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Slave's Route: Musical Legacy

Cuba, a destination for African slaves during the Spanish colonial period, bears the imprint of their heritage and their influence on the development of society in the island nation.

Thousands of men, women and children, who were uprooted from the homeland, left their imprint throughout the Cuban archipelago, where the ruins of old estates are silent witnesses of the exploitation they had to endure.

For that reason, the initiative to create programs to spread the causes and consequences of slavery and the social influence of that phenomenon was the starting point of a project known as the Slave's Route in Cuba.

Many cultural institutions are contributing to that effort to promote the rich African heritage in Cuba.

Among the institutions that promote Cuba's culture is the Havana-based National Museum of Music, which is housed in a building from the early 20th century.

As a specialized center, the museum exhibits the historic development of music and musical instruments from the 6th to the 20th centuries in all Cuban regions.

Attributes of Orishas.
Eleguá dance.
Yemayá dance.

Precisely, the museum's most valuable collections include folkloric instruments, many of which are considered rare, as well as the scores of major Cuban songs, music-playing devices and works of art.

Since it was founded, the museum has boosted the rescue of musical assets, recordings and photos, as well as research on Cuban musicians and composers, education and promotion, through courses, seminars and lectures.

The imprint of slavery, on display at the Fernando Ortiz hall, includes elements from African culture that influenced the formation of Cuban nationality.

Among them are instruments from the Arara culture of former Dahomey, southeast of Nigeria, which were made by African slaves.

Experts highlight the hand-made carvings and the hollowing out of hard-timber trunks decorated with broken lines, vertical incisions and, in some cases, polychromatic ornaments.

The Bantu drums show the function of slaves of that origin, who did the hard work in the fields, so their songs reflect elements that are characteristics of the rural environment in which they lived.

The experts also note the Yoruba culture, brought by African slaves who practiced a religion that has spread throughout Cuba and is known as santeria.

The Yorubas brought the batá (the most sacred ones) and bembé drums, as well as the "güiros", also known as abwes or chekerés.

For that reason, the National Museum of Music promotes knowledge of a period that left a major cultural heritage in Cuba, despite the negative consequences of the scourge of slavery.

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