Emancipation Festivals

Cuba: Celebration of Anglo Caribbean Emancipation Day

Ciego de Avila, Cuba, Aug 1 (Prensa Latina) The immigrants and descendants of the Anglo-speaking islands, residing in this central province of Cuba, are celebrating the day of emancipation from the slavery of the English colonies.

Since early hours the sounds of drums, bongoes and congas united to the rhythm of the calypso have been greeting those arriving in the community called Jamaica Town, in the municipality of Baraguá.

It is one of the most populous neighbourhoods in the country, where immigrants cohabit and are descendants of almost all the English-speaking islands of the region.

The musical-dance group La Cinta is the center of these celebrations that developed starting in 1917 and have become the most representative of Caribbean culture with roots in Cuba.

Founded on September 20, 1975, the group presents dances and songs characteristic of Jamaican folklore, fused with Cuban rhythms, as in the introduction to the famous song Guantanamera.

The traditional show will begin with games like cricket, tug of war, the stick and the Mock Man or Muñecón.

The celebration began with a parade, headed by the Donkey, a dancer dressed up as a burro, giving a distinctive touch to these Caribbean dances.

The narrow streets of the town filled with people who also make the festivity theirs.

During the day they eat typical foods, elaborated by the members of the community, ranging from the bread with lemonade, the wine of the soril flower, rice with coconut, fish with sauce, flour with okra, Black Cake and coconut bread.

The parties of August 1 have become one of the most genuine representations in the culture, customs and language of the Jamaican community residing in Cuba.

In 1833, slavery was abolished in all the colonies of the United Kingdom, for what is now a day of joy for the community of immigrants of the English-speaking Caribbean islands in Cuba.

For original post: Prensa Latina News Agency – Cuba: Celebration of Anglo Caribbean Emancipation Day.


Cuba: Caribbean Festival of Fire Closes With Devil Burning Ceremony

Santiago de Cuba, Jul 10 (Prensa Latina):  A flood of people danced the conga down to Puerto Santiago to watch the traditional Burning of the Devil ceremony, closing the activities of the 32nd Caribbean Festival.

On the final day, the artist Alberto Lescay and the high priest of the Regla Palo Monte in this eastern Cuban city presented the Mpaka “symbol of the holiday” to the Deputy Minister of Culture for Colombia, Maria Claudia Lopez, and the Ambassador of that South American nation in Cuba, Gustavo Bell.

In this way, the small island of Martinique, guest of honor for the holiday, passed the guest baton to the culture of Colombia’s Caribbean, motherland of the vallenato and the famous Barranquilla Carnival.

After the customary blessing of the Santiago people, the jubilant procession began to close the Festival of Fire, which is just as colorful and spiritually generous as the popular Parade of the Snake, which happened just a few days ago.

From the Plaza de Martes to the sea, various groups danced the conga, demonstrating traditional culture of the Greater Caribbean.

Foreign delegations, including countries such as Argentina and Uruguay, contributed their own music, dances and costumes, displaying the diversity of identity in this region.

The Conga de los Hoyos, the most acclaimed in this city, brought a virtual sea of people dancing down the central street of Enramada toward the sea.

There, a giant woven stick figure metaphorically representing the Devil at this bacchanal, was cremated, exorcising evil spirits and thus, ensuring well-being until next year.

For original report: Caribbean Festival of Fire Closes

Music Religion

Cuban Music Still Thriving, Still Unheard in U.S.

The following interview, initially published in New America Media and reproduced in Repeating Islands, presents some insights into the popular music culture of Cuba.

From charanga to son to timba, Cuba has long been a country world-renowned for its distinct musical styles and traditions. Nevertheless, people inside the United States – even the most ardent music lovers — aren’t likely to become aware of the newest Cuban artists or to hear the latest musical trends, short of paying an actual visit to the island. Greg Landau is a producer, musician and educator from the Bay Area who’s traveled to Cuba more than 30 times. New America Media editor Jacob Simas sat down with Landau in his Alameda recording studio, where they spoke about Cuban music — where it’s been, where it is now, and what it can tell us about the psychology of the people and the state of affairs on the island today.  To hear an audio version of this interview with music excerpts, click here.
Jacob Simas: You recently came back from Cuba with a stack of CD’s — new music by Cuban artists that are unavailable commercially here in the United States. What struck you about the music that is perhaps different from where Cuban music has been in the past?
Greg Landau: Well, Cuba has a long history of music and a really rich tradition that combines a lot of different elements, and what I’ve seen in every trip is how the music evolves, and how each generation takes elements that they’ve inherited and makes them into a new blend. So the process continues, and a lot of [today’s] groups are innovating, using [traditional] elements, but also the things they hear from outside the country. So you hear reggaeton, hip-hop, cumbia, roots reggae and heavy metal — all these things that are popular outside of Cuba, being interpreted by Cubans in their own way.
But what’s amazing is the level of virtuosity. Because people are able to study and gain that virtuosity because they’re playing all the time, they have time to rehearse, and they’re getting schooled in music schools.
JS: Are young people and elders today in Cuba listening to completely different types of music, or is there a shared appreciation?
GL: The music really crosses generations more than it does here, because first, dancing is common to everybody. Everybody dances [to] music that comes out on the radio, and there’s a mix of old and new. Young people are forced to learn the traditional dance styles, and they know them. They know how to do the danzon; they know the rumba. They’re taught this in school. There’s education. So it does cross generations a lot. Even most of the popular groups — a lot of them have been around for a long time — are constantly evolving. Still probably the number one group in Cuba is Los Van Van, which would translate into English as “The Go Go’s.” They’re still the number one group. They’ve changed singers and new generations of musicians have come through, but the essence of it is that they take Cuban music and combine it with contemporary elements, especially American funk, which is what’s kind of popular right now.
JS: People in the U.S. really have no easy way to hear these tunes. Do you see that changing? Do you see the music industry opening up a little bit or new avenues being created for Cuban music to be heard by people over here?
Well first of all, Cuban musical artists are popular all over the world, and especially all over Latin America. But here in the U.S. not really, because the embargo has been very efficient in stopping that flow of information, that flow of music. And also, the commercial music industry here is not really open to this music. Some of the elements of the music are a little too sophisticated for the pop music that we hear on the radio. The popular Cuban music style timba – which is kind of a modern evolution of salsa — is too fast and too complicated for many of the dancers. And a lot of the [Cuban] groups also have sophisticated messages that are very local, very much about Cuba; about the religious elements; [about] the existential crisis of a Cuban, which is very different than here (in the U.S.)
JS: Can you give an example?
GL: Well, a lot of the songs are making reference to the Afro-Cuban religions, and the fall of the Soviet Union that has caused a vacuum in Cuba, where the ideological foundation, the spiritual foundation of the society based on these communist principles, is gone. People have to fill in the void and figure out or find a way to explain why they’re here. What are we doing while we’re here on this planet? What’s our goal? What are we supposed to accomplish? How do we treat each other? Kind of the whole basis is gone.
So we can see that much of the Afro-Cuban religions come in to fill in this gap; that people start reaching back in their history and their tradition to find that social glue. A lot of the music talks about this. There are many young people making references to the Afro-Cuban religions, to this spirituality, and to this explanation that it provides. And people [ask], how did Cuba survive this long? People thought that with the fall of the Berlin wall it would be over, but it wasn’t. So people have found ways to kind of pull it together, and this is a message in a lot of the music… this new spiritual foundation that’s kind of holding things together.
JS: Music is also often a platform for political messaging. Is there a similar platform for musicians in Cuba to speak about politics, or not?
Well yeah. A lot of political debate and a lot of political discussion in Cuba goes on through the arts. People look at Cuban film. It’s very critical of government policies, many of the popular Cuban films, and it sort of opens up a gap to allow people to discuss these things that maybe can’t be discussed in other forums. Music, too. Starting with the Nueva Trova movement of the early ‘60s — it really begins in 1967 – that opens up this musical poetry, a musical poetry that kind of examines and gives people tools for understanding what’s going on around them.
There’ve been maybe eight generations since the Nueva Trova movement, of musicians that have taken this up — not necessarily playing dance music, but playing music for people to listen to, to make critiques of society, to open up dialogues. So we see, going back to Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes, who are still active; Noel Nicola, Sara Gonzalez, and then the next generation that incorporates elements of rock, and then we see elements of jazz; and so they’re experimenting with not just the content but the form, and pushing the envelopes of pop music.
JS: How does the music industry work in Cuba?
GL: Well first off, I wouldn’t really describe it as an “industry.” In Cuba, many of the groups are on salary, which really creates a new dynamic. First, in a capitalist society, groups rise and fall based on their popularity and their money making capacity, where in Cuba, this is very different. Some of the groups are sustained because they’re on salary, they survive maybe even when they’re not so popular but they’re still going… because these are traditions that are preserved.
So for instance, La Orquesta Revé… Elio Revé was popular in the 1960?s, and he had a big band that played changui (a traditional Afro-Cuban musical style) from Guantanamo, and made all these different variations on it. There was changui with violins and heavy drumming, and they went through phases of being popular and not popular. And now his son has taken over the group and continued it, and they’ve incorporated new elements.
So the groups are kind of like institutions that are maintained, like a preservation hall. These forms of popular music are seen as important, and these elements in Cuban culture are maintained way past when they probably would be in a capitalist society.
JS: So, the Cuban state is subsidizing its artists. How does that impact everyday Cubans?
GL: [Cuban musicians] can go play for free in the town squares all over Cuba. Every weekend, all over Cuba, there are huge concerts in every town. So what do you do on a Saturday night? Do you go to a club? No, you go to the town square, with thousands of other people, for free, and listen to music and dance and party. This goes on very frequently. There are frequent festivals and these groups tour all over Cuba, mainly playing for free in town squares, in schools, in hospitals, army bases, farms… wherever. The idea [behind government subsidized musicians] was that one of the rights of being a citizen is the right to culture.

This youtube video shows La Orquesta Revé in performance and the joyous response of the audience as they sing and dance to the infectious music.

For the original report go to

Also: Cuban Music Still Thriving, Still Unheard in U.S. « Repeating Islands.



Despite its relatively small size Cuba has had an inordinately large musical influence both inside the Caribbean and abroad. From the “rhumba” craze of the 1920s and ’30s to mambo and cha-cha-cha in the 1950s and ’60s and the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon of the late ’90s, Cuba has been central to popular music developments in Latin America, Europe, and the United States.

Unfortunately, no one has ever attempted to survey the extensive literature on the island’s music, in particular the vernacular contributions of its Afro-Cuban population. This unprecedented bibliographic guide, the third in ADP’s critically acclaimed Black Music Reference Series, attempts to do just that. Ranging from the 19th century to early 2009 Afro-Cuban Music offers almost 5000 annotated entries on all of the island’s main genre families, e.g. Cancion Cubana, Danzon, Son, Rumba, and Sacred Musics (Santeria, Palo, Abakua, and Arara), as well as such recent developments as timba, rap and regueton. It also provides sections on Afro-Cuban musical instruments, the music’s influence abroad, and a biographical and critical component covering the lives and careers of some 800 individual artists and ensembles.

Spanish-language sources are covered comprehensively, in particular dozens of locally published journals such as Bohemia, Carteles, Revolucion y Cultura, Revista Salsa Cubana, and Tropicana Internacional, as well as a sizable portion of the international literature in English, French, German, and other European languages.
The work concludes with an extensive reference section offering lists of Sources Consulted, a guide to relevant Libraries and Archives, an appendix listing artists and individuals by idiom/occupation, and separate Author and Subject Indexes.

The compiler is veteran bibliographer John Gray whose previous works include Blacks in Classical Music; African Music; Fire Music: a bibliography of the New Jazz, 1959-1990; From Vodou to Zouk; and, Jamaican Popular Music.

Release date: February 2012.
To pre-order please visit the ADP website:

Previous Titles in ADP’s Black Music Reference Series:
From Vodou to Zouk: a bibliographic guide to music of the French-speaking Caribbean and its diaspora (vol. 1)
Jamaican Popular Music, from Mento to Dancehall Reggae: a bibliographic guide (vol. 2)
Forthcoming (2012): Baila! A bibliographic guide to Afro-Latin dance musics, from Mambo to Salsa (Black Music Reference Series; vol. 4)

Praise for the author’s previous works:
—From Vodou to Zouk:  “…will prove an indispensable, in-hand reference to current French Caribbean music scholarship”—Library Journal
“…represents a major update of available bibliographical guides…exceedingly pleasurable to recommend…”—Notes (Music Library Association)


Creole Choir of Cuba at Symphony Space

Caribbean Life, Sept. 17th 2011, reports on upcoming performance of the Creole Choir of Cuba.

On the heels of their blazing performance in the popular city-wide ¡Sí Cuba! Festival last spring, Symphony Space continues its celebration of Latino culture with this season’s only New York appearance of the Creole Choir of Cuba on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 7:00 p.m. in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre.

The Creole Choir of Cuba represents a rare Cuban musical tradition. Comprised of descendants of Haitians who came to Cuba to escape slavery, the ensemble members perform a repertory of songs with percussion, offered in their traditional Creole language.

With passionate melodies and harmonies synonymous with U.S. gospel and the call and response of Caribbean folk music superimposed over varied Afro-Cuban beats, this jubilant ensemble of four men and six women reinvents their traditional music in a stunning and transcendent way.

Symphony Space’s Artistic Director Laura Kaminsky states, “Bringing another evening of extraordinary Latino musical culture to Symphony Space is a necessity for us as we continue to explore and extol the richness of Cuba and her neighbors.

“Despite coming from a cultural tradition with a painful past, the joy in this music is palpable, and the way that this old music is reinvented for the 21st century is remarkable. Symphony Space is proud to invite the Creole Choir of Cuba back to New York City for their only appearance here this season.”

For original report see: and Creole Choir of Cuba at Symphony Space.


Festival of Fire

Commentary: Santiago’s Festival of Fire: Cubans hug up their Caribbean culture
Published on July 14, 2011 in Caribbean News Now!

By Norman Girvan
Norman Girvan is Professorial Research Fellow at the UWI Graduate Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, Trinidad

Santiago de Cuba’s Festival of Fire, held each year in the first week of July, is the Cuban version of CARIFESTA. Artistes come from all over the Caribbean, highlighting the popular and traditional culture of the region.

This year the Festival was dedicated to Trinidad and Tobago, which sent a 70-odd multi-cultural delegation of dancers, pan men, drummers and other performers headed by Culture Minister Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters.

Performances were held in Santiago’s Teatro Heredia and at public spaces throughout the city, all free to the population, and mostly enthusiastically attended. Judging by what I experienced during this and other visits, culture is to Cubans what shopping is to Americans. …read more