From the Habanera to "Louie Louie:" The Other Great Tradition

May 19, 2004 - 5:00 pm

The first written evidence of the word “drum” in English dates only to 1540, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and the word was “not very common” until 1573. But in 1527 there were already a thousand or so negros in Cuba, and sailors and conquistadores-to-be were already dancing in Havana. As music in the North American colonies developed, there was already a music culture in the great maritime hub of Havana, and musical ideas that came from Cuba entered North America over and over. The most fabled town in American music, New Orleans, became a recognizable city under Spanish rule, as an administrative department of Havana. American popular music would be unrecognizable without this influence.

Ned Sublette, author of Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo (Chicago Review Press, 2004), will speak about the relationship of Cuban music and music in the U.S. Among the ideas to be discussed: the influence of musical ideas that passed through Cuba back to Sevilla, transforming the music of Europe, in the 16th century; the stylistic differences between Afro-Cuban and Afro-American music onto the great stylistic differences between the forested and arid regions of Africa; the presence or absence of Islamic influence as a factor in the evolution of popular music; and the indispensable influence of Cuban dance music on rock and roll, best exemplified in the way Richard Berry in 1956 took the famous “Louie Louie” lick from the opening bars of René Touzet’s version of Rosendo Ruiz, Jr.’s “El Loco Cha Cha.”

Ned Sublette is a 2003-2004 fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. He was for seven years senior co-producer of the public radio program Afropop Worldwide, and is co-founder of their new “series within a series” Hip Deep, a program of ideas about the music, history, and culture of Africa and the African diaspora. He co-founded the Qbadisc record label, which pioneered the marketing of post-revolutionary Cuban music in the United States in the early 90s. He has been researching in Cuba since 1990, and has led a number of musico-cultural tours of the island. He is a 2004-2005 Tulane Rockefeller Humanities fellow, and will spend next year doing archival research in New Orleans on musical connections among Haiti, Cuba, and Louisiana.