In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Cuban Music without CubansCuban Sounds in 1980s and 1990s Toronto
  • Karen Dubinsky (bio) and Freddy Monasterio (bio)

Today Toronto proclaims itself as a "global" multicultural city, which in many ways it is. Culturally, however, it took some doing to move past the longtime label of "Toronto the Good"—Anglo-Saxon, staid, and conservative. How did world music, a term no one likes much but everyone uses, make its way north? How did Cuban music in particular begin to thrive in a town with very few Cubans under this label? What does it mean when all-white bands in the Global North take up the sounds and rhythms of Latin America and the Caribbean? And what do beer companies have to do with promoting world music?

We found some answers when we interviewed various experts for a recent episode of Cuban Serenade*, our podcast series on the history of Cuban music in Canada. What follows are some stories shared by three important figures who helped open the door to new sounds and venues for new audiences in 1980s and 1990s Toronto. They also reflected thoughtfully on the politics of opening to different musical horizons in all-white musical groups and white-dominated spaces.

Our study of the Cuban music scene in Toronto is part of a larger project that explores how Canada is part of an international circulation of musical cultures, how engagement from diasporic communities, as part of this flow, has contributed to Canadian culture and identity, and transformed the Canadian artscape, among other questions. Here we focus particularly on how issues of cultural appropriation, immigration, and white privilege in the Toronto music ecosystem shaped the emergence of a Cuban scene. These interviews prompt us to think about how the music market functions as a site to articulate identity in relation to the commodification of difference. Transnational musical circulation is always shaped by national circumstances. Canada is a country with a small Cuban diaspora but a huge appetite for Cuban tourism; over a million Canadians visit the island annually. It is a settler-colonial country with a multicultural population and racially restrictive immigration practices. How have dislocated communities of Cubans made their way through white Canadians' particular blend of affection, exoticism, and consumerism? [End Page 1]

We build on dozens of conversations and interviews we have conducted with artists and music professionals in Canada and Cuba as well as on a body of work on music making in the diaspora and the creation of "world music" as a marketing label in the West. This body of work has been developed by ethnomusicologists and cultural researchers such as Lise Waxer, Sheenagh Pietrobruno, Veit Erlmann, Michael Eldridge, and Benjamin Lapidus.1 At a more local, Torontocentric level our study has directly benefited from the research contributions of authors such as Annemarie Gallaugher, Brígido Galván, Catherine Krull and Jean Stubbs, and Vincenzo Maccarone.2

Derek Andrews

Derek Andrews is a veteran music promoter and producer. He helped, behind the scenes, to introduce Toronto to new sounds and integrated venues. In the 1980s he was a programmer at the Harbourfront Centre, a popular cultural center. He also hosted the Toronto chapter of WOMAD, the World Music festival begun by Peter Gabriel in 1980. Andrews was one of the founding members of the Toronto Blues Society in 1985:

The blues was my ticket to Harbourfront. They called me up and said, "Hey, we're looking for a blues festival." As it turns out Molson3 was looking to really invest in the waterfront and I got to spend a lot of Molson's dollars doing free concert programming because Harbourfront was identifying itself as an open, accessible, culturally diverse space. I developed a ten-weekend season in '86. That was my first year, and I stayed for nineteen years.4

The creation of Harbourfront was one of the first and most significant institutional openings to musical diversity in music in Toronto. It was one of the first mainstream venues to embrace multicultural programming and properly reflect the true makeup of the city.

There was a pivotal question that is linked to Molson sponsorship, where we needed to tell the Molson's people...