The Africa-Cuba Connection

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Cuban music is an amalgam of African music, much of it from Benin and Nigeria, and Spanish folk music and decima poetry  from the 16th century.  When Cuban music hit the African stores as 78 rpm records in the 1950s, it changed African music forever.  Afrobeat, juju, Congolese rumba, these great styles all were ignited by Cuban music.  A lot of the music came on cruise ships and their ship orchestras;  some Cuban records came with tourists, some via Paris and London.   If you were a young African who loved music in the 1950s and 1960s, this was the most exciting thing you could find.

Add to this that for newly-independent African nations and their optimistic public, the Cuban revolution of 1959 was a major inspiration both politically, socially, and musically.  Songs like “Independence Cha Cha” by the  Congolese African Fiesta band, lead by Joseph Kabaselle, were big hits throughout West Africa.  And some Africans were sent to Cuba to study engineering, agriculture, and other disciplines.   A  good example is Las Maravilas de Mali, a group of Malians who went to Cuba to study engineering and wound up back in Mali, forming a band.

Another connection is the great Cuban charanga (flute & violin genre) band Orquesta Aragón, who toured West Africa in the 1960s.  When I asked the great Malian musician Salif Keita who his biggest influences were, he just uttered one word:  Aragón.

I could go on and on, but need to stop here.  Suffice to say there is great synergy here, and that African music has always been in the DNA of Cuban music, and that Cuban music is now embedded in all West African music as well.   I’ve put some album covers here that serve as good examples of this fascinating musical kinship.

here’s a youtube video of Miguelito Valdes singing “Zambele”

and Gnonas Pedro from Benin, singing “Africa tei Cuba”  his version of the Miguelito song:

A cool little verse in the song is “je ka jo” (let us dance in Yoruba) then the rhyme “shango” the  Yoruba god of fire.  Nice rhyme!!!

Below find the Sengalese singer Cheikh Lo’s song “M’Beddemi” a Wolof version of the Cuban classic “El Carretero” (The cartwright):

and the original Cuban song, here performed by the Buena Vista Social Club:

And yet another classic Cuban son, El Son te Llama (the son is calling you) by the great singer Papaito y Las Estrella del Son:

And the Senegalese version, done by the great Orchestra Baobab:

There are many more examples, too numerous to list here.   Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab, Guinea’s Bembeya Jazz, Congolese rumba superstars Tabu Ley Rochereau, Franco, and countless others.   Suffice it to say that both Africa and Cuba owe a big debt to each other, and the music world is better for it!!!!!!!!

Finally, a great book on the subject:  Cuba and its Music:  From the First Drum to the Mambo, by Ned Sublette.  Amazing reading.