Fernando Ortiz Today

This week in North Philly Notes, Robin Moore, editor of Fernando Ortiz on Music, writes about the relevance and influence of Ortiz’s writing on Cuban music, history, and culture

Who is Fernando Ortiz, why should anyone care about what he wrote, and what does he have to offer to readers today? Those are important questions, especially given that Ortiz lived and wrote many years ago; that his writings focus primarily on black music in other countries; and that—as an author trained in late nineteenth-century Europe—he inherited many biases toward Afro-descendant expression. As such, some of his observations sound dated or even racist by the standards of the present day. The relevance of his writings in 2018 may not be immediately apparent to everyone.

I first became acquainted with a few of Ortiz’s books as a graduate student at the University of Texas in the early 1990s. I planned to write a dissertation on Cuban music, and Ortiz loomed large as an individual who undertook the first detailed studies of Afro-Cuban culture in that country, based in large part on ground-breaking ethnographic excursions and interviews. His work was impressive in many respects: he published tremendous amounts of material, many thousands of pages over the course his career, and on a wide array of topics. He read widely in half a dozen languages. His knowledge of Cuban history and access to primary and secondary sources supporting such work were extraordinary. Fernando Ortiz on MusicSMIt became clear to me that countless individuals interested in black history, African-influenced languages in the new world, drumming and dance traditions, Afro-descendant religions, the Atlantic slave trade, and other topics had drawn heavily on Ortiz as they pursued academic work in the US, the Caribbean, South America, and elsewhere. Those influenced by his work in the U.S., for example, include the dancer Katherine Dunham; the anthropologist and founder of black studies in the United States, Melville Herskovits; and the art historian Robert Farris Thompson. Simply put, Ortiz was very influential; and if his work had written in English rather than Spanish, I am certain that it would have met an even more enthusiastic reception internationally.

Cuba, along with a few other Latin American/Caribbean countries, has a unique cultural profile because of the large numbers of enslaved Africans brought the island, and the fact that many of them arrived rather late (clandestinely the slave trade continued there well into the 1870s). In broad strokes, Cuba and the United States share a history of European colonization, the decimation of local indigenous populations, and the use of slave labor. Yet the fact that free and enslaved Africans and their descendants have constituted a majority of the island’s population for most of the past two centuries, and that African-derived traditions have been re-created in overt ways there, means that Cuba looks and sounds very different from the United States. I find that the study of Cuban music and history suggests interesting points of comparison for those based in the U.S. It helps us recognize similar Afrodescendant cultural influences in our own country. Cuba’s music and dance traditions that blend influences from West Africa and Europe are quite similar to our own, providing insights into processes of cultural fusion and how Afro-descendant cultures manifest themselves in repertoire such as black gospel. Reading about Cuban and Caribbean history helps us situate US history within a broader framework and makes us realizes that our “unique” cultural forms — from rap to blues to jazz — emerged out of broader processes.

Not only do I find the ethnographic data in Ortiz’s work still broadly relevant, but I consider even his ideological flaws and limitations to be instructive. The post-WWII period, which represents the apex of Ortiz’s career, was one in which leading authors throughout Europe and the Americas began to seriously question racist beliefs about non-European people for the first time. Much of this soul-searching was inspired by the Nazis and their horrendously racist views of non-Arian people, of course, as well as political challenges to colonial rule in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. Ortiz’s struggles with entrenched Eurocentric points of view, notions of racial and cultural hierarchy, and the “proper place” of Afrodescendant culture within his country represent a corollary to similar debates taking place throughout the Western world and beyond. Including Ortiz in the study of racial debates of the era expands our understanding of such discourse beyond the spheres of U.S. and European academia. It helps “decenter” that literature by underscoring the important contributions and perspectives of those in developing countries. And it helps us better appreciate the true extent of slavery’s impact on politics, culture, and ideology throughout the Western hemisphere.


Temple University Press’ Annual Holiday Sale

This week in North Philly Notes, we prepare for the holidays by promoting our annual Holiday Sale December 7-8 from 11am-2pm in the Diamond Club Lobby, (lower level of Mitten Hall at Temple University)


Announcing the new issue of Kalfou

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlight the new issue of our journal, Kalfouedited by George Lipsitz at the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research

Kalfou volume 4, no. 1, continues the journal’s pioneering work in creating timely and lively conversations among academics, activists, and artists. The new issue features a forum on the BlackLivesMatter movement and its impact on and implications for the Black Prophetic Tradition in religion and politics. Participants in that discussion are Juan Floyd-Thomas of Vanderbilt University; Johari Jabir of the University of Illinois, Chicago; Lawrence Brown of Morgan State University; and Kalfou senior editor George Lipsitz of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Arts activist Natasha Thomas-Jackson writes about the ways in which her innovative youth performance troupe RAISE IT UP!! mobilized young people to step up and speak out about the water crisis created by racially targeted privatization schemes in Flint, Michigan.

University of Wyoming American Studies Professor Lilia Soto compares and contrasts the commemoration of the activism of César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers movement in Napa, California, with public commemorations of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

Musician, arts administrator, and researcher Russell C. Rodríguez contributes a moving eulogy for Ramón “Chunky” Sánchez, a legendary Chicanx musician and activist.

Also featured is a teacher’s guide to the film Becoming Ourselves by Asian Immigrant Women Advocates; a rumination on apologies and reparations by Washington University anthropologist Peter Benson; and a discussion by Venise L. Keys of her artistic practice.

Table of Contents

Feature Articles

Lawrence T. Brown
Johari Jabir
Juan Floyd-Thomas
George Lipsitz

Talkative Ancestors


Peter Benson

La Mesa Popular

Lilia Soto

Art and Social Action

Venise L. Keys

Mobilized 4 Movement

Natasha Thomas-Jackson

Teaching and Truth

Asian Immigrant Women Advocates

In Memoriam

Russell C. Rodríguez

Book Reviews

Barbara Tomlinson

Temple University Press’ Spring 2017 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes we showcase our Spring 2017 catalog of books and journals!


A video showcasing jazz biographer and critic Jim Merod

This week in North Philly Notes, a video featuring Jim Merod, co-author of Whisper Not.

Jazz critic and historian Jim Merod has recorded live jazz for more than forty years across the United States and Europe. His BluePort Jazz label has been featured in the audio journal, The Absolute Soundfor its “on location” audiophile albums.

Jim has published essays in the journal Boundary 2 on Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Beethoven’s last string quartetHe has been responsible for producing and directing jazz concerts in Boston, La Jolla, the Napa Valley and is currently the Director of the “Jazz Monsters” concert series in the highly-acclaimed Performing Arts Hall at Soka University in Southern California, where he teaches a course on jazz and classical music.

He is collaborating with David Bowie’s pianist extraordinaire, Mike Garson, on a major symphonic production dedicated to the prospect of preserving earth’s ecosystem as a central objective of global responsibility for the purpose of world peace.

This video, created by northern California videographer, Francisco Lopez, was initiated after a conversation Merod had on the Lyons stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September, 2016 with Quincy Jones. That conversation inspired Lopez to travel to Soka University to cover Jim’s three day jazz festival, where these interviews took place.

Give a look and a listen….

Video courtesy of Tank Frank Filmz

What Temple University Press staff wants to give and read this holiday season

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggest the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to read this holiday season. 

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

audacity-of-hoop_smGive: As a recent Press tweet suggested, I’d give Alexander Wolff’s The Audacity of Hoop to those on my list who’ve been in a funk since November 8.

Read:  A review of Maria Semple’s new book, Today Will Be Different, pointed me to an earlier book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and I’ve had it on my list ever since. I love smart, witty, satirical contemporary novels and this looks to be just that.

Karen Baker, Financial Manager
 Boathouse Row  by Dotty Brown and Building Drexel, edited by Richardson Dilworth and Scott Gabriel Knowles, as both of these books are beautiful. Since all of my family are born and raised in Philadelphia, they will make great gifts for them.

Read: A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans. This book was just brought to my attention because it is about to be made into a movie, and it looks like a fun read.



Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

boathouse-row_smGive: Boathouse Row, by Dottie Brown. We at Temple University Press have done our part to make holiday gift giving a little easier on Philadelphians this year. Dottie is a terrific writer who is passionate about rowing, the book is gorgeous, and it’s the first full exploration of this fascinating and unique Philadelphia institution. Giving Boathouse Row is practically a required act of Philadelphia civic pride.

Read: American Amnesia, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. These authors argue we have apparently forgotten how a “mixed economy” — with a substantial role for public intervention as well as for free markets — was crucial to achieving American prosperity in the twentieth century. It’s hard to know where we’re headed these days, but with seemingly everything up for grabs this looks like the sort of fundamental civics lesson we could all use.

Sara Cohen, Editor

Ghostly Encounters_smGive: I’ll be giving folks copies of Dennis and Michele Waskul’s Ghostly Encounters.  It’s fascinating, readable, and (at least as far as I’m concerned) nothing says “holiday season” like ghosts.

Read:  I’ll be reading Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl and Tom McCarthy’s Remainderthe latter of which I received as an early holiday gift from a good friend.




Ryan Mulligan, Editor

will-big-league-baseball-survive_smGive: Will Big League Baseball Survive? The World Series this year brought in so many viewers and gave them such a sublime show at just the moment that football looks like it might be losing a shade of its luster. Will baseball fandom remain arcane to casual audiences? Is a breakthrough imminent, possible, or even necessary? Lincoln Mitchell sees the path forward. His book is perfect for the baseball evangelists I know.

Read: Colson Whitehead’s NBA-winning (no – we’re not talking about sports anymore) Underground Railroad and Zadie Smith’s new Swing Time (read her speech on hope and history ) in fiction and I’m curious about Michael Lewis’s take on Kahneman and Tversky in The Undoing Project.

Nikki Miller, Rights and Contracts Manager

Give: Dotty Brown’s Boathouse Row, which takes you through the history of rowing with beautiful pictures along the Schuylkill.  It offers a relaxing balance of history and storytelling which makes it a perfect read for the holiday season.
Read: The holidays give me an excuse to lay by the fire and reread my favorite book: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

Joan Vidal, Senior Production Editor

suicide-squeeze_smGive: Suicide Squeeze: Taylor Hooton, Rob Garibaldi, and the Fight against Teenage Steroid Abuse, by William C. Kashatus. This important story of the tragic steroids-related suicides of two up-and-coming student-athletes is an essential addition to the continuing education on the widespread problem of steroid abuse among young people.

Read: I hope to receive The Boys from Eighth and Carpenter, by Tom Mendicino, a novel about two brothers who grow up in 1960s South Philadelphia and then go their separate ways: one staying and taking over their father’s barbershop and the other moving away and becoming a high-society lawyer. When life goes awry, they reveal the strength of the bond between them.

Kate Nichols,  Art Manager
Give: I would give George Lipstiz’s How Racism Takes Place.
Read: I have already given myself Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (through a donation to WXPN).

Dave Wilson, Senior Production Editor

City in a Park_smGive: I thoroughly enjoyed working on and reading City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System by Lynn Miller and Jim McClelland. The authors recount a fascinating story of the birth of the park system, and I found myself wanting to visit the many places and houses so vividly depicted by the authors. The accompanying talks the authors gave made me more aware of one of the world’s greatest park systems, one that I didn’t fully appreciate until I had read this book.



Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

possessive_investment_rev_ed_smGive: I’d like to give a few of my friends copies of The Possessive Investment of Whiteness, by George Lipsitz, a book that illustrates the injustices suffered by and the advantages of white supremacy.

Read: I’m trying to catch up on my reading, so from the 2015 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books list, I just bought Loving Day by Mat Johnson to read over the holiday break.  Peace and love to all this holiday season!




Emma Pilker, Editorial Assistant

framing-the-audience_smGive: Framing the Audience by Isadora Anderson Helfgott, to my art history colleagues. Anyone interested in the social history of art will appreciate Helfgott’s analysis of pivotal 20th century movements that shaped today’s art world.

Read: I have been putting off reading Fox Girl by Nora Okja Keller because of the heavy themes, but the end of the year is the perfect time to commit to some historical reflection and cultural


Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

consuming-catastrophe_smGive: Considering how 2016 was, Timothy Recuber’s Consuming Catastrophe: Mass Culture in America’s Decade of Disaster an appropriate gift. Recuber looks at how the media covered four crises–the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings and the 2008 financial crisis–and how our concern for the suffering of others help soothe our own emotional turmoil.


Read: I just started read Michael Chabon’s Moonglow, which actually acknowledges a Temple University Press book–Murray Dubin’s South Philadelphiaas source material for the depiction of South Philadelphia in the book. This video of Chabon, made during his Free Library of Philadelphia appearance on December 8 opens with him talking about how Dubin’s South Philadelphia influenced his “autobiographical novel.”

Temple University Press Annual Holiday Sale!

Celebrate the holidays with Temple University Press at our annual holiday sale
November 30 through December 2 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm (daily)
in the Diamond Club Lobby, lower level of Mitten Hall at Temple University

All books will be discounted


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