Trumpets in the Mountains

Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba

Trumpets in the Mountains

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 31 photographs, 3 maps Published: September 2012

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies, Theater and Performance > Theater

Trumpets in the Mountains is a compelling ethnography about Cuban culture, artistic performance, and the shift in national identity after 1990, when the loss of Soviet subsidies plunged Cuba into a severe economic crisis. The state's response involved opening the economy to foreign capital and tourism, and promoting previously deprecated cultural practices as quintessentially Cuban. Such contradictions of Cuba's revolutionary ideals elicited an official preoccupation with how twenty-first-century cubanía, or Cubanness, was to be understood by its citizens and creatively interpreted by its artists. The rural campesino was re-envisioned as a key symbol of the future; the embodiment of socialist humility, cultural pureness, and educated refinement; potentially the Hombre Novísimo (even newer man) to replace the Hombre Nuevo (new man) of Cuban communist philosophy.

Campesinos inhabit some of the island's most isolated areas, including the mountainous regions in central and eastern Cuba where Laurie A. Frederik conducted research among rural communities and professional theater groups. Analyzing the ongoing dialogue of cultural officials, urban and rural artists, and campesinos, Frederik provides an on-the-ground account of how visions of the nation are developed, manipulated, dramatized, and maintained in public consciousness. She shows that cubanía is defined, and redefined, in the interactive movement between intellectual, political, and everyday worlds.


“Frederik’s study of the transforming and tranformative Cuban Teatro Nuevo is key to understanding the shifting social dynamic that has defined and re-defined post-revolutionary times in an enigmatic nation.”
— Linda Rogers, Journal of the British Columbia Folklore Society

“The book gives valuable insights into the complexities of making art under less than ideal conditions, depicts the rivalries and artistic differences between urban and rural theatre practitioners in Cuba, and draws a sharp picture of life in a country where economic uncertainty and continuing demands of the state on its citizens serve to complicate the process of theatre-making in ways undreamt of by artists in the west.” — Kate Eaton, New Theatre Quarterly

“Providing insight into Cuban life beyond the cities, Trumpets in the Mountains is a compelling book. Frederik’s work has deservedly received kudos for overcoming the many obstacles (logistical, cultural, political) that hinder participant observation in rural areas of Cuba.” — Cristina Pertierra, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“A delightful read with brilliant and sometimes striking ethnographic details, and is highly recommended for those interested in art, cultural politics, national identity, and rural ethnography not only of Cuba, but of Latin America in general. Frederik’s work could be used as a whole in senior seminars and graduate courses, or by chapter for lower division classes in the social sciences, performance studies, and Latin American studies.” — Maki Tanaka, Journal of Latin American Geography

“The book is written with verve and is a must read for anyone interested in the role art in general, and the theater in particular, plays on Cuba’s on-going political experiment with socialism.” — Martin Holbraad, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Frederik’s interdisciplinary analysis of shifting Cuban identity is an essential text for advanced students and scholars of Latin American socio-political history. With this ethnography Frederik succeeds in her attempt to tear down disciplinary divides. The contribution of Trumpets in the Mountains is not limited to the disciplines of anthropology, theater, and performance studies; but rather it is relevant to all disciplines concerned with the construction of collective identity and the delicate relationships between art, power, and cultural authority.” — Jessica Evans, Journal of Folklore Research

"Frederik is a storyteller. This book is an eloquent performative rendering of her experiences of observing, interviewing, and reflecting on over a decade of theatre practice in Cuba . . . [T]he author has taken great care to transform the work into a compelling read." — Rea Dennis, Studies on Theater and Performance

"With relevance that extends from anthropology to performance studies and beyond, Trumpets in the Mountains represents a significantcontribution to the understanding of the society, politics and cultural production of Cuba and Latin America."  — Vera Coleman, AmeriQuests

"Laurie Frederik’s study of the transforming and tranformative Cuban Teatro Nuevo is key to understanding the shifting social dynamic that has defined and re-defined post-revolutionary times in an enigmatic nation."  — Linda Rogers, B.C. Folklore

"Trumpets in the Mountains is a journey into the rural heartland of Cuba, where few foreigners dare to go . . . and that includes Cubans who've never ventured beyond the city of Havana. Here is a portrait of a Cuba that has escaped the notice of the media, a world where theater people go to country towns and villages to engage in performative dialogues with farm workers about the meaning of the revolution. Drawing on years of fieldwork and personal participation in popular theater, Laurie A. Frederik shows how artistic creativity flourishes in everyday Cuban life in some of the most out-of-the-way places, and offers rich ethnographic examples of how theater has become the perfect stage for acting out the hopes that Cubans still have of building a more just world. Written with sincere affection, this is one of those rare books that gives back to Cuba." — Ruth Behar, author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba

"Engagingly written, theoretically astute, and based on extensive ethnographic work, Laurie A. Frederik's new book provides important insights into underexplored aspects of Cuban revolutionary culture. She considers the dynamics of socially engaged theater from the perspective of actors and audiences themselves and explores debates over national identity and the goals of the revolutionary project as negotiated far from the centers of state control. An important contribution." — Robin Moore, author of Music in the Hispanic Caribbean: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Laurie A. Frederik is Assistant Professor of Performance Studies and Anthropology at the University of Maryland.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Prologue: The Red Blood of Cuban Identity xix

Introduction: More than Just Scenery 1

1. Revolution and Revolutionary Performance or, what happens when el negrito, la mulata, and el gallego meet el Hombre Nuevo 41

2. Artists in the Special Period, Option Zero, and the Hombre Novísimo or, the heroic rescue of Liborio and Elpidio Valdés 76

3. Creative Process and Play-Making in Cumanayagua or, waiting for Atilio on the side of a country road 111

4. The Inundation of Siguanea and Cuba or, the near drowning and rescue of Cuba's Godot 142

5. Cultural Crusades and the Unsung Artists of Guantánamo or, how Don Quixote Saves humble Harriero from the devil 175

6. Storytellers and the Story Told: Voices and Visions in the Zones of Silence or, who wins the wager if the cockfight ends in a draw 218

7. Dramatic Irony and Janus-Faced Nationalism or, the triumphant stage return of el negrito and mister Smith 259

Notes 279

Glossary 291

Sources Cited 297

Index 325
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5265-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5246-4
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