1900-1959 Latin America, Caribbean

1 January 2001

Trinidad. 1938-1940. Calypso
Some of the calypsos that appear in the fabulous music collection ‘West Indian Rhythm’, a 316-page LP-size book with 10 CDs containing 267 music tracks, had never been published or heard before it was published in 2007. Trinidad’s British colonial masters felt the need to censor calypsos for their salaciousness and their political piquancy in order to control law and order. The song arrangements had to be submitted prior to recording and they were either edited or banned outright. Some controversial material escaped the net and has survived to be included in West Indian Rhythm together with full transcripts and newspaper clippings that relate to some of the issues. They reveal both the anti-colonial sentiment and the narrow-mindedness of the average citizen at that time.
The most famous and scandalous of the banned songs was ‘Netty, Netty’, sung by both Roaring Lion and King Radio. The line “Netty, Netty, gimme the thing you got in your belly” offended deeply and complaints were made to the colonial authorities who also deemed it “the most lewd of the lot”, with “a very vulgar rhythm.” The line about Netty having to give him back his money if she couldn’t take the digging – clearly about prostitution – created a stir in Grenada where Lion was accused of insulting the good Grenadian people.
But it was politics that most excited the colonial authorities. In his witty calypso of political comment, Sedition Law (not released until 1942 when the US had already moved in on TT and British colonial control waned), King Radio communicated his opinion on the censorship laws in force at the time.
Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler (1897-1977) and the events around the oilfield workers strike on 18 June 1937 that he organised were the source of many provocative calypso lyrics. Nine of the calypsos of the period dealt with this issue, making it the most documented event in our musical history. Many of those songs were banned.

1950s-1960s. Dominican Republic. Bachata
For decades bachata music was formally banned from radio in the Dominican Republic. Bachata is a guitar-style, bolero style music – a slow Spanish or Latin style song played with guitars. In it’s early years, bachata was primarily played in bars and brothels of lower class areas of cities such as Santo Domingo. With the monopolisation of music by former Dominican Republic dictator Ulises Francisco Espaillat and later by Rafael Trujillo, the music was banned as a result of politicians and upper class elites’ opinions that the music was worthless – really due to the division of social classes. Jose Manuel Calderon’s ‘Bachata Rojo’ from 1961 is recognized as the first bachata record.
Today, bachata can be heard in bars and night clubs throughout the Dominican Republic, Latin America, and the United States.
Source: My Latino Voice: ‘Bachatero’

1959. Cuba. Celia Cruz
At the time of the communist takeover of Cuba in 1959, Celia Cruz and her orchestra Sonora Matancera were slated to tour Mexico. From Mexico, rather than returning to Cuba, they entered the United States and remained there. Cruz herself became a US citizen in 1961. Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro was furious and barred Cruz from returning to Cuba, enforcing the ban even after Cruz’s parents’ deaths. Her name was even forbidden to name in the Cuban musicologist Helio Orovio’s ‘Diccionario de la musica cubana’, Dictionary of Cuban Music.
Sources: and: Jens Lohmann, ‘A Survey of Censorship and Restrictions on Music in Spanish America’, Copenhagen, 2002, p.11.
Read the country profile: Cuba


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