M. Myrta Leslie Santana

Transforming las Américas: Trans/Queer Performance in Cuba and its Diaspora

March 12 2024 (Tuesday) — 5:15 PM to 7:00 PM
Lerner Center
Penn Music Building
201 S. 34th Street, Room 101

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In this talk, I consider the genealogies of trans and queer performance in the Cuban diaspora and ask what work such performances are doing today in both Miami and Havana. I rely on three sites in particular: the Wigwood drag festival in contemporary Miami, an album recorded by a Cuban diasporic drag queen in New York City in the 1980s, and the ongoing work of one Black lesbian drag king in Havana. In each context, I discuss the social and aesthetic lineages and contents of the drag performers’ musical choices, focusing on how they might offer insight into the performances’ interventions in dominant LGBT rights discourses in the Americas and the groundswell of political repression of trans and queer people. This talk brings together work from my forthcoming book Transformismo: Performing Trans/Queer Cuba, which was recently approved for publication with the University of Michigan Press, and my current project on the politics of trans and queer performance in my hometown of Miami. Both projects aim to contribute to conversations between performance studies and music studies as well as the ongoing elaboration of trans and queer lives and politics in the Spanish-speaking Americas.


M. Myrta Leslie Santana is an ethnomusicologist and performer whose work examines the social and political dimensions of trans and queer performance cultures in the Americas. Her book manuscript Transformismo: Performing Cuba’s Future, an ethnography of drag performance in contemporary Cuba, is under review at the University of Michigan Press. Other writing has appeared in Small Axe, the Journal of the Society for American MusicQueer Nightlife (Michigan, 2021), and Queering the Field: Sounding Out Ethnomusicology (Oxford, 2019). Originally from Miami, Florida, Leslie Santana studied ethnomusicology, women’s studies, and violin performance at Harvard University, the University of Michigan, and the Cleveland Institute of Music. She is currently Assistant Professor of Music at UC San Diego.


This lecture is part of the 2023-24 Penn Music Colloquium Series. The Department of Music's main Colloquium Series showcases new research by leading scholars in music and sound studies and composers both in the United States and internationally.  All Music Colloquia will take place in Room 101 of the Lerner Center on Tuesdays at 5:15 PM.