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Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music, by David F. García, 9/06

Arsenio Rodriguez

"Arsenio Rodriguez was a great Cuban bandleader, who reached the height of his formidable powers during the late 1940s and 1950s. Blinded while a young boy by a kick in the face from a mule or horse, Arsenio was known as "El Ciego Maravilloso," the Blind Marvel (or the "marvelous blind guy," for the more literal among you).

By reinventing the traditional Cuban son, Arsenio gave birth to a thoroughly rhythmic dance music, the precursor to salsa, which has since taken over the airwaves of much of the western hemisphere.

Despite his artistic and commercial success during the '40s and '50s, Arsenio died in almost complete obscurity in Los Angeles in the early 1970s."

-- from

Arsenio was born near Union de Reyes in the Province of Matanzas.

Arsenio handed over his All Star band to trumpettist Felix Chappotín when he moved to New York in 1948.  That group became the Conjunto Chappotín, whose successors, many of whom are relatives of the original musicians, will be touring the US soon. Another sideman, pianist Rubén González, recently toured with the Afro-Cuban All Stars and has cut his own album.

Radio Havana's Eugene Godfried points out how one of Arsenio's enduring tunes is "Adorenla como Marti" which deals with the theme of the AfroCuban Mambi fighters in the Army of Liberation at the end of the last century - they formed the backbone of that Army.  The title refers to the need to respect the AfroCuban leaders who motivated the masses to struggle against Spain, leaders Arsenio names in his song -- Antonio Maceo, Quintin Banderas, Flor Crombet, Bermudez, and others. He could not say Adorenlos but had to use the feminine to disguise who shouild be worshipped, as he could only go so far in his support of these leaders.

David Garcia mentions this song in his book, "Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music"

Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music

Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music

The Club Cubano Inter-Americano is still in existence and described on this site.


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Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music, 9/06

by David F. García

Publication Date: August 31, 2006
224 pp., 5 tables, 18 figures, 12 b&w illustrations, 6x9"
paper ISBN 1-59213-386-X $24.95

The life and times of one of Cuba's most important musicians.

Arsenio Rodríguez was the creator of the son montuno style, a prolific composer and lyricist, and the father of the mambo. In short, he defined the sound of Cuban music in the 1940s, and the reverberations of his musical revolution can still be felt today. In Arsenio Rodriguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music (Publication Date: August 31, 2006), ethnomusicologist David F. García provides a critical biography of this important twentieth-century Latin musician who was dubbed "The Marvelous Blind One" by a Cuban DJ.

García examines the social and musical aspects of Arsenio Rodríguez's life and career, focusing on his innovative son montuno style as it developed from 1940-1968. He recounts Rodríguez's battle for recognition at the height of "mambo mania" in New York City and the significance of his music in the development of salsa.

With firsthand accounts from relatives and fellow musicians, Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music follows the musician's fortunes on several continents. García speculates on why Rodríguez never enjoyed wide commercial success despite the importance of his music.

As race, identity, and politics also played significant roles in shaping Rodríguez's music and the trajectory of his career, García also shows how his transnational perspective has had important implications for Latin American and popular music studies.

In the series Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music, edited by Peter Manuel.

David F. García is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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