06/07/2013 11:05 am ET

Reggaeton vs The Buena Vista Social Club: The Musical Realities of Life in Cuba


Since Buena Vista Social Club’s 1997 album is the best-selling World Music album of all time, it’s not surprising that tourists who come to Cuba (mostly Spaniards, Italians, and Canadians) expect to hear traditional son and boleros like “Dos Gardenias” when they visit. As a result, if you walk down Calle Obispo in Old Havana, you are assaulted by the sounds of live son groups on every block.

At first I thought it was awesome (because c’mon, who doesn’t like son?), but after living in Cuba for months, the misrepresentation of Cuba’s music scene began to frustrate me, because the truth is Cubans themselves don’t listen to this music. The BVSC musicians, while fantastic, were of another, older generation. It would be as though everyone outside the US thought that American music = Frank Sinatra, period.

Instead of son, the overwhelmingly popular music of the last decade has been reggaeton, much to the dismay of older generations, “serious” musicians, and the intelligentsia.

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