Imagine being able to go back in time and actually SEE classic Son ensembles of the 1920s perform in Havana.

Thanks to an unexpected discovery hidden in the archives of the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections you can do that now.

Ensembles like this are the root of everything.

In the late 1930s, they evolved into the conjunto format with trumpets, piano, and tumbadora with  Conjunto Casino, Canjunto Kubavana, and Arsenio Rodríguez learning the way.

What do we know about the musicians in this footage?

Not much.

We do know that Havana was a popular tourist destination for people from the United States during this period. Prohibition was on in the US and there was no Prohibition in Cuba.

The first video show two different groups. (There’s a second video on this page. Don’t miss it.)

1. A sexteto – filmed December 24, 1928.

2. Fragments of a second group with a very able bongocero – filmed May 30, 1930

The bongo made its way to Havana and Western Cuba from Oriente, the eastern part of the island, and was the first instrument with an distinctly African character to appear in gatherings of “polite” Cuban society.

The then-new medium of radio started putting Son on the map in 1922 and by the time these films were made Son was Cuba’s most popular music

Son was a socially controversial form of music (considered “too rough”) until Cuba’s president Gerardo Machado, who held office from 1925 to 1933, invited the group La Sonora Matancera to perform at his birthday party.

The second video filmed on October 31, 1929 is an octet with a drum that looks and sounds like an early variation of the timbales.

The banner for the group says “La Estudiantina Invencible.” – The Invincible Students.

Great news!

You can now watch this video – and all Spanish language videos – with English subtitles. It’s free!

Click here for instructions on how to turn on English subtitles.

– Ken McCarthy
Jazz on the Tube

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Ray Barretto - Canto Abacua - 1975
Africa meets Cuba

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