere, a dandified but sexually aggressive and street-smart tiger: the tíguera, an assertive, sensual, and respected female figure who looks like a woman but often plays and even sings like a man. These musical figures illuminate the rich ambiguities in gender construction in the Dominican Republic and the long history of a unique form of Caribbean feminism.
This according to Tigers of a different stripe: Performing gender in Dominican music by Sydney Hutchinson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
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