Olavo Alén Rodriguez:
Report from the Centre for the
Research and Development of Cuban Music
Havana, Cuba

Olavo Alen Rodriguez is Director at the Center for the Research and Development of Cuban Music
(address: G No. 505 Ent. 23 Y 21, Vedado, Havana, Cuba).
This report was first published in Worldbeat: An International Journal of Popular Music,
Ottawa and Berlin, 1991, pp. 186-191. Page turns in the original edition are shown thus: |186-187|.

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One of the characteristics of music in the Caribbean has been the development of a kind of music which I prefer to call professional popular music. This music has had a lot to do with the preservation of authentic musical attitudes and expressions derived from the folk music of our peoples but imbued with technical elements — both in composition and interpretation-that link it to the academic professional music of Europe.

The development of a professional music with very deep popular root — which in the Caribbean is especially linked to the development of popular dancing — is a phenomenon that has managed to coexist with a thriving analogue in folk music. And yet, it is this professional music — as opposed to |186-187| the authentic folk expressions — that serves as the perfect bridge for aesthetic communication with people of different musical cultures, perhaps as a result of its association with certain technical elements of European music.

However, this is only valid for those people whose musical tastes are conditioned to the systems of sound organization and characteristic timbres originating in Europe. For anyone who is not an expert in the music of this area it may at times be difficult to understand the differences between an expression of folk music and its professional popular music analogue. Sometimes, indeed, even the experts have their doubts in certain very complicated cases. Whether a son, a merengue, a calypso or aplena fall into one category or the other is often determined by the function it is to carry out at a particular moment not by any clear-cut definition of those genres.

In any case, it is the field of professional popular music that facilita- tes a quick understanding of many of the elements and attitudes of folk music for the foreign listener. In their pure or original state these elements would be a great deal more difficult to interpret. Another important characteristic of professional popular music (as opposed to folk music) is that its elements are easily transferrable to all kinds of mass media. This characteristic may have led to an exaggerated com- mercialization of these elements and therefore, in certain cases, to an undermining of the genuine values derived from folk music.

Go to top of this document Professional popular music has so developed in Cuba that for a number of decades it has been the sphere that has attracted the greatest number of artists from all spheres of music and from all the arts in general. But it is not only this attraction that makes this sphere of music one of fundamental importance. Through it, the world has become familiar with a great many genres of Cuban music, like the son and the rumba, that were born within the framework of folk music. New genres were also born in the sphere of professional popular music as a result of the process of combining the aesthetic and musical output of the popular creator with the use of compositional and interpretive techniques drawn from the academic professional music of Europe. This is the case for the danzon, a number of different types of songs (the trova song, the bolero and others), and for the mambo and cha-cha-cha.

The study of such a broad and complex sector of music was no easy task for the Center for the Research and Development of Cuban Music in Havana when, in January 1980, it drafted a research project entitled: 'Diagnostic Blueprint of the Musical Production Cycle in Cuba'. There were, before this project, individuals and institutions that broached the study of popular music, but in every case they were partial research projects that limited themselves to the desciption of a few musical genres; monographies on the artistic interpretation and composition of given individuals, or historical studies of certain stages of musical composition in Cuba. The 1980 project was a comprehensive study designed as a production diagnosis and centreed on Cuban music. The premise on which the project was based was that popular music constituted a system of different degrees of complexity for the production of certain spiritual and material goods. The components which made up this production system were assumed to be relatively independent from each other, and even to have different growth and development rates.

One of the most general objectives was to identify the behavior of the relations that exist between the production processes of the music itself, processes of distribution, and the way the music is consumed by the different and diverse strata of the Cuban population. Another general objective was the detection of the different factors that, while alien to it, nevertheless condition the production cycle. The most important of |187-188| these are the different aspects of technical and technological develop- ment, the economic factors linked to the cycle, scientific discoveries that influence it, and the administrative organization within which all these factors interact.

Go to top of this document A diagnosis of all the events that determine the production of music in Cuba would allow us to have an exact and precise view of each and every element that makeup the spectrum of professional popular music in Cuba: each with the positive and negative factors influencing them at a given stage in their development. The most important thing, however, was that with the sequence of diagnostic studies we were able to observe — for once with an acceptable level of accuracy — the statistically derived trajectory curvers of the evolution of the different parameters that make up the system. Thus, we began to have a real possibility of predicting events, that is, of developing forecast studies with much greater dependability.

The project was aimed, in its more particular aspects, at detecting the strata that demonstrate particular behaviour patterns within the field of professional popular music as a whole. Thus, independent studies were done of music students, music teachers, members of musical groups of all kinds, soloists, composers, reearchers, music programmers and disseminators, and the administrative officials involved in this field. The last stratum to be studied was that of the consumers.

The first studies were based on statistically small samples, but sample sizes grew as the research team improved its implementation and processing methods. New topics for research appeared, and contributed to the improvement of our questionnaires. Thus, besides ascertaining the different age groups in each of the strata analyzed, we also ascertained the different educational levels and the levels of musical training in the different groups. We were careful to check the number of years of experience and the specific kind of work undertaken by the different specialists, as well as each specialist's salary level. We also studied aspects such as the social origins of families, and the stability of the ensembles. As a result of all these studies, we obtained a rather comprehensive individual and collective overview of the people devoted to professional popular music in Cuba.

Other CIDMUC research projects were also directly linked to the study of different aspects and facets of professional popular music. One such study was entitled: 'Musical Tastes and Preferences of the Cuban Population'. Research in this area has so far been centreed on the young |188-189| people. They were divided into age groups in different strata to detect more or less similar behaviour in the consumption of music. Two important projects have been lauched to satisfy the pressing need for information in this area: one is devoted to the observation and study of the influence of Salsa music coming from other Latin American countrie as compared to that of the Salsa music of Cuba the other is devoted to ascertaining the impact of rock music on the young people.

The Center is also working in the field of the psychology of music. It has undertaken studies to determine musicality in Cuban children (i.e., the abilities that the child develops spontaneously and that have a direct influence on their aesthetic personality through musical behaviour). The finding of these studies have been implemented by the National Music Teaching System, especially in the test they use to identify future music professionals at very early ages.

Go to top of this document The second research line within the field of the psychology of music began with a joint research project undertaken with the psychologists and neurologists of the Institute for Basic Brain Research of the Cuban Academy of Sciences. In the early stages the studies were limited to the characteristic auditive laterality of Cuban individuals, and mainly to compiling information on the processing of auditive events in the different hemispheres of the brain.

In late 1987, however, our researchers, together with the team form the Institute for Basic Brain Research, began to do studies on the use of music — and specifically Cuban music — for therapeutic objectives. So far we have identified music that is useful against anxiety, against depression and for conditioning intellecutal receptivity. Another area included in the Center's studies is the relation or feedback process existing between folk music and professional popular music. This relation is of importance to the development of Cuban popular music. The two most studied aspects of this area are the development of musical instruments, and the shaping of musical genres.

It might also be useful in this report to refer to the work being done by other institutions in the field of researching professional popular music. The Seminário de Música Popular (The Popular Music Seminar) was founded in 1949 in Havana. It was originally called the Musical Institute for Folklore Research. For over 30 years the researchers of this Institute — whose director is the Cuban musicologist 0dilio Urfe — have studied danzon and rumba, the many variants of Cuban song, the many genres of son, and musical expressions linked to the Cuban lyrical |189-190| theatre. This institution periodically offers recitals and concerts with presentations on different aspects of popular music. It also organizes exhibitions and invites outstanding musicologists - from Cuba and abroad - to give lectures on the most widely ranging aspects of popular music. The researchers of this institution frequently participate in popular music festivals and contests as jurors, lecturers or consultants.

Go to top of this document The Ignacio Cervantes Center for Professional Music Upgrading was founded in Havana in 1964. It is a teaching institution specializing in the training and certification of professional musicians who want to enhance their academic training. This centre has branches in 11 of the country's 14 provinces.

The Higher Institute of Art has a music faculty and has had musicology as one of its specialities since it was founded in 1976. Many of our present popular Cuban musicologists are graduates of this Institute. The graduation theses of a number of these musicologists (the theses are required to obtain the degree of 'licenciado' [roughly equivalent to a BA]) have centreed on the most varied aspects of professional popular music. They have covered topics such as new musical dissemination and communication media, the rumba, Ernesto Lecuona, and an analysis of professional popular music in the period following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Others have broached the question of popular music from different angles. These studies are an important source of informa- tion for the research and development of professional popular music of Cuba.

Together with the development of Casa de las Americas we find the birth and development of what is perhaps the most mature expression of the Cuban song: The Nueva Trova movement. The importance of the work done by Casa de las Americas with the Nueva Trova movement was not limited to the promotion of the artists that founds their way into it. Casa de las Americas also did important work in fostering the observation and study of this movement, a movement which is so important in Cuban popular music today.

For many years the Josť Marti National Library has had a staff of researchers and musicologists in its Music Department that has done important work, particularly on the son complex. The library's lecture ball has hosted many concerts with presentations and lectures on the most varied aspects of Cuban professional popular music.

Go to top of this document The National Music Museum was founded in 1971 and has done research work linked essentially to objects of historical value such as |190-191| musical instruments and scores. The main objective of its work has been the restoration of originals and the preparation of materials to be exhibited in numerous halls for the education of the population. The Museum holds exhibits, concerts, lectures and musical presentations with commentaries. They too have approached the field of professional popular music and possess a number of very important documents relating to it. The director of the Museum, M. T. Linares, has written a book Introdución a Cuba: la música popular, which is an important document for the understanding of this important field of Cuban music.

In 1986 the first issue of Clave appeared. Clave is a quarterly publication on current events in the musical world of Cuba. Clave devotes a considerable number of pages to infomation on the development and evolution of Cuban professional popular music. Its director, Idalberto Suco, is a musicologist who has investigated and studied professional popular music in Cuba. A large amount of the material published in this journal comes from the research findings of the aforementioned institutions.


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