Ivor Miller


2016-2017: Mark Claster Mamolen Fellowship

Cuban Lukumí Bàtá: Ajúbà to Oba Ilu

Project Description

Cuban Lukumí Bàtá: Ajúbà to Oba Ilu

In Cuba, the Lukumí bàtá drummer’s guild was established by West African Yorùbá-speaking migrants in the 1830’s, developing exclusively in the port cities of Havana and Matanzas. The bàtá drum ensemble was an integral part of communal ceremonial life, but because of colonial repression, was kept hidden until 1937, when scholar Fernando Ortiz presented a bàtá ensemble at the University of Havana. From then onwards, the bàtá drum entered national consciousness, primarily through the concert tours and teaching of Jesús Pérez-Puentes, who is the focus of this project. Pérez participated in the 1937 lecture-demonstration of Fernando Ortiz; he led the integration of bàtá drums into symphonic orchestra performance, jazz bands, as well as the Cuba’s National Folklore Ensemble, while remaining a highly respected ceremonial bàtá guild leader. Since his death in 1985, and as I argue largely because of his legacy, ceremonial Cuban bàtá ensembles have expanded to other parts of Cuba and the Caribbean, and are currently found on every continent. After over twenty years of research on Lukumí bàtá history and practice, including in-depth interviews with musicians who participated in Pérez’s activities, I will produce a 300-page monograph with text, photographs and audio that document and analyze the cultural history of bàtá in Cuba. Theoretically, to discuss the process of African cultural transmission to the Caribbean, this work challenges the general theory of ‘creolization’ while detailing three processes that describe cultural formation: conservation; recreation, and creation. At the completion of a twelve-month residency at the Hutchins Center, I will present the monograph for publication at a University Press.

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