Cuban Music from A to Z


Available in English for the first time, Cuban Music from A to Z is an encyclopedic guide to one of the world’s richest and most influential musical cultures. It is the most extensive compendium of information about the singers, composers, bands, instruments, and dances of Cuba ever assembled. With more than 1,300 entries and 150 illustrations, this volume is an essential reference guide to the music of the island that brought the world the danzón, the son, the mambo, the conga,...

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Cuban Music from A to Z

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Available in English for the first time, Cuban Music from A to Z is an encyclopedic guide to one of the world’s richest and most influential musical cultures. It is the most extensive compendium of information about the singers, composers, bands, instruments, and dances of Cuba ever assembled. With more than 1,300 entries and 150 illustrations, this volume is an essential reference guide to the music of the island that brought the world the danzón, the son, the mambo, the conga, and the cha-cha-chá.

The life’s work of Cuban historian and musician Helio Orovio, Cuban Music from A to Z presents the people, genres, and history of Cuban music. Arranged alphabetically and cross-referenced, the entries span from Abakuá music and dance to Eddy Zervigón, a Cuban bandleader based in New York City. They reveal an extraordinary fusion of musical elements, evident in the unique blend of African and Spanish traditions of the son musical genre and in the integration of jazz and rumba in the timba style developed by bands like Afrocuba, Chucho Valdés’s Irakeke, José Luis Cortés’s ng La Banda, and the Buena Vista Social Club. Folk and classical music, little-known composers and international superstars, drums and string instruments, symphonies and theaters—it’s all here.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Helio Orovio’s book is a basic reference tool for any serious researcher, or any fan, of Cuban music.”—Ned Sublette, musician, cofounder of Qbadisc, and author of Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo
Library Journal
This exhaustive reference represents more than 20 years of research and scholarship on one of the world's richest musical cultures, a fiery cross-breeding of African and Spanish rhythms. Now in English for the first time, this work was first published in 1981 as Diccionario de la Musica Cubana and appeared most recently in 1998. The English edition is based on the 1998 version and has been substantially revised to include musicians who have emerged since 1998 and Cuban American artists who could not appear in the Spanish edition for political reasons. Musicologist Orovio (Inst. of Folklore & Ethnology, Acad. of Sciences, Cuba) combines his own extensive knowledge with facts gleaned from various print sources and input from fellow researchers, fans, and journalists. In an attempt to be as encompassing as possible, the author traveled outside of Havana. The result is an amazing survey of Cuban musical styles, dances, instruments, and personalities. The 5000-plus, alphabetically organized entries are concise, factually detailed, and rigorously informative. They range from the well known (e.g., Desi Arnaz and the mambo) to the obscure (e.g., the sart n, a folk instrument made up of two frying pans attached to a wooden board and worn around the neck). Also included are numerous photos and illustrations, an introduction, and a helpful appendix that groups entries such as orchestras and bands, instruments, theaters, and music magazines. Probably too specialized and costly (at least in cloth) for many public libraries, this will make a terrific addition to all music and academic libraries; it is the only in-depth resource on Cuban music and will complement cultural/travel memoirs like Jory Farr's recent Rites of Rhythm, not to mention best-selling audio CDs like Buena Vista Social Club.-David Valencia, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822332121
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2003
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Helio Orovio is a musicologist and historian with the Institute of Folklore and Ethnology of Cuba’s Academy of Sciences. He is the author of El bolero latina and Música por el caribe and the host of the Cuban television show Arte y Folklore. He is also a musician who has played with many bands including Conjunto Jovenes del Cayo.

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Read an Excerpt

Cuban Music from A to Z

By Helio Orovio

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2004 Helio Orovio
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780822331865

Chapter One


Abakua, musica. Originating in the African region of the Calabar (Nigeria), Abakua, or Nanigo, groups arose in Cuba during the early part of the nineteenth century in Havana and Matanzas. The groups were originally established as mutual aid or support societies according to a religious and cultural structure called a cabildo. The Abakua dance is performed by an ireme, or ancestor spirit, a predominant force in the Nanigo fiestas. Instruments used in the dance include drums (bonko enchemiya, obiapa, kuchiyerema, binkome), cowbells (ekon), two percussive sticks (itones), and rattles (erikundi), as well as secret ceremonial instruments like the ekue, whose sound is produced using friction. Fiestas, or plantes, take place in a special famba room, as well as during processions at which the ireme dancers and others join in a musical chorus. "The Abakua recount legends (enkames) in the African Efik language, stories of the origins of their people told during the long ceremonies. The narrator, who is a member of the hierarchy, alternates a sung chorus with anothermember to the accompaniment of a sacred drum" (Linares, Viejos cantos afrocubanos).

abebe. A fan made of dried palm-tree leaves, lined with luxurious fabrics and ornamented with shells, colored beads, peacock feathers, bells, and other symbols allusive to the female orishas (deities) (Ortiz, Los instrumentos de la musica afrocubana, 2:302).

Abreu, Charles. Composer and pianist. Born 29 February 1919, Marianao. Studied at the Havana Municipal Conservatory. In Cuba, Abreu worked as an accompanist in theaters, nightspots, and on the radio, and he also sang in various groups. In 1948 he toured Haiti, Curacao, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Venezuela, Peru, and Mexico, and later traveled to Spain, Italy, and France. In 1962 he moved to the United States, where he continued to work as a pianist and arranger and also formed his own group. His best-known songs include "Te necesito," "Carino mio," "Seran tus pa'ca," and the waltz "La vida mia."

Acosta, Idelfonso. Guitarist. Born 24 January 1939, Matanzas. As a child, Acosta studied violin with Candido Failde and later studied trumpet with Rafael Somavilla and Dagoberto Hernandez Piloto. He is a self-taught guitarist but also studied with Isaac Nicola. In 1960 he began to give concerts, performing throughout Cuba and also touring abroad. He composed guitar pieces and transcribed works by other composers. He is the author of "Quinteto para dos musicaturas cubanas," which won the Chamber Music Prize in 1974 in the FAR'S 26th of July Contests; and "Homenaje al 26," a symphonic poem for chorus and orchestra. He teaches guitar at the School of Professional Achievement in Matanzas and is president of the Provincial Committee of the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba (UNEAC).

Acosta, Leonardo. Saxophonist, musicologist, writer. Born 25 August 1933, Havana. Studied saxophone with Jose Raphel and Jose Perez; harmony and orchestration with Federico Smith; and orchestration, composition, and musical form with Leo Brouwer. Acosta has played in jazz bands such as Havana Melody, Cubamar, Rey Diaz, Calvet, and Loquibambia Swing, as well as with Julio Gutierrez, Armando Romeu, Rafael Somavilla, and with the Banda Gigante de Benny More and Aldemaro Romero (Venezuela). He formed his own jazz quartet with Frank Emilio, Papito Hernandez, and Walfredo de los Reyes. In 1970 he formed the Grupo de Experimentacion Sonora of the ICAIC (Cuban Institute for Movie-Making, Art, and Industry). He has written incidental music for the cinema and has worked as a journalist for various newspapers. He is the author of Paisajes del hombre (short stories, 1967), Marti, La America precolombina y la conquista espanola (1974), El barroco de indias y otros ensayos (1984), Musica y epica en la novela de Alejo Carpentier (1981), Musica y descolonizacion (1982), Del tambor al sintetizador (1983), Elige tu que canto yo (1993), Novela policial y medios masivos (1988), and El sueno del samurai (poetry, 1993), as well as of an unedited volume, "Descarga cubana." He has organized conferences at universities and cultural centers in New York, Caracas, Bogota, and Havana and has published articles in various magazines in Cuba and abroad. His most recent book, Cubano Be, Cubano Bop: One Hundred Years of Jazz in Cuba, was published in 2003 by the Smithsonian Institution Press.

Adams, Salvador. Guitarist and composer. Born 6 August 1894, Santiago de Cuba; died 21 January 1971. A great friend of Miguel Matamoros. Around 1920 Adams formed a trio with Che Toronto and Rufino Ibarra. In 1952 he composed Estudios, for the guitar. In 1962 he directed Los Trovadores Santiagueros in the first festival of popular music in the Amadeo Roldan Theater. In Santiago, he brought together singers and experts in traditional music. He is the composer of "Altiva es la palma" (criolla), "Ma causa celos" and "Sublime ilusion" (boleros), and "Gitana negra" and "El jilguero."

afro. A genre of popular song that developed out of the Cuban blackface theater in the nineteenth century. It reached its peak of popularity in the 1930s, during the heyday of an artistic movement known as afrocubanismo. Afros sometimes present black themes in a stereotypical, derogatory fashion; in other cases they are excellent artistic portrayals of black, working-class Cubans. Some of the most famous afro songs include "Ogguere," by Gilberto Valdez, "Drume Negrita," by Ernesto Grenet, and "Bruca Manigua" by Arsenio Rodriguez.

Afrocuba, Grupo. Founded in 1977, the ensemble integrates Cuban musical roots with contemporary elements, including jazz, to produce unique and original music. The original band was formed by Nicolas Reinoso (director and saxophone), with Jose Carlos Acosta and Fernando Acosta (saxophones), Rene Luis Toledo (guitar), Ernan Lopez-Nussa (piano),Roberto Garcia (trumpet), Angel Luis Lopez (guitar, bass), Tony Valdes (drums), Mario Luis Pino (percussion), and Anselmo Febles (vocalist and percussion). It won First Prize in the Fifth Musical Contest of the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba in 1978. Later, new instrumentalists joined the band, first directed by Ernan Lopez-Nussa and later by Roberto Garcia.

afrocubana, musica. Genre of music with origins in the Afro-Cuban religious cults whose musical rituals include elements of African and Catholic expression. Africans who arrived in Cuba from Nigeria (such as the Yoruba or Lucumi) and from the Congo (the Bantu) brought with them their gods and an intact set of magical beliefs. Their orishas, or deities, were the motivation for such commercial songs as "Babalu," an invocation to the god of small pox and other contagious diseases (equivalent to the Catholic saint Lazarus), which was performed by Margarita Lecuona and popularized by Miguelito Valdes. The well-known salsa singer Celia Cruz, together with Merceditas Valdes, recorded invocations to such orishas as Babalu Aye and Chango on the 1950s LP Santero, as well as on Homenaje a los Santos with Tito Puente. More recently, many artists have performed popular pieces dedicated to other deities, including songs such as "Oggere" by Gilberto Valdes, "Lacho" by Facundo Rivero, and "Facundo" by Eliseo Grenet. "A Santa Barbara" by Celina (Gonzalez) and Reutilio Dominguez is a true classic of this type. The piano piece by Ernesto Lecuona "La comparsa" also has an Afro-Cuban element, as does the concert music of Amadeo Roldan and Alejandro Garcia Caturla. Popular music and dance styles such as rumba, conga, and mambo also contain important Afro-Cuban elements. In jazz, this element can be seen in the work of Mario Bauza with Machito's Afro-Cubans and in the work of the conguero Chano Pozo, who worked with Dizzy Gillespie. Salsa music also has a strong Afro-Cuban content.

Afro-Cuban All Stars. Formed in 1995 and directed by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, the Afro-Cuban All Stars were the backbone of the Buena Vista Social Club album, which won a Grammy Award in 2000. The original members of the band were Puntillita, Felix Baloy, Omara Portuondo, Lino Borges, Fernando Alvarez, Teresa Garcia Caturla, Barbarito Torres, Changuito, Tata Guines, Ibrahim Ferrer, and Cachaito, among others.

Afro-Cuban jazz. The Afro-Cuban jazz movement resulted from the fusion of Afro-Cuban percussion instruments, folkloric songs, and traditional rhythms with the harmonies, improvisational styles, and ensemble formats characteristic of jazz. The roots of the style date back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, reflecting the common origins of jazz and Cuban music in influences from Africa. The movement propelled a repertoire for marching bands, wind orchestras, and other ensembles. Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, for instance, included tresillos, cinquillos, habanera rhythms, and other Latin elements in their compositions. Other early jazz artists were influenced by Caribbean music as well because of the close contact between New Orleans and many nearby port cities. In the 1920s and 1930s, jazzbands that began to experiment with the incorporation of local percussion into their ensembles-including La Orquesta Hermanos Palau, La Orquesta Hermanos Castro, and La Orquesta Riverside-formed in Havana and elsewhere in Cuba. At the same time, these and other groups began to imitate the instrumentation and orchestrational formats established by U.S. big bands. In the United States, Duke Ellington's collaborations with Puerto Rican trombonist and composer Juan Tizol were an important precursor to the Latin jazz movement, as were compositions by Cuban Alberto Socarras and other Caribbean immigrants. The Afro-Cuban jazz movement achieved widespread acclaim only in the late 1940s. Central figures from this period include composer and arranger Mario Bauza, band leaders Dizzie Gillespie and Stan Kenton, and percussionist Luciano "Chano" Pozo. The orchestras of Bauza and Gillespie especially are among the first to have prominently featured a variety of Afro-Cuban traditional rhythms and instruments in their arrangements. Other seminal artists following in the footsteps of the Bauza/Gillespie generation include Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and Cal Tjader. In more recent decades, Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz has become one of the most vital avenues of experimentation and development among jazz artists internationally.

Afrokan, Pello el. See Izquierdo, Pedro.

agogo. Small liturgical bells of various shapes and sizes, used to conjure up the saints in Yoruba cults. The word "agogo" is Yoruban, meaning "bell." The Obatala agogo, called an adya, is a long, conical bell of a silver color with a curved handle. The Ochun agogo is made of brass, copper, or any yellow metal. It has no special shape and is generally a standard manual bell. The Olokum agogo has a wooden handle a little more than a jeme, or six inches, long. On its upper end there is a enclosed conical metal rattle, about five centimeters long, fixed to the handle at its circular base. Inside, there is something that, when shaken, rattles faintly. The Egun agogo, which represents the spirit of the ancestors, is made of an iron rod, about a half-meter long, to which three round metal bells with no clappers are successively fixed; these are struck with a small bar. The Oddua agogo consists of a handle one jeme long, at whose ends there are two truncated conical bells that sound freely and simultaneously. The Babalu Aye orisha of


Excerpted from Cuban Music from A to Z by Helio Orovio Copyright © 2004 by Helio Orovio. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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