The music of Central America tends to borrow heavily from the music of Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, and the Caribbean Islands to the east, and, in the case of Nicaragua, from the politically motivated nueva canción (new song) movement. Additionally, some traces of the ancient Mayan culture can still be found in Nicaragua and Belize, and more strongly in Guatemala. People of Mayan background form around half of the population of Guatemala. Their cultural heritage has been preserved to an extraordinary extent because of their great reverence for their cultural heritage, mythology, and rituals. Their instruments include various slit-drums, gongs, rattles, and cane flutes that sometimes have the rattles of rattlesnakes enclosed in a hollow space above the embouchure. This is then closed off with a thin membrane, and the resulting menacing buzz is heard in the music of the Baile de venada (dance of the deer).
Along with Indian traditions in Guatemala is the equally thriving music of the Ladino population, which is Hispanic in origin and is found mostly in the country’s urban centers. The instrument that is central to Ladino music, namely the marimba de tecomates, which has a keyboard of wooden bars with gourds suspended underneath, is thought to be of African origin. Although Ladino groups have now adopted more contemporary marimbas, there is still a great variety among them. The largest, the marimba grande, has a range similar to a piano and is usually played by four players.
The son guatemalteco is the national dance of Guatemala, and dancers bring out the son rhythm with zapateadas or foot stamping. These indigenous rhythms and themes have also been incorporated into classical music. The brothers Jesús and Ricardo Castillo were Guatemalan classical composers of the early 20th century. Jesús wrote a treatise on the Mayan music of the country, and both brothers wrote pieces using Indian themes (Suites indigenas) and even operas such as Quiché Vinak. In Nicaragua, composers such as Luis Delgadillo (1887–1962) included Inca themes and other indigenous Nicaraguan music in their work.
The country furthest south in Central America, Panama, was previously part of Colombia until 1903, and is considered by some to be the source of Colombia’s cumbia genre. Its musical traditions are a mix of Spanish, Indian, and African, but as one of the most cosmopolitan countries of the region, folk music is now mainly the preserve of schools and folklore societies.
Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by reading through the Latin America section of the Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
Below is a performance of son guatemalteco and a piece entitled Fiesta de pajaros composed by Jesús Castillo.
Previous related Bibliolore posts to check out:
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Written and recorded in 1975 by the Angolan popular singer António Sebastião Vicente (Santocas), Valódia is derived from African praise songs, with their characteristic heroic laudatory epithets. The song demonstrates the timeless quality of such praise songs, as it turns a young soldier into a socialist hero.
Traditional African poets served as both praise singers and court historians, and their successors are in the vanguard of political song movements. Santocas’s lyrics capture the essence of the fallen subject, who fought against neocolonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.
When Valódia was recorded by the Cuban singer Beatriz Márquez it became a transatlantic anthem advocating sociopolitical and economic change framed by communist doctrine, advancing an agenda of decolonization that still lingers over the destinies of both Angola and Cuba.
This according to “Valódia: A transatlantic praise song” by Jorge Luis Morejón-Benitez, an essay included in Indigenous African popular music. I: Prophets and philosophers (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 303–20; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-2996).
Below, the original recordings.
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As the largest minority in the United States, the Latino/a/x population has spawned a diverse array of cultural and musical expressions, many of which have impacted American popular culture. From the Latino/a/x groups historically affected by border expansions, to today’s immigrants, these communities express their experiences, political struggles, and lives in oral traditions, music, dance, and sound.
This bibliography reflects the diversity of musical and dance expressions of these communities. Beyond the dominant sonic imaginaries towards mariachi music, or the ideas of correspondence between geographic region and musical style, the selected texts reflect a complex reading of how cultural practices challenge ideas on race, gender, sexuality, experiences of dislocation, belonging, and identity. This bibliography references practices on the Mexican-American border region, the Appalachian region, Puerto Rico, and New York, and spans multiple genres, from son jarocho and salsa, to Latin jazz and reggaetón.
Written and compiled by Beatriz Goubert, Editor and Product Development Coordinator, RILM
Alvarado, Lorena and Frances R. Aparicio. “Dissonant love: Music in Latina/o diaspora weddings”, Music in the American diasporic wedding, ed. by Inna Naroditskaya (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019) 70–86. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-5492]
Abstract: Deploying Deborah Vargas’s critical concept of dissonance as a disruption of the heteronormative and cultural nationalist limits, this essay examines the heterogeneous musical repertoires featured in U.S. Latina/o weddings that trouble or “disrupt” the dominant sonic imaginaries—the Mexican mariachi—that conflate national identity with musical traditions. Tracing the musical repertoires in U.S. Latino weddings, the essay juxtaposes a survey conducted by the authors with 11 couples and four Latino grooms and their own readings of weddings in films (including the Latino film Mi familia [My family]), novels, and poetry. In order to weave a broad picture of music in Latino weddings, the essay weaves textual and ethnographic approaches as an intervention that can only begin to suggest new ways of thinking about the social meanings of musical repertoires in these weddings. Tensions between tradition and modernity, between national and global sounds, generation-informed musical taste and predilections, and gendered norms, surfaced in the film and literary texts studied as well as in the surveys completed by young Latina/o couples.
Chávez, Xóchitl Consuelo. “La creación de Oaxacalifornia mediante tradiciones culturales entre jóvenes oaxaqueños de Los Ángeles, California”, Desacatos Revista de Ciencias Sociales 62 (enero–abril 2020) 172–181. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-69173]
Abstract: The Guelaguetza and the philharmonic bands are community practices of the Oaxacan migrant communities in the United States—from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles—and in the places of origin in Oaxaca, Mexico. These cultural productions cross the border between Mexico and the United States and survive in the region called Oaxacalifornia. As part of the traditions and forms of cultural expression, music and dance help to recover a community identity, despite economic instability and political conflict, and overcome the difficult processes of transnational migration. Oaxacalifornia is a microcosm, a migration route of human bodies, ideas, languages, and identities. Young people create a bicultural identity that claims and constitutes their indigenous cultural citizenship in Oaxaca and California.
Colón Montijo, César. “Carimbo: Raza, farmacolonialidad y conjuro en la espectropolítica salsera de Ismael ‘Maelo’ Rivera”, Del archivo a la playlist: Historias, nostalgias, tecnologías, ed. by Darío Tejeda (http://iaspmal.com/index.php/2021/07/07/del-archivo-a-la-playlist-actas/, 2021) 286–292. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-5920]
Abstract: The song Carimbo, by Afro-Puerto Rican singer Ismael “Maelo” Rivera, tells the story of Carimbo, an enslaved man who talks to the sonero about the infamous mark that slavery left on his voice. Carimbo’s spectral voice can be thought in relation to the precarious contemporaneity of the 1970s in which Maelo recorded it. Maelo’s Carimbo is not only the subject of the times of slavery, he is also that contemporary subject who struggles with the infamous mark of pharmacolonial violence. The incantation that Carimbo and Maelo vocalize as a survival tactic allows us to rethink the concatenation of their voices as an entry point to theorize a spectropolitics of listening. The incantation tells us much about the politics of life and death in contemporary Puerto Rico.
Enriquez, Sophia M. “‘Penned against the wall’: Migration narratives, cultural resonances, and Latinx experiences in Appalachian music”, Journal of popular music studies 32/2 (June 2020) 63–76. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-14803]
Abstract: Although the Appalachian region has long been associated with white racial identity, Latinx people remain the region’s largest and fastest-growing minority. What perspectives and experiences are revealed when such narratives of whiteness are challenged by the visibility of Latinx migrants? What does music tell us about ongoing discourses of migration and border-crossings? This essay analyzes Latinx immigration narratives in Appalachian music and offers the possibility of a Latinx-Appalachian musical and cultural resonances. I take up the music of artists who claim hybrid Latinx-Appalachian cultural and musical identities. Namely, this essay focuses on Che Apalache—a four-piece band based in Buenos Aires that plays Latingrass—and the Lua Project—a five-piece band based in Charlottesville, Virginia, that plays Mexilachian music. Using field recordings and ethnographic interviews with both groups, this essay analyzes references to U.S.-Mexico border politics, acts of border crossing, and Latin American-Appalachian geographic similarities. I engage U.S.-based Latinx studies and Appalachian studies to establish relationships of Appalachian and Latinx cultures and incorporate analyses of both Spanish and English lyrics. Ultimately, this essay suggests that listening for Latinx migration narratives in Appalachian music challenges assumptions of belonging in the shifting U.S. cultural landscape.
Fernández L’Hoeste, Héctor and Pablo Vila, eds. Sound, image, and national imaginary in the construction of Latin/o American identities. Music, culture, and identity in Latin America (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-64488]
Abstract: Addresses a gap in the many narratives discussing the cultural histories of Latin American nations, particularly in terms of the birth, configuration, and perpetuation of national identities. It argues that these processes were not as gradual or constrained as traditionally conceived. The actual circumstances dictating the adoption of particular technologies for the representation of national ideas shifted and varied according to many factors including local circumstances, political singularities, economic disparities, and highly individualized cultural transitions. This book proposes a model of chronology that is valid not only for nations that underwent strong processes of nationalism during the early or mid-20th century, but also for those that experienced highly idiosyncratic cultural, economic, and political development into the early 21st century.
Hernández-León, Rubén. “How did son jarocho become a music for the immigrant rights movement?”, Ethnic and racial studies 42/2 (2019) 975–993. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-25678]
Abstract: Chicana/o activists and artists in Greater Los Angeles have turned son jarocho, a traditional music genre from southeastern Mexico, into an organizing resource and a means to express the plight of immigrants. Building on a movement that started in Mexico to reestablish the communal celebration of the fandango as the center of the son jarocho tradition, these Chicana/o activists have reinterpreted fandangos as the enactment of community. They have also repurposed son jarocho and its lyrical content to articulate demands for the rights of undocumented immigrants and other social justice causes. These endeavors take place in community and cultural centers founded and led by a mix of immigrant generations: veterans of the Chicana/o civil rights movement of the 1970s, first generation immigrants and their adult children and grandchildren. These actors embrace fandangos as a metaphor and blueprint for community participation as they write new lyrics to demand justice for immigrants.
Loza, Steven, ed. Barrio harmonics: Essays on Chicano/Latino music (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-14233]
Abstract: Explores Chicano, Mexican, and Cuban musical forms and styles and their transformation in the United States. Employing musical, historical, and sociocultural analyses, Loza addresses issues such as marginality, identity, intercultural conflict and aesthetics, reinterpretation, postnationalism, and mestizaje—the mixing of race and culture—in the production and reception of Chicano/Latino music.
Miller, Sue. “Pacheco and charanga: Imitation, innovation, and cultural appropriation in the típico tradition of New York City”, Latin American music review/Revista de música latinoamericana 41/1 (spring–summer 2020) 1–26. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-2944]
Abstract: Explores the performance practice and aesthetics of Cuban dance music in the U.S. in relation to the concept of sabor. This multifaceted term encompasses a range of meanings and includes, among other elements, a dance imperative, melodic call-and-response-style inspiraciones, and a clave feel. A case study of Dominican-born Johnny Pacheco, a charanga flute player and the cocreator of the term salsa, allows for exploration of a specific New York-based sabor as well as consideration of issues such as imitation, innovation, and cultural appropriation in the context of charanga típica performance in mid-20th-century New York. Pacheco’s musical contributions, critiqued by Juan Flores as “traditionalist” and by John Storm Roberts as “revivalist”, have often been overshadowed by his considerable entrepreneurial activities. Rather than examine his work as a record producer and entrepreneur, Pacheco’s earlier recordings made as a charanga flute improviser are examined to demonstrate that, pace Roberts and Flores, his improvisational style illustrates a particular New York performance aesthetic rooted in clave aesthetics and the rich musical culture of the Bronx—an aesthetic that is related to, but distinct from, that of earlier Cuban role models.
Power-Sotomayor, Jade. “Moving borders and dancing in place: Son jarocho’s speaking bodies at the Fandango Fronterizo”, TDR: The drama review 64/4 (winter 2020) 84–107 [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-12392]
Abstract: The annual Fandango Fronterizo is a binational performance gathering where the U.S.-Mexico border meets the ocean. Fandanguerxs, gathering on both sides of the border wall in Tijuana and San Diego, enact a performative, political gesture that interrupts the discursive racialized and gendered logic of the two nation-states, refusing to be eternally desterrados by the violence of the border.
Ramos-Kittrell, Jesús A., ed. Decentering the nation: Music, mexicanidad, and globalization. Music, culture, and identity in Latin America (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-8323]
Abstract: Decentering the nation: Music, mexicanidad, and globalization considers how neoliberal capitalism has upset the symbolic economy of “Mexican” cultural discourse, and how this phenomenon touches on a broader crisis of representation affecting the nation-state in globalization. This book argues that, while mexicanidad emerged in the early 20th century as a cultural trope about national origins, culture, and history, it was, nonetheless, a trope steeped in otherization and used by nation-states (Mexico and the United States) to legitimize narratives of cultural and socioeconomic development stemming out of nationalist political projects that are now under strain. Using music as a phenomenological platform of inquiry, contributors to this book focus on a critique of mexicanidad in terms of the cultural processes through which people contest ideas about race, gender, and sexuality; reframe ideas of memory, history, and belonging; and negotiate the experiences of dislocation that affect them. The volume urges readers to find points of resonance in its chapters, and thus, interrogate the asymmetrical ways in which power traverses their own historical experience. In light of the crisis in representation that currently affects the nation-state as a political unit in globalization, such resonance is critical to make culture an arena of social collusion, where alliances can restore the fiber of civil society and contest the pressures that have made disenfranchisement one of the most alarming features characterizing the complex relationships between the state and the neoliberal corporate system that seeks to regulate it. Scholars of history, international relations, cultural anthropology, Latin American studies, queer and gender studies, music, and cultural studies will find this book particularly useful.
Rivera-Rideau, Petra R. and Jericko Torres-Leschnik. “The colors and flavors of my Puerto Rico: Mapping Despacito‘s crossovers”, Journal of popular music studies 31/1 (March 2019) 87–108. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-3436]
Abstract: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s song Despacito shattered records to become one of the most successful Spanish-language songs in U.S. pop music history. Declared 2017’s Song of the Summer, the remix version featuring Justin Bieber prompted discussions about the racial dynamics of crossover for Latin music and Latina/o artists. However, little attention was paid to the ways that the song’s success in the Latin music market demonstrated similar racial dynamics within Latin music, especially in the song’s engagement with reggaetón, a genre originally associated with Black and working-class communities. This paper examines the racial politics that surround the success of Despacito in both the Latin mainstream and the U.S. mainstream. We argue that Despacito reinforces stereotypes of blackness in the Latin mainstream in ways that facilitate reggaetón’s crossover. In turn, Fonsi himself becomes attributed with similar stereotypes, especially around hypersexuality, that represent him as a tropical Latina/o racialized other in the United States. Through close readings of media coverage of Despacito alongside the song’s music video, we argue that it is critical to look at its success in both the Latin mainstream and the U.S. mainstream in order to examine the complex and contradictory process of crossing over.
Ruiz Vega, Omar. “Representando al caserío: Narcocultura y el diario vivir en los videos musicales de reggaetón”, Latin American music review/Revista de música latinoamericana 39/2 (fall–winter 2018) 229–265. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-44684]
Abstract: Reggaetón music videos frequently portray representations of narco culture and Puerto Rican marginalized communities. Existing literature explains these representations as an expressive vehicle that reflects the life and problems in the barrios and housing projects. However, the analysis of 14 reggaetón music videos provides a critical perspective of the narco-related messages. Reggaetón’s narco references help strengthening the stereotypes prevailing in Puerto Rican society toward marginalized communities, promoting a problematic identity through narco-aesthetics messages.
Sánchez Rivera, Rachell. “Reggaetón, trap y masculinidades: Dinámicas sociales al ritmo del perreo combativo en Puerto Rico”, Taller de letras número especial (2020) 42–55. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-64456]
Abstract: Examines the Puertorican reggaetón imagination based on the perreo combativo, a combative reggaetón dance that was part of the 2019 social protest against Governor Ricky Rosselló. The analysis of the intersections between gender, race, class, and identity overcome the unitary view of Puertorican identity embedded in machismo.
Schreil, Cristina. “Eunice Aparicio: Slow and steady”, Acoustic guitar 28/4:298 (October 2017) 48–49. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-55454]
Abstract: Flor de Toloache’s guitarist, Eunice Aparicio, shares her mariachi playing tips. Formed in 2008, the Latin Grammy winning Flor de Toloache are New York City’s first all-female mariachi group. Today its members hail from diverse locales such as Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Australia, Italy, Germany, and the U.S.
Washburne, Christopher. Latin jazz: The other jazz. Currents in Latin American and Iberian music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-10628]
Abstract: Jazz has always been a genre built on the blending of disparate musical cultures. Latin jazz illustrates this perhaps better than any other style in this rich tradition, yet its cultural heritage has been all but erased from narratives of jazz history. Told from the perspective of a long-time jazz insider, this book corrects the record, providing a historical account that embraces the genre’s international nature and explores the dynamic interplay of economics, race, ethnicity, and nationalism that shaped it.
Williamson, Emily J. “Reclaiming the tarima and remaking spaces: Examining women’s leadership in the son jarocho community of New York City”, Transatlantic malagueñas and zapateados in music, song and dance: Spaniards, natives, Africans, Roma, ed. by K. Meira Goldberg, Walter Aaron Clark, and Antoni Pizà (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019) 406–413. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-6519]
Abstract: If the tarima is the corazón of the fandango, is the zapateado its heartbeat? Then, is the bailadora the life that flows through this heart? The tarima and zapateado are often described in romantic and powerful metaphors. However, few scholars have examined women’s relationship to the performance and practice of son jarocho. In this paper, I build upon Martha González’s theory of “rhythmic intention,” and argue that women in the recently formed Mexican fandango revival or “jaranero” community across the five boroughs of New York City are not only moving and executing sounds of zapateado on the tarima with rhythmic purpose, but also outside of the fandango. The jaraneras of New York City are creating distinctly feminine spaces for music as well as leadership. Their leadership is present in their organizational work that maintains and cultivates the son jarocho community and in their musical practices—at fandangos, in professional stage performances, and in music workshops. This paper presentation will provide ethnographic examples that demonstrate the ways in which women are making and articulating space for jaraneras by sounding their fandango-centered practice on and off of the tarima.
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Cinco de Mayo (May 5, the date of the Mexican Army’s 1862 victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla) is celebrated in several countries outside of Mexico—not least in the U.S., where it is widely considered an occasion to eat Mexican food and drink margaritas. But in Mexico itself, the state of Puebla, where the battle occurred, is the principal place that celebrates the holiday.
The city of Puebla hosts the largest festival, which includes a massive parade and a re-enactment of the battle involving hundreds of locals dressed as French and Mexican soldiers. After the Mexican troops win, the celebration continues with music, dancing, and food.
The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s … Continue reading →
Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →