Fidel Castro’s impact on the Cuban music industry’s development¹

Fidel Castro 1926 – 2016.  Photo: Roberto Chile/AP

In light of the recent death of former Cuban president, Fidel Castro, T&T Guardian’s Associate features editor, Shereen Ali asked persons in the creative and cultural industries in Trinidad and Tobago about Castro’s impact on the Cuban cultural landscape and his arts legacy. Specifically, she wanted to know what has been my experience and/or impressions of music in Cuba and how did I think the Castro government shaped music development in Cuba? My response follows:

I guess it’s a matter of perspective. For Cubans, some at least, Castro’s Cuba was a fertile ground for learning and having a protected career, but in the wider world and even here in Trinidad, we see what isolation and political constraints have caused by the loss of the possibility of a real world context of the industry and commerce in music. Someone wrote on a blog, “Cuba’s music was largely uncorrupted by commercialism.” For better or worse?

I am part of the team that presents Jazz Artists on the Greens annually, and since 2008, we have featured Cuban artists, via the Cuban Institute of Music at our shows. One of the things that was apparent was the lack of commercial experience highlighted by the poor marketing material including CDs. These musicians are top notched. Since Castro, those who stayed, benefited from a well established musical conservatory education that served them well superseding musicians from all the other islands. Their arts were world class in quality. All styles (batá, son, nueva trova, salsa) on all instruments, including violin, xylophone, saxophone have been features of our shows.

1977 photo of Dizzy Gillespie, Castro and Arturo Sandoval who defected in 1990

[We know a whole lot of musicians left or never returned to Cuba—Gloria Estefan, Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Celia Cruz famously—and they benefited from engaging in the commerce of music and the influence of synergies. A generation in Cuba played without awareness of their value.

Since Raul took over from Fidel, and some relaxation of restrictions on musicians’ travel exists, we still had to deal with chaperones accompanying the musicians. They weren’t mangers. One musician told me that all he got from what we paid him was a stipend.] I’ve dealt with Cuban musicians now resident in Toronto, Canada, and they are better prepared for the world of music business. Simply put, Castro’s Cuba maintained and supported traditional Cuban music but at the expense of a wider global preparation for after he was gone.

  1. 20161201This response appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian as part of the article, “T&T cultural workers comment on Fidel Castro’s arts legacy in Cuba.”

© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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