Cuba Arts and Literature

Cuba Arts and Literature


At the beginning of the 19th century, José María Heredia was involved in a short, stormy life in Cuba’s quest for a liberation from Spain. He occasionally lived in exile. His poetry initiates romance in Cuba. This one got its main representative in Gertrude’s Gómez de Avellaneda. Cuba’s most versatile literary talent during the 19th century was José Martí, one of the central figures of modernism. His life and work are intimately linked to the struggle for independence, which at C. became longer than in the rest of Latin America.

Cuba Population Pyramid

  • Countryaah: Population and demographics of Cuba, including population pyramid, density map, projection, data, and distribution.

Poetry has flourished in Cuba during the 20th century. Nicolás Guillén incorporated the important African heritage into his rhythmic poetry. José Lezama Lima was an intrinsic steward of the Baroque tradition so prominent in Cuba and the Caribbean. He played an important role in the country’s cultural life for many decades. as a magazine editor. Guillén later became a figurehead of the Castro dictatorship, while Lezama Lima’s relationship with the same regime was problematic. Cuba’s leading novelist Alejo Carpentier joined Castro’s revolution, spent a few years as head of the state book publishing company and then became a cultural attaché in Paris. After Castro’s victory in 1959, Cuba for a time became a cultural center, but the political climate hardened, and writers who did not share the regime’s views were silenced, harassed and imprisoned, if they failed to leave their country. Armando Valladares was imprisoned for 22 years and Ángel Cuadra in 15. Internationally, a process was brought against Heberto Padilla in 1971. These three poets and many other writers have left Cuba, among others. prose authors Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Severo Sarduy, Reinaldo Arenas, René Vázquez Díaz and Zoé Valdés.

Drama and theater

A theater tradition was created in Cuba at the beginning of the 20th century and was reinforced by the advent of the Teatro Universitario in 1941 and the Teatro Popular in 1943. At that time, Virgilio Piñera, a representative of the absurd theater, who had successors in José Triana and Antón Arrufat debuted. During the Castro regime, the theater was taken into the service of the revolution, a state-controlled operation that provided significant resources. A number of theater groups were formed at the beginning of the 1960’s, international festivals were organized, foreign directors were invited, amateur and children’s theater flourished, old colonial theaters were put into operation. Operations also spread to remote parts of Cuba, e.g. Teatro Escambray founded by actor Sergio Corrieri in 1968.


Cuba was one of the pioneers in Latin American film production. Prior to the 1959 revolution, about 80 feature films were produced, mostly melodramas. The first feature film “Manuel García” (“El Capitán Mambí y Libertadores o guerrilleros”) was made in 1913 by the dominant director of the early silent film era Enrique Díaz Queseda (1882-1923).

Only after the revolution, however, did film production gain an artistic significance with international response. In 1959, the Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) was set up, which was equipped with studios and other production facilities and which was also given responsibility for cinema and film distribution. As a central body, ICAIC laid the foundation for a film industry that soon became notable for documentaries such as “Now” (1965) by Santiago Álvarez and feature films such as “The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin” (1967) by Julio García Espinosa (born 1926), “Lucía” (1968) by Humberto Solás (1941–2008) and “Memories from the Age of Underdevelopment” (1968) by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea.

The Cuban Revolution also won many hearts outside the country. Chris Marker made “Cuba si” in 1963. The following year, a Russian-Cuban film team completed the lavish co-production “I am Cuba”, which fell into oblivion after a chilly reception but was rediscovered in the 1990’s, restored and released on DVD.

Juan Padrón (born 1947) started a vital animation industry with popular characters such as Elpidio Valdez (1974–) and feature films such as “The War of the Vampires” (1985). But the documentary and journalism film continued to have a special position as propaganda tools in the service of the revolution.

Thematically, the feature film shows a wide range, from historical dramas from slave-era Cuba to contemporary depictions, preferably with political-didactic elements. However, since the 1980’s, the Cuban film has lost some of its former vitality, although individual films such as Gutiérrez Alea’s Oscar-nominated “Strawberries and Chocolate” (1993) have become internationally known.

Political control was also likely to be strengthened through the 1992 merger of ICAIC with the Defense Department’s film department. In line with the country’s economic problems, the number of cinema visits has decreased dramatically. Since the 1990’s, the annual production of feature films has included about seven films. Since 1979, every year in Havana, a festival specially arranged for the Latin American film.

Among the exile Cubans in the United States is also a less extensive film production of names such as Orlando Jimenéz Leal (born 1941), known for feature films such as “El Super” (1979) and documentaries such as “The Other Cuba” (1983). Humberto Sola’s feature film “Miel para Oshun” (2001) is about the conflict between the exile Cubans and those who stayed on the island after the revolution, a conflict that the film portrays as insoluble.


Cuban visual art is relatively young and shows strong influence of Western currents. The painter and cartoonist Eduardo Abela is known for his rural motifs and political caricatures, while Marcello Pogolotti in his painting tries to capture urban life. Amelia Pelaez introduced Cubism in Cuba, while abstract art got a representative in, among other things. Mario Carreño. The Cuban artist who has achieved the greatest success is undoubtedly Wifredo Lam. He educated, like many Cuban artists, in Europe and lived in Paris for a long time. In his painting he combined Western and African American impulses. Cuba’s most prominent sculptor is Augustin Cárdenas, and among younger Cuban artists should be mentioned Manuel Mendive. worked with carved painted wooden pictures and made decor into drama performances.


Cuba became a meeting place for colonial trade and a scene for confrontations between colonial powers. The architecture of the 16th and 16th centuries was characterized by different influences, which gave the coastal cities a varied character with elements mainly of French and English decorative details in the distinctive Spanish architecture. After independence in 1902, various European currents determined form and technology. Neoclassical forms mixed with Art Nouveau and functionalist trends characterize the public buildings, while spontaneity dominates in the countryside. The country was inspired by American culture from the interwar period until the 1959 revolution.

Functionalism still dominated after the revolution, but a strict rationalization was introduced, induced by a massive construction with pre-fabricated elements. Cuban architects endeavored to give these new technologies a national character. This can be especially observed in their school buildings. Some are also seeking inspiration in the colonial heritage. The prime example of this is the Havana Stage and Dance School with a winding form that unites a series of domes, reminiscent of old church buildings.


Due to its geographical location and its rich and multifaceted cultural life for a long time, Cuba has played a fundamental role in the development of Latin American music in general. Cuban music has also been important in the development of jazz and other popular music in the US and Europe. Habanera, cinquillo and clave are called some of the most basic rhythms.

Folk and popular music

Cuban music has emerged in an interaction between Spanish and African features. The Indian contribution is limited to the instruments maracas and possibly güiro (cucumber). The African heritage is most evident in Santería music, with roots in the Yoruba culture in present-day Nigeria.

The cultic song is mainly accompanied by hourglass-shaped batá drums. The people of bantu jump have mainly contributed with tumbadoras (conga drums). The Spanish influence is most evident in punto guajiro, an often improvised text, sung to, among other things, guitar and the guitar-like tres. One of the most typical mix forms is son, which emerged from the beginning of the 20th century.

The early son groups consisted of guitar, tres, trumpet, bongo, claves and maracas. Typical for son is the “presumed” base. Rumba was initially improvised on congas, wooden boxes and claves. The slower bolero (not to be confused with the Spanish) is more lyrical and associated with the troubadour style of faith.

In the 19th century, the salon dances developed habanera and danzón from the older contradanza, and in the 1940’s mambo and cha-cha-cha, originally played by charanga groups, where flute and violin appear.

Outside of Cuba, Habanera influenced, among other things, European art music (Bizet’s “Carmen”) and New Orleans jazz (Jelly Roll Morton and WC Handy) from the 1870’s. The space wave during the 1930’s was about softer son-style music with the likes of Xavier Cugat and The Lecuona Cuban Boys. The Conga dance became popular from the late 1940’s with Eliseo Grenet (1893–1950) and Desi Arnaz (1917–86). From the late 1940’s, the jazz-Latin style cubop also included Dizzy Gillespie and Machito’s Afro-Cubans, and about the same time the mamboo wave with, among others, Pérez Prado (1918–83). During the 1950’s rhythm & blues absorbed Afro-Cuban influences.

The Revolution of 1959 drastically changed the conditions of popular music. The Castro regime mainly favored classical and traditional music and virtually all cultural life became state institutionalized. Most entertainment establishments were closed and many musicians left the country.

Salsa, which is largely based on Cuban music, grew up in the United States during the 1960’s and 1970’s and was made popular by exile Cubans such as Celia Cruz.

As a Cuban counterpart to the nueva canción, the prorevolutionary style of the nueva trova was developed, with Silvio Rodríguez (born 1946) as the central figure. Carlos Varela (born in 1963) is one of the new generations of nueva faithful singers who have expressed criticism of the Castro regime.

In the 1990’s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, traditional Cuban music gained a renaissance and attracted international attention with the group Buena Vista Social Club (formed in 1996) with accompanying albums and films. At about the same time, jazz pianist and organizer Bebo Valdés, who has lived in exile in Sweden since the 1960’s, made an international comeback.

Rock music was banned in the 1960’s and existed mostly as an underground culture for several decades. The regime’s negative attitude to rock began to change first around the turn of the millennium.

Hip-hop has largely been accepted and even state-subsidized by keeping the genre’s genuinely radicalism within the acceptable limits of the regime. The international most successful hip hop group is Los Orishas (formed in 1999). The often more commercially oriented style of cubatón (Cuban equivalent of reggaeton), with representatives such as the Gente de Zona group (formed in 2000), today constitutes a strong competitor to hip-hop, but is labeled as degenerate by the regime through its explicit sexual themes.

Timba is a relatively new dance music style that broke through in the early 1990’s when Cuba opened for tourism. The style is based on salsa and Afro-Cuban folk styles but with a harsher, more experimental look with elements of jazz, rhythm & blues, funk or hip hop. Los Van Van (formed in 1969) is a leading group that is still considered one of the most popular. Other important representatives are the groups La Charanga Habanera (formed 1988), Bamboleo (formed 1995) and artist Paulito FG (born 1962).

Among contemporary jazz musicians who have gained international reputation are the clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito Divera (born 1948) and pianist Roberto Fonseca (born 1975).

Classical music

The first significant composer, Estéban Salas (1725-1803), served as chaplain at the cathedrals of Santiago de Cuba and Havana. Manuel Saumell (1818-70) wrote, among other things, contradanzas for piano, in which the so-called habanera rhythm appears. Ignacio Cervantes (1847-1905) is regarded as the first national romantic. “Afrocubanismo”, the rediscovery of the African heritage, mainly influenced Amadeo Roldán (1900–39) and Alejandro García Caturla (1906–40) in their works for, among others, orchestra. José Ardévol (1911–81) composed in a more modernist national style and was a teacher of, among others, Harold Gramatges (1918–2008) and Argeliers León (1918–91).

Today, Aurelio de la Vega (born 1925) is active in the United States as an electronic music composer, among others, while Leo Brouwer has worked with serialism and aleatory and has written works for guitar, among others.


Cuba’s dance and dance music, where African, Spanish and even French influence were mixed, often influenced internationally spread social dances during the 20th century. Cuba has established a Conjunto Folklórico Nacional for popular culture and its dances. Ballet has a special position in Cuba since the country’s internationally active ballerina Alicia Alonso returned and in 1959 Fidel Castro was appointed head of Cuba’s National Ballet. Other ensembles for ballet and modern dance also exist. Cuba has held several international dance festivals in Havana.

Cuba Arts and Literature