Latin American Music Review 24.1 (2003) 153-155
[Access article in PDF]
Hagedorn, Katherine J. Divine Utterances: The Performance of Afro-Cuban Santería. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001, 295 pp., illustrations, glossary, bibliography, discography, filmography, index, compact disc.
Katherine Hagedorn's recent study considers "the complex interrelationship between race and religion in Cuba" (3) as well as the ways in which sacred cultural forms have been translated into new secular settings in recent decades. She bases her study on fieldwork in Havana over the course of several years, on batá lessons with Alberto Villareal and Francisco Aguabella, and on personal involvement with Santería. The text provides a good introduction to the music and dance associated with the religion. It includes considerable background on the emergence of African-derived cultures on the island, the historical meanings of Afrocuban expression for various segments of the population, and the many ways in which performance of sacred repertoire has changed since the socialist revolution of 1959.
Divine Utterances: The Performance of Afro-Cuban Santería is written in an innovative non-chronological fashion. It begins with the analysis of the author's early personal experiences in Cuba, then switches forwards and backwards in time to fill in details about the development of Santería repertoire. The introduction describes Hagedorn's growing interest in batá drumming as a graduate student. It introduces some of the central themes of the book as well as particular performers of the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba (CFNC). This ensemble, the most highly regarded in the country, served as the locus of Hagedorn's field research. Chapter 1 describes the context of her fieldwork and the special problems she encountered as a white professional woman attempting to study the drumming traditions of black working-class men. It documents additional difficulties related to the economic crisis of the 1990s and of government surveillance as well. Hagedorn notes the division of Havana of that time into "dollar zones" for foreigners and "peso zones" for the local population, and the complexities that such "tourism apartheid" (26) created for musicians.
Chapter 2 begins with a description of the author's first experiences watching a staged folklore show in Havana, using it as a means of illustrating the complexities of such performance. Commentary on the various styles of sacred and secular repertoire incorporated into the show are punctuated with transcriptions, photos, and references to recordings on the accompanying compact disc. Hagedorn emphasizes the diverse audience members in attendance—hustlers, religious devotees, aspiring [End Page 153] musicians or dancers, tourists—and the distinct meanings of the show for each of them. Chapter 3 contrasts this sort of staged event with a description of a more traditional religious ceremony. It provides considerable detail about the associated costumes, decoration, food, dancing, and music. It describes some of the deities of Santería and the concept of spirit possession for those unfamiliar with them, then concentrates on the boundaries that divide secularized religious folklore from the expression of believers. The chapter ends with biographical information on Hagedorn's drum teacher in Havana, reflections on the controversies surrounding women batá players, and an extended transcription of a toque to the oricha Ochún.
Chapter 4 continues exploration of the blurred lines dividing sacred and secular expression in Cuba, initially by considering examples of possession in "inappropriate" places. Many of these, such as presentations on religion in theaters or galleries, have become common in Cuba because of the government's tendency to support art that incorporates references to Santería in non-traditional or non-religious ways. One of the central messages here is that spontaneity and improvisation, fundamental components of sacred musical practice, often tend to be lost in the move to regulate culture for consumption by a broader public. The author examines other new contexts for sacred performance in socialist Cuba, such as documentary films, and notes that religious cultures on the island which were once distinct have developed into new hybrid forms over time.
Chapter 5 provides information on the founding and development of the...