Rodriguez, Arsenio (1911–1970)

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Rodriguez, Arsenio (1911–1970)

Arsenio Rodriguez, as a bandleader and composer, transformed Cuban music in the 1940s. He was born on August 30, 1911, into a family in rural Güira de Macarijes that took pride in its African ancestry. This pride led him later to write songs such as "Soy de Africa" ("I am from Africa"). Many facts regarding his life are in dispute. At the age of six or so (some sources say thirteen), he was blinded when a mule (or a horse) struck him in the face. Rodriguez is often given credit for making the conga drum a regular part of the rhythm section in Afro-Cuban dance music, as well as for adding the piano and trumpets. He was a master of the tres, although he also played a wide variety of other string, as well as percussion, instruments.

In the 1930s Rodriguez began to experiment with traditional son sound and instrumentation. He introduced many elements of African music, as well as North American jazz, as well as lyrics which employed Congolese words and Afro-Cuban slang, into the mainstream of Cuban music. He initially was barred from playing on some Cuban radio stations and in upscale nightclubs. His band helped set the stage for the mambo, which developed out of his "son montuno." In the 1940s and early 1950s, many leading Cuban musicians played in his bands. He relocated to New York City around 1953 and recorded for a wide variety of record labels in his years in the United States. Unfortunately his career gradually petered out, and he was relatively unknown when he died after a number of years in Los Angeles on December 31, 1970.

See alsoMambo; Music: Popular Music and Dance; Musical Instruments; Son.


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Díaz Ayala, Cristóbal. Música Cubana del Areyeto a la Nueva Trova. San Juan: Editorial Cubanacán, 1981.

Loza, Steven. Tito Puente and the Making of Latin Music. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Moore, Robin. Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubanismo and Artistic Revolution in Havana, 1920–1940. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

Orovia, Helio. Cuban Music from A to Z. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

                               Andrew J. Kirkendall

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Rodriguez, Arsenio (1911–1970)

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Rodriguez, Arsenio (1911–1970)