The women herders of ayllu Qaqachaka in highland Bolivia sing to their llamas in various ceremonial occasions during the year, and also on a more pragmatic daily basis to accompany their herding activities.
But their songs have other, more magical functions, involving the increase of the flocks, when they become a part of the body-centered knowledge and practices that comprise a female aesthetics and poetics of creation that parallels men’s more destructive activities in war.
Many of the principal singers are elderly midwives, and in a lifetime of learning they practice the art of wrapping their animals in song. This wrapping in song also serves to transform and domesticate the spirits of dead enemies, embodied in the animals, and to rebirth them into human society.
Key concepts such as jawi, that glosses as both fleece and river, are ontological expressions of flowing musical sound in woven substance. A mating song for the female llamas, a marking song for the ewes, and a song of blessing for the female llamas reveal how specific musical and lyrical structures express the women’s preoccupations with the generation of beautiful fleece and its weaving into sung wrappings.
This according to “Midwife singers: Llama-human obstetrics in some songs to the animals by Andean women” by Denise Y. Arnold, an essay included in Quechua verbal artistry: The inscription of Andean voices/Arte expresivo Quechua: La inscripción de voces andinas (Aachen: Shaker media, 2004, pp. 145–179).
Below, a visiting delegation passes through Chucura.
Capoeira, a Brazilian battle dance and national sport, was brought to Brazil by African slaves and first documented in the late 18th century. The genre has undergone many transformations as it has diffused throughout Brazilian society and beyond, taking on a multiplicity of meanings for those who participate in it and for the societies in which it is practiced.
Three major cultures inspired capoeira—the Congolese (the historic area known today as Congo-Angola), the Yoruban, and the Catholic Portuguese cultures. The evolution of capoeira through successive historical eras can be viewed with a dual perspective, depicting capoeira as it was experienced, observed, and understood by both Europeans and Africans, as well as by their descendants.
This dual perspective uncovers many covert aspects of capoeira that have been repressed by the dominant Brazilian culture. The African origins and meanings of capoeira can be reclaimed while also acknowledging the many ways in which Catholic-Christian culture has contributed to it.
This according to The hidden history of capoeira: A collision of cultures in the Brazilian battle dance by Maya Talmon-Chvaicer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2008-708).
Above, capoeira performers in São Paulo (photo by Fabio Cequinel licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); below, capoeira performers in Salvador, Bahia.
In 2019 Ediciones Universidad Alberto Hurtado launched Contrapulso: Revista latinoamericana de estudios en música popular (ISSN 2452-5545), a peer-reviewed online journal devoted to popular music in Latin America and the Caribbean at all times in history—from the musical, literary, technological, and/or performative scrutiny of the popular repertoire to the study of the formation of collective identities through this music. Issues are published yearly in January and August.
Below, Pamela Cortés’s Cristales rotos, one of the songs discussed in “Fonograma erotizado: Producción musical y mujer en la música popular de Guayaquil” by Luis Pérez Valero and Samaela Campos; the article is included in the inaugural issue.
Black women’s cultural activism in Lima, Perú, enacts a vibrant geohistory of respatializations of raced and gendered embodiment, advancing deprovincialized manifestations of the historical continuities, transnational ties, and internationalist impulses that connect otherwise localized and specific stories of diasporic cultural formation in the Black Americas.
The analytics and vocabularies of sound studies, critical race and gender studies, and feminist geography illuminate convergences within the cross‐generational work of Peruvian black women performers from the mid-20th century to the present. Despite differences in content and form—and at times in approach or aspiration—their collective work as political activists and cultural producers can be understood as both formed by and formative of performance geographies of feminist diasporicity.
This according to “Afroperuvian feminisms and performance geographies of diasporicity, 1953–2013” by Kirstie A. Dorr (Journal of popular music studies XXIX/4 [December 2017] 21 p.).
Above and below, Susana Baca, one of the musicians discussed in the article (yes, that’s David Byrne on rhythm guitar).
Seventeen-year-old Alex Lemún was shot and killed in 2002 while retaking ancestral lands for his people, the Mapuche, on the western side of the Andes in the Southern Cone. The song Weichafe Alex Lemún by the band Pewmayén memorialized Lemún as a weichafe (warrior) and helped spark a new musical movement.
Pewmayén’s fusion of ritual sounds with heavy metal both valorized traditional expressions and opened sociocultural boundaries that historically isolated those expressions from non-Mapuche society. Mapuche music is mapping new territories of sound and meaning, with serious implications for indigenous empowerment and cultural continuity.
This according to “Martyrdom and Mapuche metal: Defying cultural and territorial reductions in twenty–first-century Wallmapu” by Jacob Rekedal (Ethnomusicology LXIII/1 [winter 2019] pp. 78–104).
Above, the cover of Mapuche en la historia y en la lucha (Mapuche in history and in struggle), the album containing Weichafe Alex Lemún; below, the music video.
The date on the Catholic calendar commemorating the birth of St. John the Baptist, 24 June, is widely celebrated in northeastern Brazil. Festas juninas (June festivities, or St. John’s Day festivities) take place from early June to mid-July and are characterized by the presentation and representation of diverse cultural traditions of the region.
Forró, the typical music of this period, brings together diverse musical genres, dances, and a strong festive connotation. Although forró musicians born before the mid-1970s acquired their musical competence outside of formal educational institutions, large segments of the younger generation attend schools of music (though not necessary in lieu of other learning strategies). Meanwhile, changes in the organization of professional forró activities are linked to the larger transformations of northeastern festas juninas since the late 20th century.
This according to “Musicians in street festivals of northeastern Brazil: Recent changes in forró music and St. John’s Day festivities” by Carlos Sandroni, et al. (The world of music V/1  pp. 159–79).
Happy St. John’s Day! Above and below, forró as festa junina street dance.
In 1991 the celebrated singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso discussed the legacy of Carmen Miranda:
“She was a typical girl from Rio, born in Portugal, who, using a blatantly vulgar though elegant stylization of the characteristic baiana—Bahian dress—conquered the world and became the highest-paid woman in the United States. Carmen conquered white America as no other South American had done or ever would. She was the only representative of South America who was universally readable, and it is exactly because of this quality that self-parody became her inescapable prison.”
“Nevertheless, in 1967 Carmen Miranda reappeared as a central figure in our aesthetic concerns. A movement that came to be known as Tropicalismo appropriated her as one of its principal signs, capitalizing on the discomfort that her name and the evocation of her gestures could create. We had discovered that she was both our caricature and our X-ray, and we began to take notice of her destiny.”
“In Carmen’s day it was enough to make a percussive din that was recognizably Latin and Negroid. By bringing the musicians from Bando da Lua with her to the United States, however, she represented less the adulteration alleged by her critics than a pioneering role in a history that is still unfolding. It is the history of the relationship between a very rich music from a very poor country and musicians and audiences from the rest of the world.”
Quoted from “Caricature and conqueror, pride and shame” by Caetano Veloso (The New York times 20 October 1991).
Today is Miranda’s 110th birthday! Above, in 1941; below, performing in A date with Judy (yes, that’s 16-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in the audience).
Related article: Tropicália and Bahia
Every year from Christmas to Epiphany, the communities descended from the African slaves who mined gold for the Spaniards celebrate the Adoraciones al Niño-Diós in the Andean valleys of Cauca in southwestern Colombia.
The celebrants sing and dance until dawn in front of a creche set up in one of the village houses. A group of six musicians, unusual because it includes violins, accompanies the women who are the singers and the leaders of the ritual.
The tradition is documented on the CD Colombie: Adoration à l’enfant-Dieu (Département du Cauca) (VDE-Gallo 1349 ). Below, a brief documentary on Auroras al Amanecer, the group featured in the recordings.
Chile’s bailes chinos are ritual musician-dance brotherhoods in the country’s Central Zone. They express the religious fervor of campesinos (peasant farmers) and artisan fishermen who get together for religious fiestas celebrated in small villages and coves, where groups from the neighboring towns congregate.
The bailes chinos feature Native American contributions, which include dance, instruments, and a direct relationship with the supernatural through ritual incorporating special states of consciousness. Hispanic contributions are also present, such as prayers, the Holy Scriptures, sacred images, the Catholic ritual calendar, and other elements of Christian expression.
Due to their strong dependence on nature and themselves, these fishermen and farmers are especially fervent in their religious devotion. The members of the bailes chinos dance, play flutes, and sing to help secure their fundamental needs: health, rain, and a good harvest in the inland valleys; protection and abundant fish in the coastal waters. In addition, their fiestas serve as occasions for strengthening the social and family bonds that unify the inhabitants of the area.
This according to I humbly pray: Central Chile’s bailes chinos by Claudio Mercado Muñoz and Victor Rondón Sepúlveda (Santiago de Chile: Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, 2003). Below, a brief documentary (in Spanish).
BONUS: A full performance of canto a lo poeta, a related Chilean tradition.
Peruvian tecnocumbia arrived in Ecuador in the 1990s, and the ensuing tecnocumbia boom fostered a new music scene that revitalized Ecuadorian popular music (EPM) and contested Ecuadorians’ perception of its national music.
Social, economic, and political factors triggered the increasing production and consumption of this music, and EPM, a stigmatized music that was barely heard in the mainstream media in the 1970s and 1980s, came to be perceived as música nacional by the working classes. The historical contexts, social relations, political economies, and physical landscapes that generate and maintain the EPM scene illuminate how working-class musicians, entrepreneurs, and fans from Quito responded to the social and economic crisis in the country that brought about a massive wave of emigration in the late 1990s.
This according to “The Ecuadorian popular music scene in Quito: Contesting the national imaginary” by Ketty Wong, an essay included in Made in Latin America: Studies in popular music (New York: Routledge, 2016, pp. 89–98).
Above and below, Quito native Jaime Enrique Aymara, known as el rey de la tecnocumbia.