One Man’s Mix of Cuban Music: Roberto Zurbano

I asked Roberto Zurbano for the impossible: a short course on Cuban music. Say, a flight across the 60 years since Chano Pozo met Dizzy Gillespie… in something less than 60 minutes.

Teacher, critic, sometime radio deejay and music historian — Roberto Zurbano graciously insisted that Cuba — fabulously fertile in genres, rhythms, virtuoso (and village) performers — is one musical jurisdiction in the world where Desert Island Discs and the pruning it requires might be illegal.

And still he gave it a shot. In a single conversation here at the Casa de Las Americas in Havana, we are trying to justify Zurbano’s premise that, as he says,”the most important thing about Cuban music is the indirect way musicians are always talking about what’s going on in Cuba,” and also to account for the waves that Cuban music has never stopped making in the US, Europe, Africa and Japan. The trick was to get from Chano Pozo to the Cuban rappers today on a thread that touched the revered jazz singer Benny Moré; worldwide classic songs like El Manisero or “The Peanut Vendor;” the Mambo Kings and the cha-cha-cha; the Bolero and the post-Revolutionary New Trova singers like Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes; the modern bands of Chucho Valdes and Irakere, which married Cuban sounds to jazz, and Juan Formell‘s Los Van Van, which adapted a Beatles sound to Cuban tradition… Also to make some mention of Cuban rock music and a hit rap group like Ogguere; the proliferation of choir music in Cuba today; younger stars like Goza Pepillo emerging from the Interactivo band; the social criticism of feminist rappers; the jazz innovations in rumba sounds by Maraca, for example; and the adaptation of conga drumming to symphonic music by Grupo Sur Caribe. Listen here, and then shout if you want a playlist. Thank you, Roberto Zurbano!

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