Music, Place and Politics in Cuba

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Music & School of Arts

Module overview

Though a relatively small island, Cuba has had a massive impact on the development of popular music around the world. This course seeks to explain the reasons for this phenomenon, focusing on (and analysing) some of the most significant styles on the island: son montuno, charanga, rumba, and the music of the Afro-Cuban religions. It considers the way that these styles grew out of the particular conjuncture of Cuba’s geography with history and politics, tracing the development of music on the island from the 19th century onwards. Key moments discussed include the abolition of slavery, the wars of independence, the gangster economy of the 1920s, the encounter with Hollywood and jazz, the impact on Africa via recordings after World War II, and the 1959 revolution. Salsa in New York as a pan-Latin style, the massive commercial success of the Buena Vista Social Club project, and the controversial discourses surrounding both, from within and outside the island, are also important subjects.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate

  • knowledge of the historical and cultural factors that have given rise to the special characteristics of music in Cuba, including the 1959 revolution
  • An understanding of various issues eg; the hybrid nature of Cuban music and how it relates to the wider Caribbean; the question of African retentions in Cuban culture; discourses surrounding the relationship between son and salsa;
  • knowledge of the relevant literature and discographies
  • familiarity with, and the ability to analyse, son, rumba, charanga, and Afro-Cuban music, plus crucial signifying components such as clave
  • familiarity with the individual styles of some of the most important musicians and composers


  • 1 hour lecture
  • 1 hour seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 2 500 words research essay (worth 60%)
  • One listening test (worth 40%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules