Date of Degree
Africana Studies | Anthropology | Communication Technology and New Media | Ethnic Studies | Folklore | History | Music | Social and Cultural Anthropology
rumba, bata, Regla de Ocha, Santeria, media, Caribbean
This dissertation analyzes the way audio and video recordings and the internet have impacted, shaped, and helped create a transnational Afro-Cuban music scene. My focus will be on the most popular and widely-recorded genres of Afro-Cuban music—rumba and the religious repertoire of Santería, particularly batá drumming—both of which I also perform regularly with other Cuban musicians in Miami. Incorporating interviews, online ethnographic research, and participant-observation as a musician, my research has three main arguments.
First, recordings of Afro-Cuban music helped create a transnational Afro-Cuban music scene by increasing the popularity of these traditions outside of Cuba, including their amateur performance among non-Cubans. The earliest widely-disseminated audio recordings of rumba from the 1950s and 1960s helped introduce rumba to non-Cuban audiences and were critical in the creation of the first local performance scenes outside the island in New York and Puerto Rico. They assisted in bridging the geographical and political gap that separated Cuba from the outside world for much of the latter 20th century. With the waning of analog (pre-digital) media in the 2000s, YouTube and other social media sites like Facebook have become the primary media for the dissemination of Afro-Cuban music recordings and related information, and have brought Cuban and non-Cuban performers, students, and fans ever closer together in space and time.
My second argument hinges on what Mark Katz (2010) terms “phonograph effects”—the specific effects recordings have on performance, listening, and composition practices within a given music community. Indeed, audio recordings of Afro-Cuban groups in Cuba have often served as primary sources of song and drum repertoires for amateur musicians outside Cuba and have heavily influenced the dominant drumming and singing styles performed by those outside the island. More recently, the popularity of social media and YouTube has resulted in democratizing effects including easier, quicker, and largely free access to a wide variety audio and visual recordings, including those taken within the more intimate spaces of non-public casual performances or religious events.
My third and final argument examines the socioeconomic effects of Afro-Cuban music-related materials on the internet for Cuba-based performers. The foreign students that have flocked to study Afro-Cuban traditional music in Cuba have served as important mediators of audio and video recordings and promotional information by posting and sharing such materials online. Since most Cuba-based culture bearers have limited or no access to the internet, these materials serve to promote these teachers and musicians, who are able to gain more students, travel abroad for workshops or performances, and perhaps eventually emigrate. Foreign students and opportunities to travel abroad also represent access to much-needed hard currency. In the past few years, younger Cuban performers on the island have begun to enjoy greater direct access to the internet and social media, which has led to less reliance on foreign intermediaries.
Frias, Johnny, "Afro-Cuba Transnational: Recordings and the Mediation of Afro-Cuban Traditional Music" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.