UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Is it just about love : Filin and politics in pre-revolutionary Cuba García Yero, Cary Aileen


This thesis is concerned with the role of Filin music in processes of social and political change. It examines how Filin, a style of Cuban urban folk music that developed in Havana in the 1940s and 50s, was constitutive of the historical context in which it developed and consequently, how Filineros expressed their social realities in their songs. Many Filineros were associated with leftist organizations such as the People’s Socialist Party, workers’ unions, and with underground activism. They lived in times of political upheaval and widespread mobilization preceding the Revolution of 1959. However, their songs’ lyrics seem to ignore Filineros’ political lives, and focus solely on romance and the intimacy of love. This thesis addresses this paradox: Why does there seem to be such a disjuncture between Filineros’ affiliative and oppositional activities and their romantic and self-contained lyrics? Drawing from Filineros memories, this paper explains Filin lyrics’ detachment from the oppositional mobilization the musicians were involved in. First, the repression against communism that followed the post-WWII years in Cuba prevented Filineros from openly expressing their leftist views and activist experiences in their songs’ lyrics. Secondly, Filineros understood Filin as a creative outlet and artistic experience, and not as an instrument for political opposition. Thirdly, some of the Filin musicians interviewed believed that music was impotent to create substantial social or political change. Nevertheless, beyond Filineros’ worldview, I argue that Filin songs not only carry aesthetic meaning as expressions of human emotions, but that the practice of Filin constituted them as political actors. Filin gatherings’ sequential participatory features, and consequently, Filin's functions as social entertainer and artistic unifier highlight this music’s agency; Filin's uniting power as a musical movement promoted a sense of affiliation among Filineros in which political practices and ideologies were shaped and solidified. In other words, it is through music making that Filineros’ ideas, values and ways of life were stimulated and mobilized. As such, Filin music was constitutive of new political identities, and constructed its political relevance more through the context of lived experience than through its musicological traits, its lyrics, or even its musicians’ intentions.

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