09 January 2011

Old-Time Cuban Music on Film

A friend of mine, a Cuban film director, wrote to me about visiting the Salzburg Festival. After enjoying operas by Berlioz and Mozart, he said, the big surprise was the Festival’s closing event, a concert by the Cuban old-timers La Vieja Trova Santiaguera, chosen by the Festival’s special guest of the year, the poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger. ‘It was tremendous. Austrians in elegant dresses and tuxedos cutting a caper and going crazy with the rhythm of one of the most traditional of our musical styles. Everyone danced and enjoyed themselves till the early hours. I can only tell you,’ my friend added, ‘that wherever I go I find this incredible popularity of Cuban music.’ The international popularity of Cuban music is not, by any means, a new phenomenon. One need only think of the Latin jazz of the 1940s, when the Cuban drummer Chano Pozo was Dizzy Gillespie’s drummer and George Russell wrote ‘Cubana Be Cubana Bop’ for Gillespie and Charlie Parker; or the rise to fame in the 1970s throughout Latin America of the singers of the Nueva Trova like Silvio Rodrìguez and Pablo Milanès; then of Afro-Cuban jazz groups such as Los Irakere in the 1980s, followed by the salsa boom of the 1990s. But, in the mid to late 1990s a new twist emerged.

02 January 2011

Ways of Looking at Ethnographic Film

In 1970, at the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Diego, Robert Gardner screened 'The Nuer' to a large anthropological audience for the first time. Probably everyone in the audience knew the Nuer from Evans-Pritchard's ethnographies. When it was over and the lights came up, we sat stunned. People said, 'Evans-Pritchard had never told us that the Nuer were like this!' A picture is worth a thousand words. What can that mean? Can one second of a movie (at 24 frames per second) be worth 24,000 words? No. But one could easily use 1,000 words to describe and analyze what is happening in a picture. The notion of 'seeing anthropology' is important, for both still photographs and moving images can complement the words anthropologists use to describe how culture works. Just as the words need to be studied, so the images must be thought about carefully.