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Nationalizing Blackness

Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubanismo and Artistic Revolution in Havana, 1920–1940

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    Nationalizing Blackness
    Book Description:

    Nationalizing Blacknessuses the music of the 1920s and 1930s to examine Cuban society as it begins to embrace Afrocuban culture. Moore examines the public debate over "degenerate Africanisms" associated withcomparasor carnival bands; similar controversies associated withsonmusic; the history of blackface theater shows; the rise of afrocubanismo in the context of anti-imperialist nationalism and revolution against Gerardo Machado; the history of cabaret rumba; an overview of poetry, painting, and music inspired by Afrocuban street culture; and reactions of the black Cuban middle classes toafrocubanismo. He has collected numerous illustrations of early twentieth-century performers in Havana, many included in this book.

    Nationalizing Blacknessrepresents one of the first politicized studies of twentieth-century culture in Cuba. It demonstrates how music can function as the center of racial and cultural conflict during the formation of a national identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7185-6
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-12)

    For at least sixty years, Cuban intellectuals, politicians, and artists have defined their culture and society in terms of creole or mulatto imagery. The mulatto nation metaphor refers to a physical process—the racial mixing of Caucasians, Africans, and indigenous peoples over the centuries—but, more important, a cultural one involving the fusion of once distinct systems of language, religion, artistic forms, and other expression into a unique composite. Liberal middle-class representatives of what is often referred to as the “critical decade” of modern Cuban ideological development, roughly 1920–1935, were among the first to promote images of Afrohispanic cultural...

    (pp. 13-40)

    Racial categories are central to the construction of collective identity in Cuba, as in much of Latin America, and one cannot fully appreciate the meaning of nationality without considering them. Countless terms and common phrases are used in Cuba to segment and structure perceived racial difference. In contrast to the political sphere, where discussion of blacks and other minorities is relatively uncommon, Cubans’ predilection for discussing race among friends and family members seems especially significant. Such concern among all Cubans is undoubtedly the result of the large percentage of the population with a racially mixed background. In recent decades, the...

  3. 2 MINSTRELSY IN HAVANA: Music and Dance of the Teatro Vernáculo
    (pp. 41-61)

    Of the wide variety of popular music in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Cuba, the history of song and dance performance within theteatro vernáculo(comic theater) is one of the most poorly documented traditions, rivaled in its obscurity only by the tourist cabaret. The importance of theteatro vernáculoto the development of Cuban popular music can hardly be overemphasized. Established as a distinct artistic form as early as the 1860s, it dominated all other kinds of commercial entertainment through the 1930s and maintained its popularity in slightly altered form through serial radio and television broadcasts into the 1950s...

  4. 3 COMPARSAS AND CARNIVAL IN THE NEW REPUBLIC: Four Decades of Cultural Controversy
    (pp. 62-86)

    A considerable body of literature exists on carnival festivities both in Western Europe and the Americas that interprets their significance from the perspective of class and racial conflict. Authors such as Bakhtin depict carnival as a period in which social norms and conventions are suspended and/or inverted, allowing subaltern participants a “temporary liberation from the prevailing truth of the established order” (1968, 10).

    Carnival has been described as a “counterdrama” or “counternarrative,” a reformulation of conceptions of self and society by those typically denied access to the official apparatuses of representation (Leal 1980, 30). Fiske similarly describes it as a...

  5. 4 ECHALE SALSITA: Sones and Musical Revolution
    (pp. 87-113)

    Recent studies of cultural change emphasize the constructed and transient nature of all artistic expression. They suggest that culture is not passively or statically “passed down,” but actively recreated with each generation in conformity with particular beliefs and values. The reasons for the emergence, perpetuation, and decline of cultural practices are complex and reflect diverse factors including socioeconomic trends, political events, technological developments, and resulting changes in how individuals conceive of themselves and their relations to others. Linnekin suggests conceiving of culture as a “contested narrative field” containing symbolically charged elements that are continually reevaluated in terms of their ideological...

  6. 5 NATIONALIZING BLACKNESS: The Vogue of Afrocubanismo
    (pp. 114-165)

    Issues of nationalism apply to many disciplines and scholarly concerns, including topics of long-standing interest to musicologists—the development of artistic movements, “schools” of composition, and genres. Yet musicologists tend to discuss nationalism as if patriotic inspiration were the exclusive concern of conservatory-trained composers, failing to acknowledge the central role of the state, international affairs, and local populations in such movements (e.g., Plantinga 1984, 342). Their work often demonstrates an elitist bias as well, analyzing the phenomenon only in terms of classical music and excluding popular genres (e.g., Randel 1986).

    Nationalism affects all forms of cultural expression. It affects how...

  7. 6 THE RUMBA CRAZE: Afrocuban Arts as International Popular Culture
    (pp. 166-190)

    The 1930s gave rise to a brief but influential rumba craze in Europe, the United States, Latin America, and other countries. The history of commercial rumba, like that of other Latin American genres, demonstrates that the early twentieth century was a period of expanding international cultural influence (see Roberts 1979). Cuban genres such as the habanera anddanzónanticipated the rumba craze by decades, achieving considerable popularity abroad as early as 1900. Interest in rumba peaked about fifteen years after international dissemination of the Argentine tango and occurred more or less concurrently with the vogue of “exotic” genres in other...

  8. 7 THE MINORISTA VANGUARD: Modernism and Afrocubanismo
    (pp. 191-214)

    The termafrocubanismohas been used to refer to a wide variety of cultural expression since the late 1920s. Many artists associated with this movement, such as those discussed in chapters 5 and 6, achieved tremendous national and international recognition during their lifetimes; their works continue to be reinterpreted and performed today. The avant-garde artistic production of the Minoristas, however, has not been as widely disseminated. Composers, visual artists, and poets of this group represented the elite of the 1920s Cuban art world. They came from relatively wealthy backgrounds, were white, well educated, and often prominent social and political leaders....

    (pp. 215-228)

    In many respects, the 1990s is a strange time to conduct research in Havana on popular music. During the current period of economic and political crisis in which so much of consequence is occurring daily, the relevance of sixty-year-old cultural expression seems limited, to say the least. Severe shortages of food, electricity, transportation, housing, and the most basic domestic products (soap, razors, detergent, toothpaste, cooking oil) have caused many Cubans to despair. Middle-aged citizens who devoted the best years of their lives to serving the socialist revolution feel increasingly disillusioned and cheated. After decades of voluntary assistance in rural literacy...