The culture of Cuba is a complex mixture of different, often contradicting, factors and influences. The Cuban people and their customs are based on African, European and indigenous American influences
The music of Cuba, including the instruments and the dances, is mostly of European and African origin. Most forms of the present day are creolized fusions and mixtures of these two great sources. Almost nothing remains of the original Native traditions.
Fernando Ortíz, the first great Mexican folklorist, described Cuba’s musical innovations as arising from the interplay (‘transculturation’) between African slaves settled on large sugarcane plantations and Spanish or Canary Islanders who grew tobacco on small farms. The African slaves and their descendants reconstructed large numbers of percussive instruments and corresponding rhythms. The great instrumental contribution of the Spanish was their guitar, but even more important was the tradition of European musical notation and techniques of musical composition.
African beliefs and practices are most certainly an influence in Cuba’s music. Polyrhythmic percussion is an inherent part of African life & music, as melody is part of European music. Also, in African tradition, percussion is always joined to song and dance, and to a particular social setting. It is not simply entertainment added to life, it is life. The result of the meeting of European and African cultures is that most Cuban popular music is creolized. This creolization of Cuban life has been happening for a long time, and by the 20th century, elements of African belief, music and dance were well integrated into popular and folk forms.
One of the main rhythmic fusions in Cuban music is the son. Other typical Cuban forms are the habanera, the guaracha, the danzón, the rumba, the bolero, the chachachá, the mambo,the cha-cha-cha, the punto, and many variations on these themes. Cuban music has been immensely popular and influential in other countries. It was the original basis of salsa and contributed not only to the development of jazz, but also to Argentinian tango, Ghanaian high-life, West African Afrobeat, and Spanish nuevo flamenco. Within modern Cuba, there are also popular musicians working in the rock and reggaeton idioms.
Cuban hip-hop is one of the latest genres of music to be embraced not only by the country’s youth but also, more reluctantly, by the government. Initially, hip-hop was shunned by the authorities, because of its affiliation to America and capitalism. As more Cuban youth put their own energy and style into the music, Cuban hip-hop eventually became more acceptable. “The Cuban government now sees rap music – long considered the music of American imperialism – as a road map to the hearts and minds of the young generation” is one opinion.
A ration book called a libreta is supposed to guarantee a range of products from shops, however, there are still massive shortages and even rations are not guaranteed to be delivered timely or at all.
A lack of fuel for agricultural machinery meant that crops had to be harvested manually (by people), drastically decreasing Cuba’s food production capabilities. These problems have improved a little in recent years, but shortages are still common. To supplement their rations, Cubans resort to non-rationed food stores (where prices are nevertheless several times those of the libreta), or to the black market.
Traditional Cuban food is, as most cultural aspects of this country, a syncretism of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisines, with a small but noteworthy Chinese influence. The most popular foods are black beans, rice, and meat.
One example of traditional Cuban cuisine, or criollo as it is called, is moros y cristianos, “Moors and Christians”, rice with black beans. Criollo uses many different seasonings, with some of the most common being onion and garlic. Cassava, rice, beans, eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, chicken, beef and pork are all common ingredients.
Coffee is of high quality and grown mainly for export, the common coffee drink in Cuba is imported from Africa….
Cuban literature began to develop its own style in the early 19th century. The major works published in Cuba during that time dealt with issues of colonialism, slavery and the mixing of races in a creole society. Notable writers of this genre include Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, and Cirilo Villaverde, whose novel Cecilia Valdés was a landmark. Following the abolition of slavery in 1886, the focus of Cuban literature shifted to themes of independence and freedom as exemplified by José Martí, who led the modernista movement in Latin American literature. The poet Nicolás Guillén’s famous Motivos del son focused on the interplay between races. Others like Dulce María Loynaz, José Lezama Lima and Alejo Carpentier dealt with more personal or universal issues. And a few more, such as Reinaldo Arenas and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, earned international recognition in the postrevolutionary era.
Cuban culture encompasses a wide range of dance forms. The island’s indigenous people performed rituals known as areíto, which included dancing, although little information is known about such ceremonies. After the colonization of Cuba by the Spanish Kingdom, European dance forms were introduced such as the French contredanse, which gave rise to the Cuban contradanza. Contradanza itself spawned a series of ballroom dances between the 19th and 20th centuries, including the danzón, mambo and cha-cha-cha. Rural dances of European origin, such as the zapateoand styles associated with punto guajiro also became established by the 19th century, and in the 20th century son became very popular. In addition, numerous dance traditions were brought by black slaves from West Africa and the Congo basin, giving rise to religious dances such as Santería, yuka and abakuá, as well as secular forms such as rumba. Cuban music also contributed to the emergence of Latin dance styles in the United States, namely rhumba (ballroom rumba) and salsa.
Due to historical associations with the United States, many Cubans participate in sports which are popular in North America, rather than sports traditionally promoted in other Latin American nations. Baseball is by far the most popular; Other popular sports and pastimes include boxing (Cuba is a dominant force in amateur boxing, consistently achieving high medal tallies in international competitions), volleyball, basketball, sailingand trekking.
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