January 31, 2009

Cuban music again

I confess and lament my cluelessness about Cuban music, and I've been working at repairing the historical part of the deficiency by a careful reading of Ned Sublette's Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo. It's a wonderful book on many counts, not least for its careful weaving of history (political, economic, ethnic) with musical disquisition. I (like most Americans) knew very little of Cuba's history and woes, and little of the importance of Cuban musical ideas in American popular music --some names, but not much of the profound entanglements that are context for the last 50 years (which are not covered in Sublette's book). I can't recommend the book highly enough, though I do wish (on practically every page) that recorded snippets were available to illustrate the text. Some bits can be imagined, thanks to Sublette's felicitous prose:

The intensity of Pérez Prado's music came not only from its dissonance but from its rhythmic tension, the clarity of his writing, the physical impact of its brilliant, forceful timbre, the discipline of the ensemble, and the leader's sense of humor. The breaks in Pérez Prado's tunes were typically silences, punctuated by his sonic signature: a head-resonated grunt that some have romanticized as Ungh! and that sounded rather like someone undergoing a prostate exam. And then the trumpets assaulted again, as if to say: this is serious. (pg. 559)

Posted by oook at January 31, 2009 06:50 PM