- Afrocuba de Matanzas: 50 Years On, and: Afrocuba de Matanzas: Live at El Palenque—Havana 2005
La Timbala Music and Dance, a performing arts company based in the UK, has recently produced and released two DVDs documenting the repertoire and performance traditions of one of Cuba's seminal folkloric groups, Afrocuba de Matanzas. The release of the DVDs was meant to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Matanzas-based group, which was founded in 1957 under the original name Guaguancó Neopoblano. The first DVD, entitled Afrocuba de Matanzas: 50 Years On, showcases the diversity and [End Page 265] comprehensive nature of the group's repertoire, representing the music and dance traditions derived from the four principal African ethnic groups brought to Cuba during the transatlantic slave trade: the Yoruba/Lukumí, Bantu/Congo, Carabalí/Abakuá, and Dahomey/Arará.1 The second DVD, entitled Afrocuba de Matanzas: Live at El Palenque–Havana 2005, consists of a live concert filmed at the headquarters of the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional (National Folkloric Group, or CFN) in Havana during their weekly Sábado de la Rumba (Saturday Rumba). Generally the CFN performs during the first half of this event, and an invited rumba or folkloric group, either local or from a different Cuban province, is featured in the second half.
La Timbala and the company's founder, Christian Weaver, are to be heartily commended for this much-awaited DVD project featuring Afrocuba de Matanzas. Despite the critical acclaim and popularity garnered by the group both within Cuba and internationally, Afrocuba has suffered in the last ten years from underexposure. The dearth of recording and international touring opportunities is partially related to the increase in antagonistic rhetoric and hardening of foreign policy that characterized the relationship between the United States and Cuba during the George W. Bush administration.2 Judging from the 20-page informational booklets that accompany each DVD, Weaver, who is currently completing dissertation research on the Cuban rumba at the University of Salford in the United Kingdom, is an extremely knowledgeable researcher as well as a filmmaker. He provides extensive historical and descriptive information on the Afro-Cuban traditions represented in Afrocuba's performances, all the while addressing many issues surrounding the representation of folkloric musical practices. For example, Weaver is insistent in his critique of the "folklorists' view" of rumba, which seeks to establish and define fixed boundaries for traditional musical practices and to construct them as static entities that do not undergo change and innovation (Weaver 2007b, 4–5).
The booklet accompanying the first DVD focuses largely on the history of the Cuban slave trade and African contributions to national culture, presenting information that has been well-researched in both Cuban and U.S. scholarship. Weaver discusses the basic religious concepts and musical practices of the four principal African ethnic groups listed above and the formation of cabildos de nacíon, mutual aid societies formed in the 19th century by Africans and their descendants. The cabildos' official purpose was to orient newly arrived slaves to life in colonial Cuba, but they also functioned as the primary venues for slaves and free blacks to continue practicing their musical and religious traditions. Weaver's narrative emphasizes the unique cultural identity of the province and city of Matanzas, known to many as "the cradle of Afro-Cuban culture" due to the ongoing maintenance of Afro-Cuban religious traditions such as Arará, Iyesá, and Brícamo that are not currently practiced in any other region of the country. The booklet that [End Page 266] accompanies the rumba concert DVD presents a lengthy narrative divided into five sections: a brief history of Afrocuba de Matanzas; a section on the origins and emergence of rumba; a discussion of the rumba complex;3 the musical elements of rumba, with an explanation of the relationships between the song, the different percussion instruments, and the clave rhythm that structures the entire ensemble; and finally a section with detailed commentary about...