Whatever your opinion on the politics of Cuba-American relations, you’d have to agree that the music coming out of that Caribbean island has been remarkable. (OK, you don’t HAVE to agree. But humor me, it’s Friday.)
Cuban music, usually known as Afro-Cuban jazz, shares a joint heritage with the music of New Orleans, which isn’t surprising given its close historical ties to Havana. In the 19th century and well into the 20th, New Orleans was the Miami of that era, serving as North America’s gateway to the Caribbean. Slaves, cotton, coffee, rum, sugar cane, adventurers and music all passed back and forth, and for decades ferries ran twice-daily between the two cities. In 1850, New Orleans was even the launching point for an effort to overthrow the Spanish government in Cuba. Much like the Bay of Pigs invasion more than a century later, that effort failed, with the survivors seeking refuge in Key West.
Musicologists who know a lot more about such things than I ever will say that American jazz would be unthinkable without rhythms and occasional discordance imported in the 19th century from Cuba. But of course, there’s still a Latin flavor, a distinct beat, to the Afro-Cuban sound that makes it unique. Here’s the Bueno Vista Social Club, showing us how it’s done: