Playing Castro's Tune

Playing Castro's Tune

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Cuban musicians

Musicians playing in Trinidad, Cuba

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In this two part series, Stephen Evans travels to Cuba to look for the links between the country's music and its revolution.

He explores how political and social change impacted on the music and musicians' lives.

Part one

On January 1 1959, General Batista's regime in Cuba was overthrown by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement.

Prior to the revolution, Batista created a playground for the rich and famous from the United States.

Havana became a centre for the drugs and gambling underworld. Its casinos and night clubs also supplied work for a myriad of musicians and entertainers including Bobby Carcas├ęs, who Stephen meets at his Havana home.

The revolution also created a mass exile to Puerto Rico, Miami, Florida and New York, including musicians like Grammy award winning jazz trumpeter, Arturo Sandaval.

Vehemently anti Castro, Arturo explains how artistic freedom was curtailed: "... to play Jazz in Cuba was a nightmare."

Musicians who stayed in Cuba tell a different story. They point to how support of culture and the arts became a priority for the government.

In 1962, just a year after the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Castro regime implemented a music policy to improve the standards of its musicians.

The Escuela Nacional de Arte or National Art School was founded in Havana and teachers were sent for training to the Soviet Union.

One surprising beneficiary was Pablo Menendez, son of American blues and jazz singer Barbara Dane, who in 1966 at the age of 14 moved from America to Cuba to study at the Escuela Nacional de Arte.

Forty two years later, Menendez still lives in Havana leading his Afro Cuban fusion group, Mezcla.

He points to the fact that post revolution, Cuba is able to define its own music away from the influence of American recording companies.

How did a common musical heritage, which was split in 1959, developed differently into two parallel lives?

First broadcast 7 January 2009

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