- Fiesta de diez pesos: Music and Gay Identity in Special Period Cuba by Moshe Morad
Moshe Morad’s Fiesta de diez pesos: Music and Gay Identity in Special Period Cuba provides a glimpse into Cuba’s clandestine gay scene (the ambiente) of the 1990s and early 2000s. Using fieldwork conducted in short intervals over a twelve-year period, Morad’s book emphasizes the breadth of gay culture in Cuba, including case studies of drag shows, ballet, Santería, and what he terms “kitchen bolero” (190), or the performance of bolero in the home. The book is divided into three sections: one describing the gay scene in Cuba; another dealing with music in the secret, liminal fiestas de diez pesos; and the third dealing with the specificities of performativity in the scene overall. In most chapters, he follows a single informant, giving a detailed account of that person’s experience of a particular musical style. [End Page 121]
Morad’s work is geared toward exposing the complexity of gay culture and experience in Cuba, a country that is often depicted as homophobic in both popular media and academic literature. Though a major goal of his project is to expand the field of queer studies beyond the Western context, his primary focus is on the similarities between the ambiente and gay scenes elsewhere rather than on their differences. Morad states that his goal was to search for the “common human, global and pan-gay elements in the ambiente and the role music plays in it” (9), with the aim of reducing essentialist notions about Cuba and about the gay community there. While this endeavor is laudable, at times it causes a disconnect between the ethnographic and analytical work done in the text.
For example, Morad begins with a historical account of the shifting landscape of gay culture in Cuba, discussing the transition from plural gay sexualities of the nineteenth century to the adoption of an inter national gay culture. This is geared toward demonstrating the particularities of Cuban gay experience. His analyses of particular musical genres in the fiestas de diez pesos, however—particularly the queering of heteronormative genres like salsa, reggaeton, timba, and house music—rely on Western-derived theories about gender and sexuality. If Cuba is really part of an international gay scene as Morad suggests, these may be the most appropriate theoretical tools; nonetheless, greater attention could be given to Cuban reception of these styles, since there is so much emphasis on Cuban modes of gayness in the first part of the book.
Morad is also careful to point out the ethical difficulties of his project, particularly given the covert nature of the ambiente and the culture of jineterismo, or sex tourism, in Special Period Cuba. Though elements of the precariousness of the scene appear throughout the book, it is not until the appendix that he describes how he dealt with these issues in his own work. This information is crucial to understanding the politics of his research, and it might easily be overlooked by readers, since it is not presented at the outset.
Morad’s book provides an engrossing glimpse into a world of drag shows, glitz, and fast dancing. His suggestion of Santería as a queer space will be controversial for some, enlightening for others, and his descriptions of his own experiences in Havana are entertaining. This is a much-needed area of study, and Morad does well to begin the debate. [End Page 122]