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July 08, 2005

Afropop and Cuban Music

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I loved reading this Stephen Brown essay about Cuban music. (Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily for the link.) It's a review of a new book by Ned Sublette, and it makes a number of wonderful points very concisely. Here's one example:

Sublette is saying that [Cuban] music is organized in a way that is fundamentally different from traditional Western music. If you look for adventurous harmonies or difficult melodies you will be looking for complexity in the wrong places. Here, complexity resides in the layers of rhythm.

That flat-out statement would have helped me a lot back when I first became interested in Latin and African music. I loved much of what I was hearing, and on all kinds of levels. But most of those levels were physical and emotional. It took unfortunately long for the essential lightbulb to go off in my slow-movin' conscious brain. Finally, though, it did: "Hey, this is as deep and polyphonic as Bach, only the polyphony is in the rhythms!"

In terms of knowledge and experience, though, I remain forever stuck at the World Music 101 (or maybe 102) stage: a few King Sunny Ade concerts, a few evenings moving the hips to Ruben Blades, a stack of CDs, a copy of The Rough Guide to World Music that I haven't spent enough time with ...

So my taste isn't to be trusted. Despite this, I can't stop myself from recommending the music of the exuberant soukous vocalist and bandleader Kanda Bongo Man, especially those discs of his that feature his godlike onetime guitar player, Diblo Dibala. These guys made zesty, sparkling music that can put you in a sweet, funky trance and keep you there for many happy hours.

But time is limited, life's short, etc. -- I'll never be a worldmusic expert, darn it. Still, I was thrilled to stumble across this Public Radio site devoted to Afro-Pop and Cuban music. There's lots of good free listenin' to be had here. I may never become a worldmusic scholar, but at least I now have the chance to fill in a few holes in my knowledge.



posted by Michael at July 8, 2005


Been enjoying Ned Sublette's 1999 release "Cowboy Rhumba" for the past few years. Peculiar cowboy-ish voice, but one that you grow to appreciate and like, especially since the music is high-voltage Cuban and Latin rhythm combined with Hank Wiiliams-ish guitar twanging. In his liner notes, Sublette writes:
"The music industry works by dividing us. Literally, into market segments. Country on the second floor next to jazz, pop on the main floor, Latin in the basement with world. Spanish on this station, English on that. As I write this the record company is kicking around the question, how trhe hell do we market ("Cowboy Rhumba")? What part of the store does it go in? How do we get radio?"

So, if you plan on reading his book, I hope you've got some of his music playing in the background. Although...playing his music in the background is quite difficult; it comes to the forefront fairly quickly.

Posted by: DarkoV on July 10, 2005 11:29 AM

Not to niggle, but the article, which is terrific, is by Stephen Brown...

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on July 10, 2005 6:38 PM

"Hey, this is as deep and polyphonic as Bach, only the polyphony is in the rhythms!"

You actually had a conscious thought like that!! I'm truly impressed. I never in my life heard music I liked and remotely considered it in the terms of "depth and polyphonic-ness." Didn't you just want to get up and dance?

Posted by: annette on July 11, 2005 10:25 AM

"Afropop Worldwide" has been on the Public radio air for many years. The host sounds a lot like Charles Boyer. I wonder if anyone has ever asked him to say "come with me to ze Casbah!"

Posted by: Michael Serafin on July 11, 2005 2:12 PM

DarkoV - Sublette was a regular for years on NYC's downtown-music scene, not that I ever caught him. Seems to specialize in merging Texas music with various world musics. Interesting turn he's taken, writing such a learned book, no?

FvB -- Expert copy-editing always appreciated. Goof now fixed.

Annette -- I think the thought, such as it is, came to me, while I was out on the dance floor. Hard not to move when music like Afro-pop or Cuban starts up, isn't it?

Michael -- That's perfect, the host's voice is very Charles Boyer. What a great gig it must be (or at least I hope it is), hosting radio shows about funky world music. Must be nice to have a Boyer-like voice too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 11, 2005 8:08 PM

Michael: re. Mr. Sublette,
No moss grows on this guy!
(From various sources)
He studied Spanish Classical Guitar with Hector Garcia at the University of New Mexico and with Emilio Pujol in Spain. He studied composition and theory with Kenneth Gaburo at the University of California at San Diego where he received his Master's Degree in Composition and Performance. His opera, inspired by the life of Simone Weil, has been performed in Australia.
He was four times a composer in-residence at KUNM-FM, Albuquerque. There he developed such projects as the first ever complete performance of John Cage's Empty Words. In 1982 he was a composer-in-residence at VPRO, Holland. Sublette also produced a series of commissioned work by new music composers for The Kitchen (New York City).
Also, check out this article in "World Policy Journal" written by Ned. Truly an amazing guy.

Does it surprise me that he's written this critically acclaimed book on Cuba? At this point, I don't think anything he writes, plays, composes, or does would surprise. Just checked the NASA site to see if Ned's flying out on the 13th. Guess he decided to sit this one out.

Posted by: DarkoV on July 12, 2005 10:35 AM

Also, check out this article in "World Policy Journal" written by Ned.

Oops. Forgot to link. Here it is

Posted by: DarkoV on July 12, 2005 10:37 AM

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