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Charting hidden revolution in Cuba's new music scene; There's more to Cuban music than salsa. Meet the new wave of punk rockers and rappers, helping to shape a new youth identity in Havana, writes KATE PROCTOR.

CUBAN music for all its romance, global appeal and cigar-toting guitar players has become a bit of a jaded stereotype.

The explosion of the Buena Vista Social Club in the 1990s did a lot to boost international appreciation of the island's historic musical roots.

But now a wealth of artists are spreading a strident brand of punk and hip-hop and using their music to steadily batter away at the Raul Castro regime.

From a quiet, book-lined study in Newcastle, Tom Astley has been charting the fascinating rise of this new movement.

His debut, Outside the Revolution: Everything, is a journey through contemporary Cuban music and will appeal to anyone interested in Latin America, the Cuban Revolution, alternative music and modern counter-cultural movements.

Tom is an ethno-musicologist, and his extensive research trips to Cuba and clear love for the country's music brings a passion to his writing.

The son of a doctor and a nurse, Tom grew up outside Consett and went to Queen Elizabeth School in Hexham before studying music at the University of Liverpool. He plays the guitar and speaks passable Spanish.

We meet at his house in Heaton, where he lives with his Cuban wife Mariley, a former radio host and daughter of two famous Cuban radio actors.

Over tea and a YouTube showing of Cuban artists I've never heard of, he says: "My initial thoughts in writing this book came from travelling to Cuba regularly, and realising that there is so much more music being made there than we ever get to hear about in England. Hip hop, punk, rock - everything - has managed to find a voice in Cuba. I suppose that it's not that surprising, and some people might even see it as a negative thing - an example of the 'Americanisation' of Cuban culture.

"But, having spoken to a few of these alternative musicians, punk, hip hop and many other genres were, I felt, becoming as Cuban as son, rumba and cha-cha-cha."

The book introduces you to Porno Para Ricardo, a Cuban punk band founded in 1998 with a defiant lead singer named Gorki Aguila. Hip-hop musician Escuadron Patriota and political song-writer and guitarist Pedro Luis Ferrer also appear in the book, which makes you race to the internet to find out what music could be so inflammatory it's been banned from the Cuban airwaves.

An argument that the music's political force is helping re-shape Cuba for a life after brothers Fidel and Raul Castro is also given clarity.

And Tom believes that, in 20 years time, when Cuba will be in its post-Castro era, the role of music will be regarded as a key tool of political change.

He says: "What the book is trying to say is that many of these musicians are trying to show that the Cuban Revolution - after nearly 60 years of absolute power - can't really claim to be a socialist movement. And, by offering a new face to the left-wing in Cuba, these musicians are further trying to redefine Cuban music and Cuban identity." ? Outside the Revolution; Everything: A Redefinition of Left-Wing Identity In Contemporary Cuban Music Making by Tom Astley is published by Zero Books (pounds 9.99) A launch for the book will be held at the Lit & Phil, in Newcastle on September 13. See for details.


ISLAND RECORDS Tom Astley with Cuban musician Gorki Aguila NEW VOICES Author Tom Astley, an expert on modern Cuban music
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Aug 25, 2012
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