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Cubadisco:  Cuba’s Most Important International Music Awards,
Symposium and Trade Exposition
Article by Bill Tilford, all rights reserved

Many people outside of Cuba are unaware of the full scope of the diversification of Cuba’s domestic recording industry and the extent to which its artists are recording with international labels or as independent artists around the world.   Cuban music in its various forms and the involvement of Cubans in many other genres of music internationally is a genuinely global phenomenon, and these developments have been accompanied by an evolving music awards program and fair, Cubadisco, which deserves more international attention than it currently receives both for the quality and the scope of its activities. 

Cubadisco was established in 1997 and replaced previously-existing awards programs.  The “founding father” is Ciro Benemelis Durán, a key figure in the Cuban music industry for a few decades. In the beginning, only artists who were living in Cuba and were released on domestic labels were considered for awards.  This has changed over the years, and today Cubans who have recorded anywhere in the world may submit their recordings to the competition.  In the last two years, Cubans living in the United States have made a notable appearance in the nominations and final awards, especially in the Jazz and Popular Dance Music categories.

It would be misleading to characterize Cubadisco as merely Cuba’s equivalent of the GRAMMY awards, although the awards program is certainly one of the most important components.   Other music awards programs existed prior to the founding of Cubadisco, but this new program includes an international fair that lasts approximately 9 days and includes a trade fair, concerts, exhibits, workshops and discussions. Each year has  a special musical theme (2013 was dedicated to the violin, 2014 is dedicated to percussion) and a “guest of honor” country (in 2013 the country was Ecuador, in 2014 it is Trinidad and Tobago). It might be more accurate to think of it as a combination of the GRAMMY awards, the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) conference, the APAP (Association of Performing Artists and Presenters) conference and the Billboard awards along with a cultural festival. 

In its awards competition, Cubadisco recognizes a very wide range of musical genres from Classical Music to various forms of distinctly Cuban music to Jazz to Heavy Metal and Hip Hop. There were 49 categories in the 2013 awards program.   Like the GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY awards, Cubadisco reassesses its category list every year. 

In some ways Cubadisco is similar to the GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY awards programs in the United States, but along with the similarities, there are several significant differences which are worth examining in detail:   

Cubadisco uses a calendar year eligibility period for recordings, unlike the GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY awards, which stagger their calendars at different points in the year.  A significant difference between Cubadisco and the GRAMMYs is that Cubadisco has a mechanism to consider some recordings that were released in the previous two years on an exception basis in situations where it was not practical to enter those recordings in the year that the recording was released.  The GRAMMY awards, by contrast, do not knowingly permit those exceptions. 

In the United States, the domestic GRAMMY awards program requires that a recording be released within the United States; the Latin GRAMMY awards program permits consideration of recordings released anywhere in the world.   Cubadisco uses an international approach that resembles the Latin GRAMMY program; since 2009, Cubans in other countries have been eligible to participate in the awards.  A recent development within Cubadisco is that independently-produced recordings have become eligible for consideration within the past 3 years.   Previously, it was necessary for the recording artist to be connected with a record label in some country.   

The Recording Academy and the Latin Recording Academy in the United States use a process for considering recordings that involves votes by all  of the voting membership (not all academy members have voting status), which of course includes individuals who have entered recordings for consideration.  The voting members receive ballot lists and vote for both nominees and the final awardees, but there is no formal debate about the musical merits of recordings. Thousands of voting members vote on a list which begins with hundreds of recordings.  It is expected that voters restrict themselves to genres with which they are familiar.  Cubadisco uses a different approach:  The process is coordinated by the Instituto Cubano de la Musica (ICM) and the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana (Center for the Research and Development of Cuban Music), CIDMUC, which convenes a panel of jurors to evaluate and debate the merits of the recordings under consideration during a process that takes approximately three months after the recordings have been submitted. In 2013, for example, 95 musicologists, musicians, radio and television directors, music critics, designers, recording industry executives and other specialists formed a panel to consider the nominations and the final awards.  These experts considered 225 recordings, 19 DVDs and 9 Documentaries between them.   The rules are structured in a way designed to prevent individuals with recordings that have been submitted to the consideration process from voting for the categories in which they have recordings. 

Cubadisco permits a maximum of 5 recordings to be nominated in a specific category, and this is similar to the approach used in the United States.  Here are some statistics to provide some insights into the scope of the process, 145 recordings were nominated in the 49 categories in 2013.  46 recordings were awarded prizes (some in more than one category).  7 prizes were awarded to recordings made in Cuba by foreign labels, and 4 prizes were awarded to recordings made in other countries by Cubans living abroad.   10 international prizes (for recordings by non-Cubans) were awarded.  In addition to the Cuban representatives, 77 representatives from 16 other countries and territories participated in Cubadisco 2013.  These were the United States, Ecuador, Venezuela, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Angola, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, France, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, Panama and Puerto Rico. 

A very important part of the Cubadisco event is the annual symposium conducted by CIDMUC (Center for the Research and Development of Cuban Music) in which musicologists and other authorities about Cuban music discuss and debate various topics related to music and the music industry.  There is also an international trade exposition that is growing in importance.

The categories for Cubadisco 2014 will include Anthology, Compilation, Soundtrack, Cancionística, Fusion, Jazz, Traditional Popular Music, Folkloric music, Concert music, Vocal music, Choral music, Instrumental Music / Instrumental Vocal, Music for Children, Concert Soloist, Current Popular Dance Music, Trova, Trova-Pop-Rock, Pop, Rock, Rap, Reggaeton, Dance, Testimonial, Liner Notes, Musicological Notes, Recording, Live Recording (on site), Opera Prima, Graphic Design, DVD (authoring, interior design), Multimedia DVD , DVD Entertainment Music (corresponding CD only enrolled in this year's competition), Multimedia (thematic music), Musical (Documentary about music genres, music personalities, with testimonial, historiographical, among others, produced up to 5 years before the date of the event).

This writer has remarked in other places that Cuba and the Cubans abroad are experiencing a musical renaissance in some genres, especially Jazz, and the number of cases where recordings are being recognized in both Cubadisco and the Latin GRAMMY awards is rising.   Observers throughout the rest of the world would do well to carefully observe this program, especially the results of the Awards process.  So far, this writer has found that all of the recordings that were nominated in the categories of interest to him were worth making an effort to acquire, and a key strength of Cubadisco is that since it focuses on musical merit rather than popularity, name recognition and sales, it often gives recognition to emerging artists who are not well known in other countries and who will be leading the next generation in their genres.   

The Cubadisco International Fair XVIII will take place May 17-25, 2014 in La Habana.   Cubadisco has its own page in Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Cubadiscoferia

Thanks to Ciro Benemelis Durán, Founder of Cubadisco, and Gloria Ochoa Zabalegui, President of the Organizing Committee and Vice President (Technical and Commercial) of the Instituto Cubano de la Música for their invaluable help. 

This is a work in progress and will be enhanced over time. -- Bill Tilford

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Saturday, 05 April 2014, 07:29 AM