The whole world is a rumba nueva : the creation of transnational community through performance and social media in New York City and Havana




Washington, Derrick Leon

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This dissertation explores the world of the Cuban rumba -- an intricate complex of music, dance, and song that encourages both individual display and communal participation. From 1991 to 2012, rumba performances came to feature a distinctive complex of styles, meanings, and politics that I dubbed the rumba nueva (new rumba). The rumba nueva distinguished itself from previous iterations of the rumba in its transnationality, its connections to the African diaspora, its use of social media, and its artistic transformations under the "Special Period" of the Cuban economy that emerged in the 1990s. New York City, Havana, and Facebook served as the main field sites. Using participant observation, traditional ethnography, and cyber-ethnography, this study considers how rumba enthusiasts and performers strategically negotiate gender, ethnic, and racial identities. It explores how changes in audiovisual technology influenced the rumba. It examines the transformative effects that live performances and representations of these performances in social media have on the politics and artistry of the rumba. The study also traces shifts in audiences, practices, and communities over the course of the rumba nueva. Staged rumbas for tourists supplanted spontaneous community-oriented rumbas. Multi-ethnic alliances exploded in differing views of ownership. Discourses on a transnational African diaspora and the experience of governmental surveillance politicized the genre in unanticipated ways. Afro-Latinidad theory provides an interpretive framework for understanding these transformations. This theoretical model yields new ways to analyze the rumba in light of transnational cultural processes, diaspora formation, and connectivity through Internet social media. The detailed ethnography presented here, along with innovative interpretive frames, provides a foundation for future research on the rumba and its multiple meanings.





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