Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Arsenio Rodriguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music" by David F. García

Seldom does a single person make such a contribution to the development of Afro-Cuban music that his or her biography alone would form a significant chapter in the genre's history.

Arsenio Rodriguez is such a man.
And David García is such a storyteller.

I've read a number of these books, each seemingly drawn from a musicologist's thesis; and whilst thoroughly researched, logically structured, bearing robust arguments and defensible conclusions, I found a good deal of them a little dry. Not this one.

Yes, it is true that having some knowledge of music and being able to read it does help quite a bit. But I think the author has succeeded in being able to render what he has to say accessible to the layperson. The contents are laid out in chronological order, allowing the reader to appreciate the formative events in Arsenio's life and thus insight as to what moved him. A posthumous reflection on this remarkable musician's life followed.

For a man whose creativity gave us arguably, the mambo before its internationalised guise; definitively, the second coming of the son in the form of the son montuno; and the entire rhythm section of what forms salsa today: introducing the tumbadoras, developing the guajeo/montuno rhythm, and solidifying the role of the bass, Arsenio's name is little recognised outside the circles of aficionados. Whatismore, his life is shrouded in myth and hearsay - as all Great Legends' are. David García's erudite work does much to explain Arsenio Rodriguez, the man and his music: dispelling much, explaining much, and revealing an even greater man over the course. Arsenio still remains arguably the most significant songwriter of all time.

If that's not enough, then let me put it another way: if you want to know what mambo might have meant before the Palladium, and the difference between a son and a son montuno, pick up the book.

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