Thursday, September 9, 2010

Latin Music

Latin Music USA

Viewed on PBS TV

A Review

Last evening, quite by accident, I actually saw a televised program that was worth seeing. This was the PBS history of Latin Music titled Latin Music USA. A few years ago I read the book The Latin Tinge – The impact of Latin music in the United States by John Storm Roberts. At that time I was struck by the fact that there were few books about Latin music in the bookstores. Roberts argued that Latin music has been influencing the music of this country for over 100 years. He also argues that the most influential country with respect to Latin music is Cuba. Roberts even argues that the Argentine Tango has its roots in the Habanera style of Cuban music.

A number of years ago I also found a recording, also by accident, by Mario Bauza and was blown away by the sound. The CD is titled Tanga and was recorded in the 1940’s when Bauza was the band-leader for Machito’s Afro-Cuban All-stars. I wasn’t the only one blown away by this sound. When Dizzy Gillespie first listened to this piece, live, he couldn’t get over what he was listening to.

In fact Mario Bauza influenced Chick Webb to give both Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald their first jobs. Bauza also introduced Gillespie to Chano Pozo who was intimately aware of Cuban rhythms . Pozo gave Gillespie the idea for two of his most famous hits Manteca and Salt Peanuts.

The multi-part PBS documentary Latin Music USA goes into all this history and more. Included in this history is a tribute to several dancers who made this music come alive. After over one-hundred years, we might say: It’s about time.

Clearly there are limitations to this documentary. We live in a capitalist system and there was a considerable amount of time given to the capitalists who invested money to derive a profit from the music. Clearly most of these capitalists contributed little or nothing to the actual music. They also kept the lion’s share of the revenue while giving the artists a relatively small pittance.

The other problem with the film is that it fails to even mention the US trade embargo against Cuba and how it has effected Latin Music in this country. For years, music produced in Cuba could not be purchased in this country. To this day, it is difficult for Cuban musicians living on the island to perform in this country. These restrictions are beginning to be relaxed.

In any case, for anyone who is interested in the roots of music in this country, the study of Latin Music is a necessity. The PBS documentary gives a considerable amount of information on this subject. The entire documentary and associated reading materials can be seen on the PBS web page under the heading Latin Music USA.

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