Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu

The Voice of a Cuban Priestess

Amelia Pedroso

Amelia Pedroso, Manchester, UK, 27 March 1999
Photograph by Amanda Villepastour

A new publication celebrating the individual lives of diverse female singers includes a chapter by Dr Amanda Villepastour about Amelia Pedroso, a renowned Cuban ritual singer and priestess in Santería, an Afro-Cuban religious tradition.

Pedroso generated remarkable achievements in male-dominated musical environments. In an environment that is historically oppressive to gay people, she created a lesbian and gay-friendly ritual house in Havana and, in the early 1990s when she was in her forties, she moved into a drumming domain that specifically prohibited Cuban women—although paradoxically non-Cuban women were taught in Cuba. Homosexuals are also prohibited from the drumming tradition, but Pedroso formed an ensemble comprised of gay women, and toured and ran workshops in the United States and Europe. She attracted women from all over the world to her house in Havana, acquiring a role as an iconic activist, developing a network of students and religious godchildren, and leaving a remarkable transnational legacy following her death in 2000.

The chapter ‘The Voice of a Cuban Priestess Leading from the Inside’ appears in Women Singers in Global Contexts: Music, Biography and Identity, the first collection of primarily ethnographic work to concentrate solely on individual women singers. Offering insights into the experiences of specific women singers in a range of sociocultural contexts and countries, the collections examines how the act of singing embodies dynamics of representation, power, agency, activism, and risk-taking.

Discussing her work with Pedroso, Villepastour said: "While undertaking my masters research, I first saw Amelia Pedroso perform in March 1998 in Havana but did not have the opportunity to meet her or the other musicians in her group, Ibbu Okun. In the following year when Pedroso toured the United Kingdom, I assisted with the workshops and concerts led by Pedroso in London and Manchester, filmed her performances, and conducted a formal interview along with several informal conversations, leading to two journalistic articles in Straight No Chaser and Glendora.”

“As the UK orisha religious community was and is small, and I had been studying Cuban and Nigerian bata drumming since 1996, Pedroso took an interest in my work and experience. Our new friendship was fleeting due to geographical distance and Pedroso’s death soon after her UK visit."

Related links: