Issue Date: January 2002

by Mark Holston

There is a long-held presumption that adversity is an essential factor in the evolution of profound and lasting art. The belief finds a compelling example in the island nation of Cuba. There hardship and creativity seem to go hand in hand.

Although economically disadvantaged--and politically repressed--throughout much of its history, this small Caribbean country emerged early in the past century as an extraordinary cultural influence, particularly as exemplified by its influential popular music. Indeed, throughout much of the twentieth century, it was difficult to find a region of the world that had not become infatuated with Cuban song.
In the 1930s, ensembles of Cuban musicians performing such period classics as "El Manicero" (The Peanut Vendor) became the toast of the Continent and the Americas. By the late 1940s, just when the swing era/big-band movement went into serious decline in the United States, venerable Afro-Cuban rhythms fused with the emerging, highly improvisational bebop style of modern jazz to create a dynamic new international music idiom dubbed Cu-bop, or Latin jazz.


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