Musica: Cuba
Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan, Geographer

This is the part of my MUSICA site where I put the music of or reasonably close to Cuba!

Dancing with the Enemy?
In January 2003, I had the rare privilege of spending 10 days with students and colleagues in Cuba -- the only country in the world that American citizens are ordinarily prohibited from visiting. Because of 40 years of rhetoric and isolation, Cubanos and Norteamericanos are strangers and enemies, ignorant of each other. Myths and misimpressions abound.

I am not a great dancer, but I am enthusiastic, and this brought out the best in our Cuban hosts, who truly love music and love sharing their rich tradition of dance and music.

By the end of the trip, most of the people in our group were dancing and drumming almost constantly. And smiling!

Buena Vista Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club
This album and the documentary film of the same name have done much to familiarize a generation of North Americans with Cuban son -- a musical form that was once well known but that was at risk of disappearing, as many of its most important artists were aging and dying in obscurity. Ry Cooder risked fines and arrest (by U.S. authorities) to bring their music to a broad audience, and has since brought some of the musicians to perform in New York City.

As Cuba turns increasingly toward tourism as an economic strategy, musicians in the most touristy spots tend to focus a little too narrowly on the music from this CD. Fortunately, I never tired of "Chan Chan," and it is easy to get a few block away from the main hotels and clubs to hear a much richer variety.
Mambo Kings Mambo Kings
The sound track of this film about Cuban immigrants in New York includes many of the standards of mambo and cha-cha. The song "Guantanamera" is the most overplayed song in Havana these days, and our group decided that we were tired of it by the third day!
Dancing With the Enemy

"La Guarapachanga" is one of many dance standards on this collection from Luaka Bop (see below), an early effort to produce Cuban music for a U.S. audience. The title of the CD refers to the Trading with the Enemy Act, which prevents U.S. citizens from buying anything from Cuba. After forty years, this law will bring Castro to his knees ... any day now!


Orishas is part of a growing number of Latin American musicans working in Paris. Theis group of emigres is named for the orishas, which are deities of the synchretic religious traditions of Cuba, Brazil, and other places where Yoruba people were brought in bondage. (See my Cuba page for more on this tradition.)

Hamel Hamel
Iroso Obba

En Callejon de Hamel
This is a CD that is -- as far as I know -- not available commercially. Hamel is a famous alley in Havana, named for a Dutch muralist who has covered most of the walls with fantastic art. It is an active Santaria community, with a variety of altars, curious little shops, music, and active streetlife. When we first arrived in the alley, many of the people in our group were clinging to me, because they found it a bit scary. After a half hour, we were all reluctant to leave. We met members of the rumba band Iroso Obba, and learned that they were playing in a local (not-tourist) club on the Malecon that very evening. We enjoyed great music and dancing with a mostly Cuban audience.

Johny Ventura

El Amoi no Mata

Sin Desperdicio

Harry Belfaonte at Carnegie Hall

Day O

Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma


The Coffee Song


Tish Hinojosa
Taos to Tennessee

Feel free to suggest new content for this page, especially from Latin American countries
other than Brazil, Mexico, and Cuba:

Go to my Environmental Geography home page
Go to my Latin American links page
Go to the Latin American and Caribbean Studies page
Go to the International Section of my County Map Page
Note to educators: This web site is a supplement to live presentations that I have enjoy presenting for college audiences, teacher training, and K-12 assemblies. Please contact me to discuss the possibilities of a presentation at your school, conference, or university. My collection of resources is much larger than that presented here; I can customize a presentation to suit your group's needs.
Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan