Rites of Rhythm: The Music of Cuba

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9780060090302: Rites of Rhythm: The Music of Cuba

In the weeks just before carnival, a kind of fevered delirium seizes Santiago. Massive papier-mâché figures known as muñecones must be readied, masks made, costumes and capes created with feathers, rabbit skins, beads, and glass. Songs have to be rehearsed, dances perfected, complex choreography synchronized, for carnival, an explosion of rhythm, song, and spirit meant to lure every sentient being into its swirling vortex, is a fierce competition as well as an unfolding of sensual dementia.

-- from Rites of Rhythm

The music of Cuba is primordial and poetic: steeped in sex, drenched in mysticism, and at once exotic and familiar. Jory Farr, whose articles about Cuban music earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1990, has carried on a love affair with the culture and the country for over a decade, returning again and again to research and experience firsthand Cuba's musical heritage as both a journalist and a musician in his own right.

Part listener's guide, part memoir, Rites of Rhythm is a musical journey through Cuba and its cultural outposts in the United States.

The Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon gave many listeners their first taste of Cuban music, but Farr takes us further, initiating the reader in the deeper mysteries of the music by interviewing the masters of Cuban music, from Chucho Valdés and Eliades Ochoa to Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Papi Oviedo. Along the way, he profiles such legends as Benny Moré and Arsenio Rodríguez.

Farr also takes us on a historical journey through Cuba, locating the roots of the music in the country's extraordinary confluence of religions, ethnicities, and cultures. Cuban music's influences include African drums and chants, gypsy melodies, Afro-Haitian rhythms, Andalusian folk songs, and the spiraling melodies from Moorish regions. Yet contemporary Cuban music often sounds familiar to American ears because it also contains the jazz and blues licks that we have grown up with.

This is the first comprehensive exploration of Cuba's rich musical and mythological heritage and the extraordinary impact it has had on American popular culture. Jory Farr's travels to Cuba's Old Havana, Santiago, the Sierra Maestra mountains, and the Cuban music scenes in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles will give music aficionados everywhere the key to understanding the music they love.

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About the Author:

Jory Farr is a journalist, author, and musician whose writings earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination in Criticism in 1990. His work has appeared in the New York Times and other national publications. He lives in Pasadena, California.

From Publishers Weekly:

Farr's second book is a useful tool in demystifying the way music is and has been made in Cuba. He dives headlong into the purity of Cuban rhythm, as if to rid himself of the sleaze he uncovered in his previous book, Moguls and Madmen: The Pursuit of Power in Popular Music. Invoking Graham Greene at the outset, Farr thrusts the reader into the fabled wild streets of Havana and a series of encounters with legendary musicians such as Benny Mor‚ and Arsenio Rodr¡guez. But although his prose is comfortably clear, much of the terminology and many of the references will escape those who are not seriously into Cuban music-a glossary provided at the end offers only partial guidance. A satisfying underlying tension pulls between the first part, in which the island is made to seem like a paradise of authenticity, and the second, in which Cuban exiles pile on disparaging epithets about the cruelties of the Castro revolution. The unexplained contradictions between some of the accounts and the political context underline that the study of Cuban music can never be an exact science. A mainstream audience could probably use a little more handholding through Cuba's esoterica, but Farr's voice is reader-friendly and he's gained impressive access to many untold stories. Aficionados will find the book an insightful must-have.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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