Cover image for Rites of rhythm : music of Cuba
Rites of rhythm : music of Cuba
Farr, Jory.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Regan Books, [2003]

Physical Description:
261 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML207.C8 F37 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In the weeks just before carnival, a kind of fevered delirium seizes Santiago. Massive papier-mâ ché figures known as muñ econes 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 Valdé s and Eliades Ochoa to Los Muñ equitos de Matanzas and Papi Oviedo. Along the way, he profiles such legends as Benny

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



The night before I left for Havana, I couldn't sleep. Travel to Cuba seemed, by its very nature, unpredictable, even though I was visiting pursuant to a general license. I'd heard rumors that my phone might be tapped, that I'd be followed by the CIA or tailed by Castro's secret police. I thought about Jesse Helms, the bug-eyed senator who didn't want anyone visiting Cuba. And as my fevered psyche hovered between exhaustion and excitement, I was beginning to have my doubts about going there altogether when the alarm clock rang. I showered quickly, ran a comb through my hair, and counted out $2,000 in twenties, tens, and fives, which I stuffed in a money belt with my passport. It was the first time I'd worn a money belt, and I felt vaguely nefarious, like a figure out of a Graham Greene novel. As I headed out to the airport to catch my flight, I wondered what would happen if I were to lose the crisp dead presidents that were my sole source of survival. On the plane to Cancún, I sat next to a roguishly handsome Mexican who drank rum and Cokes through the whole flight. He asked me where I was going, and when I said I was on my way to Havana, he gave me a wolf's grin. "Oh, man, you stepped into something now," he said. "I was down there last year, my friend. You brought plenty of protection?" "No," I said. "I'm going for the music." Maybe it was the way I said it or the answer itself, but the Mexican laughed, as if he had just heard the most naive thing in the world. His dark brown eyes held me tightly in their gaze as he leaned in close and put his arm around me. "Listen, my friend, you need to get yourself some rubbers. Because in Cuba," he said, and I could smell his rummy breath now, "the women are like men. They rape you." I thought about this for a while. But my mind was still filled with wide-eyed wonder for the country where I was going. I had wanted to visit Cuba a few years earlier, but another book had made it impractical. So I carried the country's rhythms inside me and experienced their powerful, indefinable pull. I listened to Mario Bauzá and Chano Pozo, to Irakere and Chucho Valdés, to Celia Cruz and Celina González, to Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Carlos Embale. I found field recordings of Santerían possession rituals, Arará drumming, and the haunting chants accompanying initiations into Palo, Cuba's adaptation of a Congolese religion that seeks nothing less than the transcendence of human death. Already, in the mid-1990s, Cuban son, rumba, guajira , and jazz were gaining wider audiences in the United States. Everyone from the Rolling Stones and Madonna to the Spice Girls and Marc Anthony brought along Cuban-style rhythm sections when they toured. And virtually all the great Latin stars, from Panama's salsa pioneer Ruben Blades to Venezuela's Oscar D'Leon, were mining musical styles that originated in Cuba. The first incarnation of salsa, the Latin dance music that Hispanics from Los Angeles and New York to Paris and Berlin now claim as their own, was merely a reworking of son , Cuba's national music. Yet the island's influence extended even deeper into America. The left-handed piano style that erupted in ragtime and the rolling rumba-boogie of the New Orleans piano great Professor Longhair are fundamentally AfroCuban. Cuban musicians, settling in New Orleans and New York beginning in the early 1900s, lent their brilliance to the early evolution of jazz, influencing everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to Dizzy Gillespie to Duke Ellington. In the 1920s, Cuban jazz musicians were already jamming in New York. After his collaboration with the Cuban percussionist/composer/dancer Chano Pozo and bandleader Mario Bauzá, Dizzy Gillespie, the cofounder of bebop, said that everything he played thereafter reflected the Afro-Cuban influence. Many of the bass patterns heard in today's hip-hop and classic funk were nicked from Afro-Cuban bands. One of the most common saxophone and bass riffs of fifties rock came from an obscure Cuban rumba recording, according to music critic Robert Palmer. But Cuba's influence reached even further, across oceans. Cuban music has been the popular music of Senegal for a long time - just straight Cuban music that got Africanized. Early Congolese " rumba " bands took their cue from Cuba's Orquesta Aragón and Johnny Pacheco. Franco and Tabu Ley and groups like Kékélé created an ingenious Congolese rumba that had its heyday in the fifties and sixties but is still going strong. The Afro-Cuban music I heard put me in mind of black spirituals, ring shouts, deep Delta blues, and the jazz of Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. Yet the rhythms were more complex and seemed closer to Africa. Cuba's rhythms are so powerful, so immediately recognizable anywhere in the world, that you merely have to hear a few bars of son montuno , or the three-two pulse of the clicking wooden clave sticks - pa-pa-pa - pause - pa-pa - to be instantly transported there. Clave (pronounced clavay ), the repeated two-bar phrase tapped out on wooden sticks of the same name, is the basic pulse of all Afro-Cuban music. Though it comes from Africa, clave has Cuba's imprint on it, especially in the way it's heard. In Cuba, not only the music but silences in the composition have to be in clave. And not only the rhythms but the rhythms of the melodies have to be in clave - no mean feat when composing a jazz score or improvising with eight or more other instruments ... (Continues...) Excerpted from Rites of Rhythm by Jory Farr Copyright © 2003 by Jory Farr Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.