Last Dance in Havana
Music is the mother's milk of Cuban culture. Cubans express their fondest hopes, their frustrations, even their political dissent, through music. Most Americans think only of salsa and the Buena Vista Social Club when they think of the music of Cuba, yet those styles are but a piece of a broad musical spectrum. Just as the West learned more about China after the Cultural Revolution by watching From Mao to Mozart, so will readers discover the real Cuba -- the living, breathing, dying, yet striving Cuba.
Cuban music is both wildly exuberant and achingly melancholy. A thick stew of African and European elements, it is astoundingly rich and influential to have come from such a tiny island. From rap stars who defy the government in their lyrics to violinists and pianists who attend the world's last Soviet-style conservatory to international pop stars who could make millions abroad yet choose to stay and work for peanuts, Robinson introduces us to unforgettable characters who happily bring him into their homes and backstage discussions.
Despite Castro's attempts to shut down nightclubs, obstruct artists, and subsidize only what he wants, the musicians and dancers of Cuba cannot stop, much less behave. Cubans move through their complicated lives the way they move on the dance floor, dashing and darting and spinning on a dime, seducing joy and fulfillment and next week's supply of food out of a broken system. Then at night they take to the real dance floors and invent fantastic new steps. Last Dance in Havana is heartwrenching, yet ultimately as joyous and hopeful as a rocking club late on a Saturday night.
The old-time Cuban Buena Vista Social Club may have won riches and international fame with its surprise hit recording and documentary film, but life under Fidel Castro remains a struggle for most of the group's compatriots. This is the story of bands that play in Cuba, hoping to score audiences of foreign tourists or the few Cubans who can cough up a $10 cover charge. This account places life on the island against the backdrop of music, dance and racial politics, and shows how culture is political in Cuba—and for the U.S. officials who control entry visas. Robinson, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, commits two sins common to journalists: an overabundance of taxi drivers' opinions and of accounts of himself taking notes. He also has an annoying tic of referring to the "Carnegie Hall of Cuba," to the "Li'l Bow Wow of Cuba," the "Juilliard of the Caribbean," the "Justin Timberlake of...": you get the picture. But Robinson makes up for that by conveying the energy of, and his passion for, the island, its music and the players. He does an excellent job of recounting how Cuba's hip-hop scene has challenged the regime, getting away with what nobody had until one band finally crossed the line. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. Journalist Robinson contends that in the stilted, sociopolitical environment of Castro's Cuba, the real activism comes from the island's musicians, the true journalists and social commentators. On staff at the Washington Post since 1980, Robinson might easily have written his book to read like a dossier, organized to prove his hypothesis. Instead, it is a lush account of a tumultuous, yet resilient, society. Robinson does a fine job of weaving together Cuba's rhythm and politics, deftly sketching a timeline from the pre-socialist nightclub era of the 1950s to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Castro's renewed dissident crackdown. Simultaneously, he notes the advent of hip-hop, a political grenade showing up on the boom boxes and street corners of Havana. He closes with a reference to a traditional Afro-Cuban hymn that poses the question, "Are we, or are we not?" That, he contends, is a refrain Castro cannot ignore. Terry GloverCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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- Free Press (June 27, 2007)
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