In July 2016 the Society for Ethnomusicology issued A Latin American Music Reader: Views from the South, edited by Javier F. Léon and Helena Simonett and published in collaboration with University of Illinois Press. Along with extensive introductory material, the book includes 17 articles translated from Spanish and Portuguese into English, representing a cross-section of the innovative research of Latin American music scholars over the past 25 years.
The project was initiated by SEM’s Latin American and Caribbean Music Section and Board of Directors several years ago in support of the Society’s goal of expanding international communication in ethnomusicology. A detailed new introduction by León and Simonett surveys and contextualizes the history of Latin American ethnomusicology, opening the door for readers energized by the musical forms brought and nurtured by immigrants from throughout Latin America.
Below, Violeta Parra, the subject of one of the book’s essays.
The Afro-Cuban music and dance genre rumba has historically been considered una cosa de negros (a black thing) and reviled due to racialized stereotypes that link the practice with el bajo mundo (the low life), excessive alcohol use, and violence. Nevertheless, the socialist government has sought to elevate rumba’s status during the past half century as part of a larger goal of foregrounding and valorizing the African contributions to Cuban identity and culture.
Rumba is the most significant and popular black-identified tradition in Cuba; in addition to its association with blackness, it is often portrayed as a particularly potent symbol of the masses and working-class identity, another reason why the government has aimed to harness rumba to its cultural nationalist discourse.
Despite the discursive valorization of the practice found in much Cuban scholarship and political rhetoric, rumba continues to be identified with a particular and marginalized sector of the population. In many ways, the complex situation of rumba performance conforms to the more general trend of contemporary racial politics on the island.
This according to “National symbol or ‘a black thing’? Rumba and racial politics in Cuba in the era of cultural tourism” by Rebecca Bodenheimer (Black music research journal XXXIII/2 [fall 2013] pp. 177–205). This issue of Black music research journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Above and below, street performances of rumba.
The cross-volume search capacity of our new database RILM Music Encyclopedias offers some quirky surprises—for example, this resource currently includes nine different music-related articles with references to helicopters. These include entries on Madonna, Mickey Rooney, and the following excerpt from the article “Highland region of Papua New Guinea” in The Garland encyclopedia of world music:
“The texts [of girls’ coming-of age songs] address topics broadly sorted in four sets: daily routine, recalling netted bags (made by all women), sores (irritated by flies), and pleasure over good food (grown or gathered); unusual events, like sighting a helicopter, European missionaries’ arrival, and death in a hospital; desires, including the romantic, with meanings often hidden in metaphor, but also the adventuresome, like wanting to ride in a vehicle; and the coming-of-age performance itself speaking of dancing together, laughing together, and becoming adults.”
Above, an organization that searches for new species in Papua New Guinea by helicopter—perhaps the subject of the sighting; below, a performance by the Girl Guides Association of Papua New Guinea.
While the Kerala dance-drama kūṭiyāṭṭam focuses on weighty episodes from the venerable Indian epics, its performance affords a number of occasions for humor outside of the stock buffoon character of the vidūśaka, who provides narration in Malayalam and jokes directly with the audience.
Some comic moments are produced in the classical Sanskrit texts by the characters of maids, doctors, and so on, but other verbal and physical comedy has been interpolated into the tradition by the performers representing monkeys, demons, madmen, drunks, sweepers, soldiers, and gardeners.
This according to “Comic relief by non-vidūśaka characters in kūṭiyāṭṭam” by L.S. Rajagopalan, an article included in Living traditions of Nāṭyaśāstra (Dilli: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2002) pp. 123–127).
Below, an uncostumed kūṭiyāṭṭam dancer demonstrates some monkey moves.
Filed under Animals, Asia, Dance
The so-called model works (yangbanxi)—ten operas, four ballets, two symphonies, and two piano pieces—monopolized China’s theatrical and musical stages for a decade.
Repercussions of these works can be traced in recent Chinese rock, pop, and art music. Contrary to the popular assumption that the model works were characteristic products of Cultural Revolution ideology, they are manifestations of a hybrid taste that calls for the transformation of Chinese tradition according to foreign standards, a taste which has for more than a century determined compositional practice in China.
One of the earliest and best-known works, the collectively written jingju Zhi qu Weihu Shan (Taking Tiger Mountain by strategy), is an example; its traditional Chinese and European musical and dramatic elements illustrate how the particular forms taken by musical modernization during the Cultural Revolution were—except in their degree of semantic overdetermination—typical of compositional practice in today’s China.
This according to “Cultural Revolution model works and the politics of modernization in China: An analysis of Taking Tiger Mountain by strategy by Barbara Mittler (The world of music XLV/2  pp. 53–81).
Above, a still from the 1970 film; below, an excerpt.
BONUS: CCTV host Bi Fujian entertaining friends at the dinner table with a rendition of a scene using chopsticks for percussion.
BONUS BONUS: An updated version from a 2013 variety show (Star Wars Opera Night/Quanneng Xingzhang Xiqu zhi Ye) with the renowned singer Sun Nan.
From the age of 12 through a career that spanned eight decades, Lydia Mendoza was a beacon to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, showing them that no matter how humble their situation was they had a culture worth celebrating.
In a 2004 interview, asked what happened to make her the first Mexican-American singing star, she replied “Whether I was singing a bolero or a waltz or a polka it didn’t matter. When I sang, I sang it so I felt like I was living that song. Every song I ever sang I did with the feeling that I was living that song.”
This according to “Lydia motion” by Garth Cartwright (fRoots XXVI/9:261 [March 2005] pp. 30–35, 41).
Today would have been Mendoza’s 100th birthday! Above, the singer in 1948; below, performing in 1975.
The dance-song genre punta and its derivative, punta rock, are iconic of Garífuna ethnicity and modernity. Punta permeates performances of both secular and semisacred rituals, and it is the genre most often used for social commentary.
Punta rock arose from the need to create a new genre fusing elements of Garífuna culture and music that express both indigenous and urban social ideals. As such, it maintains its popularity because it incorporates both the traditional and the contemporary.
This according to “Ethnicity, modernity, and retention in the Garifuna punta” by Oliver N. Greene (Black music research journal XXII [fall 2002] pp. 189–216).
Above and below, Pen Cayetano and the Turtle Shell Band—the originators of punta rock.
The renowned Hindustani śahnāī player Bismillah Khan lived in Varanasi for all of his adult life, and never wanted to leave the city even for a day—for example, complicated negotiations were required to persuade him to travel to Eluru to receive a prestigious award.
An American patron once invited him to come and live in California, but he replied that he could not bring himself to leave his beloved house. When the patron offered to build him an identical house and create a similar neighborhood, Khan asked him whether he could also bring the Ganges River!
This according to “The legend that was Bismillah Khan” by Pappu Venugopala Rao (Sruti 264 [September 2006] pp. 20–21).
Today would have been Bismillah Khan’s 100th birthday! Below, a live performance; can anyone help us to date it?
Filed under Asia, Performers
In the eiri-kyōgenbon (illustrated editions of kabuki plot synopses) of the Genroku reign (1688–1704), evidence is found for the representation of exotic animals on the kabuki stage: tigers and elephants, regarded as Chinese animals, in plays of the Edo tradition, as fierce opponents of the protagonist; and peacocks in the Kamigata (Kyōto-Ōsaka) style, in kaichō scenes (the unveiling of a Buddhist image).
It is not clear whether stuffed prop animals were always used or if actors portrayed the animals; it seems certain that real animals were not used.
This according to “元禄歌舞伎に登場する動物” (Animals in Genroku kabuki) by 鎌倉 恵子 (Kamakura Keiko), an article included in Kabuki: Changes and prospects—International Symposium on the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Kokuritsu Bunkazai Kenkyūjo/National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo, 1998, pp. 135–47).
Above, Bandō Mitsugorō I as a samurai subduing a tiger; below, a modern-day kabuki dragon.