Influencia: the Cultural Meaning Behind the Cuban Son

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Influencia: The cultural influence and meaning behind the Cuban son

Influencia by Carlos Puebla (1957) is an example of a Cuban son. Son is a genre of music that originated in Cuba near the end of the 19th century and is made up of many elements from different cultural groups because of Cuba’s extremely varied racial heritage. This essay will explore the political and musical history of pre-revolutionary Cuba whilst analysing the elements of this particular son and looking at the relationship between Cuba and the United States during this period. The son comes from the period before the Cuban revolution of 1959. We refer to this time as the Vieja Trova. The music of this time combined the best of African and European derived music. The European derived music was mostly Spanish influenced. After Christopher Columbus claimed the Caribbean island in the name of the Spanish Queen, Isabel I, there was a great influx of immigrants to the country. According to Peter Manuel, these immigrants “brought with them a wealth of European music” of which included Spanish operas called zarzuelas, choral and Spanish folk music (Caribbean Currents, p. 20). The European derived music could be seen amongst the guajiros or white peasant farmers of the Cuban highlands. The guajiros utilised the Spanish poetry style known as the decima and incorporated it into their musical style. Cubans of European descent put emphasis on intelligence being conveyed through words and poetry. Duels between guajiros, known as controversias, were fought with words where men improvised poetry and whoever could convey a message in the best way was deemed the winner (Peter Manuel, Carribean Currents, pg. 30). From the guajiro tradition, the son took the importance of lyrics and so great emphasis is placed on creating lyrics that convey the emotions and messages that the artist feels need to be conveyed and through these lyrics, the artist’s intelligence is noted.

Afro-Caribbean music had a huge role in shaping the Cuban son music. African slaves were brought to Cuba as slaves from as early as the 16th century to work in the sugar, cocoa, and tobacco plantations (Murry, Statistics of the Slave Trade to Cuba, p. 131). The African slaves came from 2 main groups, the Yoruba slaves from Nigeria and the Congo slaves. Because of the Cedula Real, which gave slaves the right to buy back their freedom (afrocubaweb, 2011), it was relatively easy for the slaves of Cuba to be liberated and this gave them greater freedom to practice their own African culture, traditions and customs (Manuel, Caribbean Currents, p. 20). After the Haiti revolution of 1804, Cuba became the main exporter of sugar cane, a role that was previously filled by Haiti, and more slaves were brought to Cuba to fill the demand for labour. This meant that the African culture was constantly being refreshed with the cultures and traditions brought by new slaves to Cuba (Manuel, Caribbean Currents. p. 20). The Congo slaves were most influential in the development of Cuban music because it is from them that the rumba developed. The rumba, which has grass-root origins in Cuba, developed after the abolition of slavery in 1886 when poor Africans moved from plantations to city slums. It uses African derived instruments such as claves and congas to create a complex beat and group participation in creating music, dancing, and singing is especially important as with all Afro-Caribbean music (Manuel, Caribbean Currents, p. 24-26) . The African Cubans, in contrast to the European Cubans who believe that intelligence was conveyed through words, believed that intelligence was conveyed through movement and dance; intelligence is the ability to have complete control over your body and so the rumba is a dance that portrays a conversation between people. However, the due to proximity of men and women while dancing, the rumba dance was seen as vulgar by the non-African population of Cuba and so remained in the underground of...
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