Listening in Detail

Performances of Cuban Music

Listening in Detail

Refiguring American Music

More about this series

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 23 photographs Published: June 2013

Latin American Studies, Music > Popular Music, Theater and Performance

Listening in Detail is an original and impassioned take on the intellectual and sensory bounty of Cuban music as it circulates between the island, the United States, and other locations. It is also a powerful critique of efforts to define "Cuban music" for ethnographic examination or market consumption. Contending that the music is not a knowable entity but a spectrum of dynamic practices that elude definition, Alexandra T. Vazquez models a new way of writing about music and the meanings assigned to it. "Listening in detail" is a method invested in opening up, rather than pinning down, experiences of Cuban music. Critiques of imperialism, nationalism, race, and gender emerge in fragments and moments, and in gestures and sounds through Vazquez's engagement with Alfredo Rodríguez's album Cuba Linda (1996), the seventy-year career of the vocalist Graciela Pérez, the signature grunt of the "Mambo King" Dámaso Pérez Prado, Cuban music documentaries of the 1960s, and late-twentieth-century concert ephemera.


Listening in Detail stands alone in its discussion of the important music of greater Cuba. . . . Thoroughly researched and featuring fine literary references, this is a rich resource for advanced students and scholars of music and Cuban studies." — L. E. Shaw, Choice

“With its imaginative, beautiful prose and broad themes of post-colonialism, race, feminism, and the production of knowledge, Listening in Detail would be an edifying read for most, although Cuba and Cuban music specialists stand the most to gain.” — Teresa Sanchez, Ethnomusicology Review

“It is Vazquez’s emphasis on the importance of details that draws out seemingly peripheral contacts and relationships, and draws out stories from them that position them at the centre of global transactions of racialised, imperial identities.” — Daniel Whittall, Latin American Review of Books

“Vazquez’s work is required reading not only for Cuban music scholars, but in particular those working in fields traversing African American and American studies. Students and scholars of many disciplines whose topical and methodological interests take them to Cuban music performance or music in general will draw much inspiration from Listening in Detail.” — David F. Garcia, American Studies

“Reading Listening in Detail is a very enjoyable experience. … All in in all it is a unique and valuable addition to the growing volume of literature on Cuban music, written with passion and love, and should be read not only with open ears as the title suggests, but with an open mind and heart as well.” — Moshe Morad, EIAL

"[A]n outstanding book that invites us, through its own example, to linger with the sounds, images, andprinted words that make up (and are made up by) the many remarkable performers appearing and resonating in its pages. Vazquez offers critical and personal responses to what Cuba and music, in their articulation, signify, and the experience (a keyword in her method) becomes, for us, that fine arrangement of pleasure in, and of, critique, where reading a book turns into us cheering it on, often aloud.” — Antonio López, Journal of Popular Music Studies

“Vazquez’s explorations of listening as a critical act are intimately tied to the rich heterogeneity of texts that she embraces in the book. Having grappled in my own scholarship with the complexities, limitations, and potentialities of ‘listening’ as a metaphor for engaging in the study of Latino popular music, I have found Professor Vazquez’s incursions into ‘listening’ to be both invigorating and expanding.” — Frances R. Aparicio, The Americas

“Vazquez’s methodology is inspirational for scholars interested in music-making and consumption in Cuba today during this period of change in economic and cultural policy. Moreover, Vazquez’s determination to acknowledge an object of study as unpredictable and unstable, as well as her commitment to seeing beyond domestic-diaspora and black-white binaries, make the book important for performance studies."  — Shanti Pillai, TDR: The Drama Review

Listening in Detail is a necessary book for those who work within the disciplines of performance studies, musicology, sound studies, postcolonial studies and critical race studies. Because of its methodological framework and its unique exploration of inscription and fugitivity, the book will also be of particular use to those who research at the nexus of cultural studies and media theory.” — Michael Nardone, Theatre Research International

"I listen now with refreshed ears and hope, for hope is what I find myself left with after I finish the book—hope for the capacity of human beings to create beauty." — Alejandra Bronfman, Small Axe

"For Vazquez, listening in detail is a transformative experience, enabling an interweaving of writing and music. She wrote the book while listening to music, and reading her work in detail is unquestionably a sonic experience as well; her colorful writing encourages the reader to listen not only to the poetic style of her prose, but to the music that accompanies it." — Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier, New West Indian Guide

"Listening in Detail is a singular and beautifully written account of Cuban music in the twentieth century. It is a simultaneously gentle and fierce rejoinder to the legacy of works that attempt to 'know' Cuban music, to pin it down for ethnographic examination or touristic consumption, to romanticize it and remove it from its contexts in everyday life. This is a passionate, hugely important work." — Gayle Wald, author of Shout, Sister Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

"Polish your Cuban heels, and think outside the victrola: Listening in Detail assembles the playlist of our dreams. Harlem, Havana and New Orleans; Nancy Cunard and La Lupe; Graciela; anthologies, performances, jazz and Cuban son. Roaming exiles will debunk all blockades, so let the entanglement of empires surrender to the grunt. This is a stunning book. It will keep you listening even when the music is over. If it ever, actually, is." — José Quiroga, author of Cuban Palimpsests

"Listening in Detail inhabits the socioaesthetic field of Cuban music, where study and performance animate one another. Aware that understanding requires immersion—in and against the grain of whatever accident or choice of birth/exile, vocation/profession—Alexandra Vazquez is an initiate, as we all should hope to be, in the inexplicable mystery of sound; and because she is open to the music’s inscription, her detailed listening, her repeated play, cuts its own groove. Rigorously, lyrically, Vazquez delights and instructs, shows and proves, studies and performs." — Fred Moten, author of B Jenkins


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Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alexandra T. Vazquez is Assistant Professor of African American Studies and English at Princeton University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. Performing Anthology: The Mystical Qualities of Alfredo Rodríguez's Cuba Linda 43

2. "Una Escuela Rara": The Graciela School 93

3. Itinerant Outbursts: The Grunt of Dámaso Pérez Prado 131

4. Visual Arrangements, Sonic Impressions: The Cuban Musical Documentaries of Rogelio París and Sara Gómez 165

5. Cold War Kids In Concert 203

Notes 235

Bibliography 301

Index 319
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2014 Lora Romero First Book Prize (presented by the American Studies Association)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5458-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5455-0
Publicity material