I've got a whole shelf full of books about Cuba, but Eugene Robinson's Last Dance in Havana
is without a doubt the best thing I have ever read about contemporary Cuba. The author describes the book best himself: "Last Dance in Havana
is about today's Cuba and looks at the society through the prism of the vibrant music scene in Havana. I found that a lot of the currents running through the society -- race, religion, economic strife, concern about an uncertain future -- can be seen clearly in popular music, which is a vital element of Cuban life." He hangs out with musical luminaries like Juan DeMarcos of Afro-Cuban All-Stars and Lázarito Valdéz of Bamboleo and gets some fascinating insider information from them. He also examines the rapidly growing Cuban Hip-Hop scene and the rappers' battles with the authorities over the content of their lyrics.
But for me, the best part of this well-written book is that it really captures my
Habana, my scenes, my people, my hangouts, in ways that I could never hope to, because this guy has far more writing chops than I ever will. A terrific, thoughtful book that raises more questions than it answers, particularly about what will happen to Cuba when Fidel goes. Highly, highly recommended.
I recently picked up El Gran Tesoro De La Musica Cubana
, a huge box set put out by the Cuban record company, EGREM. This set covers 60 years of the EGREM archives and is basically the history of Cuban music from early roots material to son to timba, and everything in between. According to Descarga.com, it comes with a 66 page book, which was missing from my copy that I bought at Amoeba Music in LA. I'm looking forward to getting into this thing. Eight CDs, 165 songs. That should keep me busy for awhile. Click the link for a complete list of Artists and songs.
Speaking of Amoeba Music
, I just wanted to add that this is most likely the finest independent record chain that has ever been. If you are around or get out to the west coast, don't miss it, there is no music they don't have and the prices are incredibly reasonable.
And a big shout-out to Robert Leaver, who stocks the Latin and Cuban sections of the store. Robert has not only been to Cuba, he's produced records there, and he knows the scene really well. I always look forward to hanging out there and talking to him.
The LA Times has a scary article named Rampant Piracy Threatens to Silence Latin Music Industry
(Subscription required, or you can get in through bugmenot.com). Piracy in Mexico is so rampant now that extremely popular artists are being dropped from label rosters, because they can't make a profit. Mexico is set to join Paraguay and Venezuela as a land of no legit music biz. I don't know where all of this is going to end, but it sure is a weird time to be in the music biz.