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In the weeks just before carnival, a kind of fevered delirium seizes Santiago. Massive papier-mâché figures known as muñecones must be readied, masks made, costumes and capes created with feathers, rabbit skins, beads, and glass. Songs have to be rehearsed, dances perfected, complex choreography synchronized, for carnival, an explosion of rhythm, song, and spirit meant to lure every sentient being into its swirling vortex, is a fierce competition as well as an unfolding of sensual dementia.
-- from Rites of Rhythm
The music of Cuba is primordial and poetic: steeped in sex, drenched in mysticism, and at once exotic and familiar. Jory Farr, whose articles about Cuban music earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1990, has carried on a love affair with the culture and the country for over a decade, returning again and again to research and experience firsthand Cuba's musical heritage as both a journalist and a musician in his own right.
Part listener's guide, part memoir, Rites of Rhythm is a musical journey through Cuba and its cultural outposts in the United States.
The Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon gave many listeners their first taste of Cuban music, but Farr takes us further, initiating the reader in the deeper mysteries of the music by interviewing the masters of Cuban music, from Chucho Valdés and Eliades Ochoa to Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Papi Oviedo. Along the way, he profiles such legends as Benny Moré and Arsenio Rodríguez.
Farr also takes us on a historical journey through Cuba, locating the roots of the music in the country's extraordinary confluence of religions, ethnicities, and cultures. Cuban music's influences include African drums and chants, gypsy melodies, Afro-Haitian rhythms, Andalusian folk songs, and the spiraling melodies from Moorish regions. Yet contemporary Cuban music often sounds familiar to American ears because it also contains the jazz and blues licks that we have grown up with.
This is the first comprehensive exploration of Cuba's rich musical and mythological heritage and the extraordinary impact it has had on American popular culture. Jory Farr's travels to Cuba's Old Havana, Santiago, the Sierra Maestra mountains, and the Cuban music scenes in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles will give music aficionados everywhere the key to understanding the music they love.
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