This essay considers the recent vogue for the term transculturation and critiques a selection of its numerous and divergent uses. That critique enables a return to and a reassessment of Ortiz’s theorisation and historical analyses in Contrapunteo cubano. While it is important that the term continue to adapt to changing circumstances, many bland and gestural invocations of it have paid insufficient attention to the detail of Ortiz’s thinking, which illuminates the whole gamut of different stages and processes involved in cultural encounters and interaction. Without losing sight of Ortiz’s strong emphasis on historical analysis, the essay explores why a cultural phenomenon which is universal was theorised and named within Latin America. It also considers the extent to which transculturation can constitute a political position from which in the contemporary world to challenge the hold of global modernisation, which some recent readings have proposed. It concludes that, since the fundamentals of economic and political power have not shifted noticeably since the colonial era, in which transculturation already had a strong presence in one form of another, the idea that it might now bring about democratic interchanges between Latin America and other cultures seems overly optimistic. The kind of analysis which Ortiz brilliantly demonstrates in Contrapunteo cubano may illuminate the imbalances and asymmetries of global (inter)exchanges but it is unlikely to do more than that.