Notes 60.2 (2003) 426-428
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Cuban Fire: The Story of Salsa and Latin Jazz. By Isabelle Leymarie. New York: Continuum, 2002. [vi, 394 p. ISBN 0-8264-5586-7. $29.95.] Music examples, illustrations, glossary, discography, index.
The combination of West African and Spanish influences in Cuba produced a musical mixture that has come to be known as Afro-Cuban popular music. The blending [End Page 426] of European-style melody and harmony with West African-influenced percussion provides much of the character to this music. Cuban rhythms and dance types such as son, guaracha, and bolero had a strong impact on popular music, not only in Latin America, but also in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The lasting impact of Cuban popular music is evidenced by the widespread popularity of salsa and Latin jazz worldwide. Isabelle Leymarie's Cuban Fire: The Story of Salsa and Latin Jazz provides a comprehensive contribution to the historiography of salsa and Latin jazz. Through a consistent and well-organized presentation, Leymarie narrates a progression of Cuban popular music that evolved from its African and Spanish roots, to the reciprocal influences with the United States and Puerto Rico during the twentieth century, to the present day trends in Latin America and beyond.
The African presence in Cuba is inescapable, and though there have been efforts throughout history to eradicate its influence in art and music, those efforts have been futile. Not long after the formation of the Independent Colored Party in 1907, a growing number of classically trained musicians such as Ernesto Lecuona and Emilio Grenet, turned to their African roots for musical inspiration during a movement of afrocubanismo. With the arrival of Afro-Cuban popular music in the United States during the early twentieth century, there began a mutual borrowing of musical ideas and inspiration between Cuba and the United States. As Latin rhythms continued to impress musicians and dancers during the 1930s and 1940s, American jazz made inroads in Cuba. Eventually, large ensembles like the gran orquesta began to resemble American big bands, not only in their instrumentation, but in the style of their arrangements as well. Throughout the 1950s, dance centers in Havana and New York City featured the big bands of Beny Moré and Machito and his Afro-Cubans, whose repertoire included the son, cha cha chá, and mambo. With the advent of both rock and the demise of the Cuban/United States connection in the 1960s, the musical paths of both countries appeared to move in slightly different directions. While dance music in Cuba took a backseat to the nueva trova, Latin dances like the pachanga and the boogaloo enjoyed great popularity in the United States. In the 1970s Afro-Cuban- derived salsa (ironically, rejected by Cubans as an imperialist product) emerged as a dominant genre in Latin American music, and, through shrewd worldwide marketing, it has become an icon for a Pan-American musical style.
Cuban Fire is organized into sections that outline significant eras in the development of music in Cuba, the United States, and Puerto Rico. Part 1 examines the roots of Cuban popular music by providing a background of sacred and traditional secular musics and how those influenced contemporary Afro-Cuban percussion sections. Part 2 examines the musical trends of the 1920s and 1930s in which the son emerged as the preferred dance form among the black neighborhoods in Havana and soon became popular throughout all of Cuba. It is this dance that later came to be erroneously labeled "rumba" in the United States and became the backbone of the Latin orchestra repertoire. As musical exchanges between Havana and New York City continued to thrive, the growing population of Puerto Ricans in New York began exerting their musical influence in the Latin music scene.
During the golden age of Cuban music, the 1940s and 1950s, which comprises part 3, musical ensembles evolved a sound that resembled American big bands by using an orchestration of saxophones, brass, bass, piano, and Latin percussion. While American jazz continued to influence Latin American...