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Culture, Music and Dance

Cuban National Ballet, Nueva Trova, Sara Gonzalez, Pablo Milanes, Ernesto Lecuona

Cuba has been recognized by the international community for the richness and variety of its popular music. Spanish Andalusian, French, and African music have created a special blend of rhythms and melodies that constitute the Cuban trademark in such musical forms as the contradanzas, danzon, son, chachacha, rumba/guaguanco, and salsa.

Church music was the first composed music native to Cuba. Seventeenth-century composer Esteban de Salas, a choirmaster in Santiago de Cuba, used European styles for his motets, masses, and psalms.

In the 19th century, composers Nicolas de Espadero, Ignacio Cervantes, and Manuel Saumell had their works performed in the Teatro de Tacon, a theatre usually reserved for the elite Spanish society. Two black violinists, Jose White (also an important composer) and Brindis de Salas, played in almost every important concert hall in the world.

The 20th century witnessed a renewal of classical compositions with strong African strains. During the 1920s Amadeo Roldan was the first modern composer to insert Afro-Cuban percussion instruments into symphonic music. Cuba’s foremost conservatory, the Conservatorio Municipal Amadeo Roldan, founded in 1935, bore his name. Roldan and Garcia Cartula were two composers of the Grupo Renovacion that in the 1920s through the 1930s introduced African melodies into symphonic music. At about the same time, composer Alejandro Garcia Caturla also experimented with Afro-Cuban instruments and added Cuban country music into some of his works. A generation later Juan Blanco and Leo Brower were recognized as Cuba’s leading composers.

Cuba is one of the most influential sources of Caribbean popular music. Its infectious African drumming and rhythms overlaid with Hispanic lyrical melodies and instrumentations have inspired dance and song such as the danzon, son, and chachacha since the 1880s. Between the 1930s and 1950s numerous performers and orchestras began to popularize Cuban music throughout the world. Some composers and performers of Cuba’s classical popular music include singer and dancer Rita Montaner, pianists Bola de Nieve and Ernesto Lecuona, and Moises Simon, Benny More, Osvaldo Farres, all three of whom were pianists and composers. From the 1950s to the present the Cuban salsa has brought people all over the world to their feet in joyful dancing. Singer and entertainer Celia Cruz introduced the salsa in the early 1950s. Cuban jazz is legendary and best known in the United States through performances by Benny More’s dance bands.

In the late 20th century Cuba’s numerous educational institutes helped create new generations of musicians and composers who have adapted the best of Cuban musical tradition into more innovative forms. One innovative musical movement, the Nueva Trova, emerged in the 1960s. It imitated the troubadour style of the Middle Ages (500-1500) in that performers and songwriters incorporated popular and political messages into music as a means of communicating information to the population. The most recognized performers of this popular Cuban song form are the musical group Grupo Moncada, and performers and composers such as Silvio Rodriguez, Pablo Milanes, and Sara Gonzalez. The best-known groups in the 1990s included Irakere, los Van Van, and los Munequitos de Matanzas. The Buena Vista Social Club, a collection of veteran musicians who recorded an album with American guitarist Ry Cooder in 1997, also gained international fame at this time.

The Cuban National Ballet, under the direction of choreographer Alicia Alonso, has helped train ballet performers who are recognized throughout the world. It has offered new styles to modern ballet in the form of Afro-Cuban folkloric depictions, rhythms, and movement.

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