- Machito and his Afro-Cubans by Paul Austerlitz, Jere Laukkanen
The Music of the United States of America series, edited by Mark Clague and Gayle Magee (coeditors-in-chief) and Andrew Thomas Kuster (executive editor), has added the music of Machito and his Afro-Cubans to its impressively diverse volumes. As the twenty-sixth volume of the series, Machito and his Afro-Cubans: Selected Transcriptions is the first dedicated to Latin music of the United States, and the series editors made an excellent choice based on their own criteria in selecting the music of this formative and ground-breaking Latin big band. The volume encompasses Machito and his Afro-Cubans’ golden era (1941–61) and, indeed, the golden era of Afro-Cuban dance music and jazz. It also makes available for the first time a historical edition of this repertory to include a detailed account of the founding members’ [End Page 777] musical careers, the band’s professional and musical trajectory, as well as the music’s significance to American music history. Conductor, composer, and arranger Jere Laukkanen is the principal transcriber for this edition, and ethnomusicologist Paul Austerlitz is the author of the edition’s essay, “The Afro-Cuban Impact on Music in the United States: Mario Bauzá and Machito.”
Austerlitz’s essay gives a comprehensive overview of the music, beginning with its place in the broader historical narrative of music and culture of the Caribbean Basin dating back to the nineteenth century and including New Orleans. More than a significant representative of Latin music and dance of mid-twentieth-century United States history, the music of Machito and his Afro-Cubans is part of a much longer and complex history of African diasporic groups whose intersections and collaborations were formative in the early development of danzón, jazz, and other national and transnational musical repertories of the Americas. In other words, Machito and his Afro-Cubans are as much a part of jazz history in the United States as they are a part of the history of Cuban music in the diaspora. Austerlitz’s discussion in this regard includes an explanation of clave’s (“the foundational rhythmic concept within Afro-Cuban Music,” p. liii) importance to Cuban music performance practice, and its relationship to similar rhythmic cells in African and other Afro-Caribbean musical and dance repertories. After summarizing Cuba’s major African-derived music genres, the author discusses the circulation of Cuban popular music in North America via not only the recording and film industries, but also American foreign-policy initiatives to engage Latin America in the decades leading to and following World War II.
Biographical information follows on the two leading figures of the band: “Machito” or Francisco Raúl Pérez Gutierrez (1908–1984) and his brother-in-law Mario Bauzá (1911–1993). Their stories are part of the histories of immigration from the Caribbean to New York City, and the forging of African diasporic communities among black Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans. Bauzá, in particular, immersed himself in the black swing-band culture of Harlem following his decision to leave Havana, in part because of the limitations Cuban racism placed on black musicians, even those like Bauzá who had formal training. It was his musical and professional experiences in bands such as those led by Chick Webb and Cab Calloway that Bauzá would soon draw on when he collaborated with his brother-in-law to create the Machito and his Afro-Cubans band. In spite of the band’s articulation of racial pride...