Category Archives: West Indies

Bachata and resistance

 

Bachata, a genre originating in the Dominican Republic, can be considered music of both political and social resistance. From the direct connection between the inception of the genre and the death of the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo to the initial marginalization of the genre by the socially elite—as well as bachata’s relationship with nueva canción, a left-wing political movement—both the origins and rise to popularity of bachata are linked to political and social conflicts.

Today bachata’s wide popularity sets it apart from its humble roots and resistant nature; however, many songs with a strong social message suggest that bachata was and still is a music of the people, and a number of recent novels and films use the genre to portray social messages and to connect the music with the Dominican people.

This according to “Insolent origins and contemporary dilemmas: The bachata genre as a vehicle for social commentary, past and present” by Patricia Reagan, an essay included in Sounds of resistance: The role of music in multicultural activism (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2013, pp. 373–95).

Above, Juan Luís Guerra, whose 1991 album Bachata rosa (below) was particularly influential in changing the reception of bachata.

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Filed under Politics, Popular music, West Indies

The tígueras of merengue típico

 

In most genres of Caribbean music women tend to participate as dancers or vocalists, but in Dominican merengue típico they are more often instrumentalists and even bandleaders—something nearly unheard of in the macho Caribbean music scene.

In a complex nexus of class, race, and artistic tradition that unsettles the typical binary between the masculine and feminine, female musicians have developed a feminine counterpart to the classic male figure of the tíguere, a dandified but sexually aggressive and street-smart tiger: the tíguera, an assertive, sensual, and respected female figure who looks like a woman but often plays and even sings like a man. These musical figures illuminate the rich ambiguities in gender construction in the Dominican Republic and the long history of a unique form of Caribbean feminism.

This according to Tigers of a different stripe: Performing gender in Dominican music by Sydney Hutchinson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Above and below, Fefita la Grande, one of the tígueras discussed in the book.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music, West Indies, Women's studies

Cuba’s corneta china

 

As one of the four main ethnic groups in Cuba, the Chinese people have made notable cultural contributions. Among the most significant of these is the corneta china, a shawm derived from the Chinese suona.

The instrument is no longer played by Chinese Cubans; rather, the corneta china has been appropriated by other ethnic groups—particularly in the eastern region of the island, where it is played almost exclusively by performers of African descent. Despite a short-lived attempt to reintroduce the instrument in Cuban performances of the Chinese Lion Dance in the 1980s and early 1990s, the corneta china and its originators have followed separate paths.

This according to “The Chinese community and the corneta china: Two divergent paths in Cuba” by Rolando Antonio Pérez Fernández (Yearbook for traditional music XLVI [2014] pp. 62–88).

Above and below, the corneta china in action.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, West Indies

Mickey Hart and endangered music

mickey hart

In 1990 Mickey Hart and the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center began work on what would become known as the Endangered Music Project—an effort to disseminate both new and archival recordings of vanishing world traditions.

In a 1993 interview, Hart described assembling the tracks for the project’s first CD release, The spirit cries: Music from the rainforests of South America & the Caribbean:

“My selection process was mostly earplay…I didn’t want it to be an ethnography specifically of the area, I wanted it to be a popular work.”

“I would listen to them over and over…in different environments, on the beach, in the house, in the car….I would listen in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, and the selection revealed itself to me.”

This according to “Opening up the ‘Oz of archives’: Mickey Hart and the Endangered Music Project” by James McKee (Folklife Center news XV/1 [winter 1993] pp. 3–7).

Today is Hart’s 70th birthday! Below, a brief documentary about The spirit cries.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, West Indies

Tuk revived

tuk

Tuk, a syncretic fife and drum tradition of Barbados, may have roots stretching back to the first stationings of British troops there in the 17th century; it was the music of the black plantation slaves until Emancipation in 1838.

Two specific functions for tuk developed subsequently: as entertainment for the working classes and as the music of Landship, a music and dancing society. The tradition declined during the 20th century due to several cultural factors, but a revival began in the 1970s, and in the 1990s the government started to promote tuk as a uniquely Barbadian tradition.

This according to “Tuk music: Its role in defining Barbadian cultural identity” by Sharon Meredith (European meetings in ethnomusicology VIII [2001] pp. 16–25).

Above, a tuk band and their stock character Mother Sally interacting with their audience; below, a tuk band at a local festival, first in a parade and later joined by dancers (ca. 4:50).

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Filed under Dance, West Indies

Flower world/Mundo florido

flowerworld

Ēkhō Verlag issued the first volume of the series Flower world: Music archaeology of the Americas/Mundo florido: Arqueomusicología de las Américas in 2012.

This bilingual series aims to raise the study of the music-related activities of the pre-Columbian Americas to a new level, with peer-reviewed studies of both past and living traditions, providing a platform for the most up-to-date information on the music archaeology of the New World.

Below, a brief film about the pre-Columbian instruments of Mexico.

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Filed under Antiquity, Instruments, North America, South America, West Indies

Herskovits and Freud

Numerous examples of the Freudian concept of repression may be observed in black cultures in Africa and the Americas. Though they do not use the Western term, these cultures involve a full awareness of repression and its attendant dangers for individuals and society, and they have developed therapeutic activities to mitigate it.

This according to the 1934 essay “Freudian mechanisms in primitive Negro psychology” by Melville J. Herskovits, which was included in Essays presented to C.G. Seligman (London: Kegan Paul International). While the word primitive has since been discredited, the piece is a milestone in the history of anthropology and is considered the first successful application of psychoanalytic theory in that field.

Herskovits explores how in many cases these therapeutic activities comprise satirical or insulting singing events that express what cannot be spoken directly, providing a release of repressed feelings in a socially supported framework. He discusses examples from Benin, Haiti, and Suriname, with particular attention to the Suriname Maroon lóbi singi ritual.

Usually performed by women, lóbi singi may comprise an exchange of insulting song verses, or it may involve a woman who socially redeems herself through singing satirical verses about her notorious past in alternation with a chorus of her peers; in both cases, social wounds are healed by the expression of repressed feelings.

This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

Top: In 1929, Herskovits contemplates ritual objects that he collected in Suriname.

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Filed under Science, West Indies

Black music reference series

African Diaspora Press, a scholarly imprint specializing in bibliographies about expressive culture of Africa and the African diaspora, launched its Black music reference series in June 2010 with From vodou to zouk: A bibliographic guide to music of the French-speaking Caribbean and its diaspora by John Gray, the director of the Black Arts Research Center in Nyack, New York. The book’s nearly 1300 entries cover all of the French-speaking islands—in particular Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana—as well as their overseas enclaves in France, the U.S., and Canada. Biographical and critical information on over 350 of the region’s leading musicians and producers is also provided.

Above, Perle Lama demonstrates the basic zouk steps.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, New series, Popular music, Resources, West Indies, World music