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Tambor reverberations: Gender, sexuality and change in Cuban Batá performance

Jassey, Victoria Rosemary 2019. Tambor reverberations: Gender, sexuality and change in Cuban Batá performance. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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‘Tambor’ means drum in Spanish but in the Afro-Cuban religion called Regla de Ocha, the word can also refer to the ritual batá drum, a set of three batá drums, a rhythm played on the batá, and a religious ceremony that uses a batá ensemble. When the human hands strike the six skins of these sacred instruments, waves of vibrations move through space, time and matter. The energy contained within these pulses of sound as they travel through the air has the potential to unleash a chain of events that profoundly alter the social surroundings. This thesis explores the art, ritual and social practice of batá drumming and the impact ‘Tambor Reverberations’ have on gender, sexuality, and religious and social change in the Cuban tradition. This study provides a current representation of ideologies and practices that underpin gender and sexuality taboos associated with these drums, and examines how shifting sacro-socio-political conventions have impacted female access to the batá drums. The batá drumming tradition is central to ritual practice in Regla de Ocha, which has become ubiquitous in Cuba since the second half of the twentieth century and has diffused globally. The making, consecration, maintenance, and playing of sacred batá drums and the transmission of technical, spiritual, and musical knowledge from one generation to another remain the sole responsibility of members of a brotherhood comprising heterosexual men who have undergone initiation to a humanised drumming deity called Añá, who is believed to reside in the batá drum vessel. Women and gay men have historically been prohibited from playing or coming into close proximity with consecrated batá drums. However, this thesis describes a series of key events over the past three decades which have engendered significant changes regarding female access to the batá’s sacred music, leading to the proliferation of all-female secular batá groups in Cuba, and ultimately to women breaking the taboo by playing the consecrated batá in 2015. The growing number of scholarly publications dedicated to the batá’s musical aspects reflects the tradition’s increasing popularity in Cuba and beyond. My thesis not only adds to this burgeoning body of literature but it addresses an under-researched area by offering the first in-depth study of gender and sexuality stratifications in batá performance and ritual. Drawing on nine months of field research during ten visits to Cuba over twelve years, my research includes the lived experiences of Añá cult members, female musicians who play batá, (to a lesser extent) gay men whose voices were previously unheard, and my own musical experiences in ritual and secular contexts in Britain and Cuba. Challenging previously held assumptions about batá and gender taboos, my research respondents’ diverse narratives reveal the sensitivity of gaining access and permission to play batá, and the highly complex nature of prohibitions, tradition, and issues of gender and sexuality in the midst of changing contemporary landscapes. This study offers an historical and ethnomusicological contribution to batá studies specifically, and a scholarly discourse on gender and music practice generally. The opening chapter provides an historical overview of gender and sexuality narratives about religious and secular batá performance in Cuba, while Chapter 2 analyses how myth, religious texts and ritual performance are used to construct social parameters and hierarchies. In Chapter 3, I explore representations of gender through performance, ritualised embodiment, and the impact of an expanding Añá brotherhood. The chapter culminates with my ethnography and analysis of a transformative event, where three women were the first to defy the gender taboo by playing consecrated batá. Chapter 4 investigates the changing roles of women in Afro-Cuban music and religion generally and batá specifically, in the context of the communist state. In Chapter 5, I examine constructions of hombría (manhood), heteronormativity and masculinity within the Añá brotherhood, and how these relate to religious hierarchy, sexual behaviour and ritual functions in Santería. The Conclusion summarises current ideologies, practices and changes to gender and sexuality narratives in Cuban batá performance, and offers an analysis of the findings revealed within the study as a whole as well as areas for future research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Music
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Uncontrolled Keywords: Batá, gender, Santeria, Regal de Ocha, Sexuality, Cuba
Funders: South West Wales Doctoral Training Partnership
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 22 August 2019
Date of Acceptance: 13 August 2019
Last Modified: 29 Mar 2021 09:58

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