The Cuba collection: A new donation gives FIU the most important Cuban music library in the country
Posted on Sun, Sep. 17, 2006
The Cuba collection: A new donation gives FIU the most important Cuban
music library in the country
By ENRIQUE FERNANDEZ
What is likely the most complete collection of Cuban music anywhere is
housed in the Florida International University Green Library on the
University Park campus.
The collection of the island’s seminal music — the origin of genres
from salsa to Latin jazz — as well as items from other Latin American
countries, is the result of two generous gifts.
One is by renowned collector Cristobal Díaz Ayala, born in Cuba and a
resident of Puerto Rico, whose 2002 donation forms the base of the FIU
trove. The second one was made this year by the parents of the late
Francisco Ojeda, a Miami Cuban music enthusiast who used to host a
popular radio program on Latin American music.
The Díaz-Ayala collection consists of about 100,000 items, including
about 25,000 vinyl albums from the golden era of Cuban popular music.
”He had housed it in an apartment, but the floor began to buckle from
the weight, so he had to buy a house to store it,” says Uva de Aragón,
associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at FIU.
Díaz-Ayala, on the phone from his home in Puerto Rico, good-naturedly
dismisses the buckling floor as ”an exaggeration.” But he expresses a
deep satisfaction with FIU’s handling of his collection, which is today
valued at more than $1 million.
”Some universities accept collections and do nothing with them,” he
says, ”but FIU has made it all accessible. Part of the agreement was to
create a database.” Indeed, Díaz-Ayala was hired by the university to
work on digitizing the discography, which he had compiled. “We keep
working on it, bringing it up to date.”
And he was instrumental in FIU’s acquisition of the Ojeda collection.
”I was a good friend of Paquito [Francisco Ojeda] and was around him
until the end, when he died of cancer last year before even reaching his
50th birthday,” Díaz-Ayala says. “So I convinced his mother that his
collection should go to FIU.”
”For us it was very hard to have to classify all of it so it could be
donated,” says Ojeda’s mother, Acacia, who lives in Miami. “But when
Díaz-Ayala and Orlando Gónzalez Estévez, a journalist who was also a
friend of my son, came to ask us to give it to FIU, we decided it was
the place for it.”
The Ojeda collection is more modest — about 1,000 recordings — but
contains priceless recorded interviews with old musicians.
”He loved all those old black artists that never received the attention
they deserved,” says Mrs. Ojeda. “He loved the old Cuban music, that
was the music of the era of my husband and me.”
Ojeda’s recordings have been incorporated into the main collection,
enriching it. ”Some of the LPs are duplicates of what I had”’
Díaz-Ayala says, “but they’re so rare that to have two of them is
better than to have only one.”
Francisco Ojeda worked in Radio Martí, the exile-driven, U.S.-funded
radio station that broadcasts to Cuba, and he hosted Cubanola, a weekly
show on Cuban and other Latin American music on public station WDNA-FM.
The FIU collection is impressive indeed.
Shelves after shelves of LPs, old 78s (”they actually last longer than
the LPs,” says FIU librarian Mayra Nemeth, who heads the Department of
Sound and Image Resources), 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs. Plus
reel-to-reel tapes and even old recording cylinders. ”There are
recordings from 1901,” says Nemeth.
There also is sheet music, photos, newspaper clippings, even copies of
the ”blue cards” — the information sheets that the old RCA record
company would file for each recording.
”Our dream was to digitalize the whole collection as each recording
fell into public domain,” Nemeth says, ”but now intellectual rights
have been extended so we can’t do it.” The result is that though the
collection is available to researchers and students, it cannot be put
online. Still, FIU has made efforts to make use of the collection.
Each year, research grants are awarded to academics who come to the
library to use the collection. And another grant brings local educators,
including FIU faculty, to the collection, where they are instructed on
how to use it and integrate it into various disciplines.
”You could teach history, international relations, sociology, all
through the collection,” says Aragón. And Díaz-Ayala adds that the
record covers can be used to understand art.
Indeed, these covers are a nostalgia trip for any Cuban who grew up on
the island during the 1950s, when LPs were the dominant mode of recorded
music. Some covers are very basic — mere snapshots of the artists —
while others, crafted by professionals, follow the trends of Cuba’s
serious avant-garde movements.
Díaz-Ayala began cataloging his collection in a book that covers music
from 1898 to 1925. ”That was easy because recordings were so rare in
that era,” he says. But when he thought of a follow-up volume for music
from 1925-1960, he realized it would add up to a daunting 10-volume
That was a factor in his decision to donate the collection to a
university that would have the resources to digitalize the discography.
The collection includes music from the revolutionary era to the present,
but ”if there’s a weakness in the collection, it’s Cuban music since
1960,” says Nemeth.
Díaz-Ayala is satisfied that the work of collecting that music and
continuing his work will be done by those who come after him.
”One of the archivists, Veronica González, has fallen in love with the
collection,” he says. “With each passing day, she becomes the person
who could take over my job.