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Musical Migrations

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Musical Migrations
Transnationalism and
Cultural Hybridity
in Latin/o America, Volume I

Edited by Frances R. Aparicio

and Cándida F. Jáquez

with María Elena Cepeda

Flash of the Spirit by Robert Farris Thompson, copyright © 1983 by Robert
Farris Thompson, reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc., and
the author.

Copyright © Frances Aparicio, Cándida Jáquez, 2003.
Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2003 978-1-4039-6000-9
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles or reviews.

First published 2003 by

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ISBN 978-1-4039-6001-6 ISBN 978-0-230-10744-1 (eBook)

DOI 10.1057/9780230107441

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Musical migrations : transnationalism and cultural hybridity in Latin/o America /
[edited] by Frances Aparicio, Cándida Jáquez.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4039-6001-6 (pbk.)
1. Popular music—Social aspects—Latin America. 2. Popular music—Social
aspects—United States. 3. Hispanic Americans—Music—Social aspects.
4. Hybridity (Social sciences) I. Aparicio, Frances R. II. Jáquez, Cándida, 1966-

ML3918.P67 M87 2003


A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Design by Letra Libre, Inc.

First edition: January 2003

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For all the Latina and Latino musicians and singers,
for the audiences who have made Latino popular music
a meaningful experience in their lives,
and for the scholars who take them seriously.

In memory of Lise Waxer,

a dear friend, devoted teacher,
and brilliant, passionate scholar of Latino popular music.
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Introduction 1
Frances R. Aparicio and Cándida F. Jáquez

Chapter 1 Amalgamating Musics: Popular Music and
Cultural Hybridity in the Americas 13
Deborah Pacini Hernández
Chapter 2 “La Cuba de Ayer/La Cuba de Hoy”:
The Politics of Music and Diaspora” 33
Gema R. Guevara
Chapter 3 “Con Sabor a Puerto Rico”:
The Reception and Influence of
Puerto Rican Salsa in Venezuela 47
Marisol Berríos-Miranda
Chapter 4 “Le Francais dans la rue”:
Caribbean Music, Language, and the African Diaspora 69
James A. Winders
Chapter 5 Popular Music and Culture in Puerto Rico:
Jamaican and Rap Music as Cross-Cultural Symbols 81
Jorge L. Giovannetti
Chapter 6 Mambo Kings to West African Textiles:
A Synesthetic Approach to Black Atlantic Aesthetics 99
Paul Austerlitz

Chapter 7 Musical Frontiers in Martín Fierro 117
Bridget M. Morgan
Chapter 8 José María Arguedas’s Representation of
la danza de las tijeras: A Contribution to
the Formation of Andean Culture 131
Juan Zevallos-Aguilar, translated by María Elena Cepeda
Chapter 9 Tradition and Modernity in
Trinidadian Steelband Performance 147
Shannon Dudley
Chapter 10 El Mariachi: Musical Repertoire
as Sociocultural Investment 161
Cándida F. Jáquez
Chapter 11 Rock con Raza, Raza con Jazz: Latinos/as
and Post–World War II Popular American Music 183
Anthony Macías
Chapter 12 Rock ‘n’ Roll in Peru’s Popular Quarters:
Cultural Identity, Hybridity, and Transculturation 199
Luis A. Ramos-García, translated by María Elena Cepeda

About the Contributors 207

Index 211

Frances R. Aparicio
and Cándida F. Jáquez

he growing presence of Latin(o) popular music in U.S. society has recently
been in the forefront of popular culture.1 The mainstream popularity and
visibility of Ricky Martin, Jennifer López, and Marc Anthony; the Gram-
mies awarded to Carlos Santana; the Latin Music Grammy Awards; television doc-
umentaries on Latino/a singers and music; and coverage of Latino/a singers in VH1
and MTV programming, all reveal a growing national and international market for
Latin(o) popular music. The (re)emergence of Latin dance crazes throughout U.S.
urban centers—and the not-so-surreptitious background presence of Latin(o) pop-
ular music, jazz, and salsa in television advertisements—also serve as an index of a
musical boom that, although perhaps not unprecedented historically, stands in sharp
contrast to the invisibility of Latinos/as on television and in other media.
Among many examples, the commercial for Duracell batteries that portrays an
Anglo grandmother dancing limbo to the syncopated sounds of salsa music stands
out as a noteworthy instance of the (problematic) mainstreaming of Latin(o) pop-
ular music in U.S. society. The salsa music used in this commercial not only embod-
ies the background sound intended to capture the attention of increasing numbers
of viewers; it also signals a major transformation in the expectations and acceptance
of sounds in everyday mainstream society. Unfortunately, however, like most forms
of mainstreaming, this presence can serve as a panacea or substitute for the endemic
invisibility of Latinos/as in television production, writing, and acting.
But this phenomenon is nothing new. The history of U.S.–Latin American polit-
ical relations has been replete with mutual representations of Self and Other
through the exchange, appropriations, and circulation of cultural productions
(Aparicio and Chávez-Silverman, 1–17).
Yet the consumption of Latin(o) popular music by mainstream, Anglo, middle-
class U.S. communities since the 1980s is also very much a result of both the in-
creasing Latino population in our urban centers and their cultural impact on the
larger society. Newsweek’s July 12, 1999, feature entitled “Latin U.S.A.: How Young
Hispanics Are Changing America” foregrounds the way that younger Latinos/as are
changing not only “how the country looks” but also “how it looks at itself” (Larmer
and Chambers, et al., 48). We would add that they are also changing how the coun-
try listens to popular music.
The commodification of Latin(o) popular music, moreover, is the result of the pri-
vatization of culture in a global market that makes this music more readily available

across cultural, socioeconomic, and racial divides. Unlike in the years before 1990,
when Latin rhythms were used to market products directly associated with Latin cul-
ture (such as Mexican food), since the last decade of the twentieth century, salsa music
has become a staple of U.S. marketing. This integration signals the contradictory
meanings behind the transnational migration of sounds and musical styles under glob-
alized capital, as local meanings are transformed and, at times, lost (Lipsitz, 1994;
Desmond, 1997).
Inversely, the growing presence of rock en español in Latin America since the 1960s
and in Latino communities in California and throughout the United States and the
active development of this genre in Mexico, Argentina, and Puerto Rico also illus-
trate the processes of transculturation and resignification that characterize musical
migrations throughout the Americas.
In the academic world, Latin(o) popular music has similarly emerged as a pri-
mary object of study across the disciplines. With the impetus granted by cultural
studies, race theory, gender studies, ethnic studies, and theories of postmodernism
and postcolonialism, as Deborah Pacini Hernández observes in chapter 1, “Amalga-
mating Musics: Popular Music and Cultural Hybridity in the Americas,” the atten-
tion on Latin(o) popular music has been visible in an increasing number of
disciplines. Traditionally, popular music was deemed folklore, primarily worthy of
the exoticizing curiosity of anthropologists and ethnomusicologists. Today, given its
privileged role as one of the most visibly transnational cultural productions in the
Americas, popular music cuts across folklore, media, race, class, gender, perfor-
mance theories, and cultural identities, challenging scholars to engage in interdis-
ciplinarity and multidisciplinarity to better capture its multifaceted complexities.
Prominent authors of works in ethnomusicology (such as Paul Austerlitz), anthro-
pology (such as Deborah Pacini Hernández, Manuel Peña, and José Limón, perfor-
mance studies (such as Celeste Fraser-Delgado and José Esteban Muñoz), history
(such as Ruth Glasser), and Puerto Rican Studies (such as Juan Flores, Frances R.
Aparicio, and Angel Quintero Rivera), have contributed to the formation of a cor-
pus of scholarly work on Latin(o) popular music. Emerging support from the
Smithsonian Institution for scholarly endeavors, archival work, and outreach musi-
cal events has also been crucial in the development of further research, oral histo-
ries, and archival documentation. Publication series on popular music, such as those
published by Wesleyan University Press and Temple University Press, have con-
tributed to the emergence of a scholarly arena for interdisciplinary work on
Latin(o) popular music. The 1997 Rhythms of Culture: Dancing to Las Américas
conference at the University of Michigan, and the Politics in Motion conference on
dance and Latin culture cosponsored by Duke University and the University of
North Carolina, also helped institutionalize and give academic visibility to these in-
terdisciplinary approaches.
The chapters that follow, most of which were originally presented as papers at the
1997 Michigan conference, constitute a wide range of approaches to the study of the
transnational musical migrations of Latin(o) popular music throughout the Ameri-
cas, and the complex social meanings that these migrations produce. From various
methodological, social, and cultural positions, the chapters examine transnational-
ism and diaspora in postcolonial contexts, tradition and modernity, and racial and
artistic hybridity. Diverse discourses and tools of analysis influence and question not
only more traditional but also concurrent methodologies.

Because the study of Latin(o) popular music is an emerging academic field, a

wide array of approaches is critical to its development. Yet real tensions arise, as lit-
erary and cultural critics, historians, feminists, and other scholars whose training
lies outside the boundaries of formalized music studies, explore Latin(o) popular
music. Outside musicology, Paul Austerlitz argues in this book, an analysis of
sound, musical styles, and aesthetics is not always included in these incursions. In-
deed, the scholarly shift toward the social uses of music and away from its aesthet-
ics is not unique to music. Rather, it is part and parcel of the legacies of
poststructuralism, discourse analysis, and cultural studies in interdisciplinary work.
Yet although ethnomusicology/musicology and anthropology continue to form the
traditional disciplinary spaces for incursions into music, collective and multidisci-
plinary perspectives help account more fully for the social and cultural complexities
of Latin(o) popular music.
For instance, performance studies, theories of dance, and gender and race theory,
among other tools of analysis, are necessary for the examination of popular music as
social practice. As Jane Desmond has argued in her essay “Embodying Difference,”
“by enlarging our studies of bodily ‘texts’ to include dance in all of its forms—among
them social dance, theatrical performance, and ritualized movements—we can fur-
ther our understandings of how social identities are signaled, formed, and negoti-
ated through bodily movement” (33).
A similar argument can be made for understanding other forms of social and in-
dividual musical practices. Musical Migrations brings together the perspectives of
dancers, historians, literary and cultural critics, ethnomusicologists, and American
studies and ethnic studies scholars in order to explore the connections between mu-
sical structures and sounds and issues of cultural representation and agency, power,
mediation, resemantization, commodification, and intercultural exchanges.
As a conceptual tool, the phrase “musical migrations” foregrounds the processes
of dislocation, transformation, and mediation that characterize musical structures,
productions, and performances as they cross national and cultural borders and
transform their meanings from one historical period to another. Thus, the study of
music is not limited to a textual approach. This book also looks at how both the pro-
duction and reception of music can be located in multiple sites. As the phrase
“transnationalism and cultural hybridity” in the subtitle of the volume suggests,
music migrates across national borders as it migrates historically, mediating the con-
structed binaries of tradition and modernity through the central role of memory.


A transnational approach addresses the relative invisibility of U.S. Latin(o) popular

music scholarship. This marginalization is also reflected in the market segmentation
of the music industry. Part I of this collection opens with the chapter “Amalgamat-
ing Musics,” which draws a causal relationship between the segregation of Latino
musics from the world beat market and U.S. mainstream music and the linguistic
difference and social marginality of U.S. Latinos. Moreover, the scholarship on Latin
American and Caribbean musics has not consistently engaged the musical produc-
tion of U.S. Latino minorities. Yet although the Grammy awards in the year 2000
represented an incipient institutional integration of Latin(o) popular music into

mainstream musical categories, the popularity of Santana’s Supernatural also signals

the possibility that popular music can be “popular” in a massive sense while it artic-
ulates oppositional social critiques. This situation suggests that the dialectics be-
tween integration and marginal oppositionality cannot always be measured by
quantitative or historically linear criteria. If, as Pacini-Hernández writes in her
chapter, “a significant body of work on Latin music did not begin to appear until the
1980s,” the emphasis on identifying musical genres in the diaspora based on the cri-
teria of specific rhythmic structures, aural sound conventions, and musical style, as
illustrated in the debates about salsa music, has limited the attention paid to forma-
tive processes that privilege musical creativity and has tended to undermine dias-
poric productions as derivative.
The collection of essays herein broadens ongoing discussions of musical nation-
alisms by considering the transnational circulation of musics between the
Caribbean, the United States, and Europe. The cases of Afro-Cuban and Puerto
Rican musics exemplify dynamic transformations produced within diasporic com-
munities. Yet in the (post)colonial context of the Caribbean, and of Puerto Rico in
particular, popular musics still play a significant role in the articulation of national-
ism, particularly at a time when a globalizing economy destabilizes local identities
and rearticulates them. These circumstances fuel the ongoing debates and contro-
versies surrounding the origins and authorship of salsa music. If, by foregrounding
transnationalism, scholarship does not necessarily deny the ways in which “nation-
ness” (Anderson, 1983) remains embedded in musical sounds, structures, and tradi-
tions, the most productive transnational approaches foreground the ideological
tensions underlying the circulation of cultures, teasing out the simultaneous hege-
monic and oppositional forces embedded in these dislocations. In addition, pan-
Caribbean exchanges in the production of music highlight the specific, yet complex
circulations of culture that consolidate the geocultural space called the Caribbean.
For instance, as Jorge L. Giovannetti points out in chapter 5, “Popular Music and
Culture in Puerto Rico: Jamaican and Rap Music as Cross-Cultural Symbols,” the
presence of reggae in Puerto Rico and its reception by the white youth culture ques-
tion the assumptions about race, class, and subcultural styles that inform studies of
reception and identity. The inter-Caribbean musical collaborations in salsa music—
which emerged in New York City but have traversed the urban Caribbean, Latin
America, and Latino urban centers in the United States—also exemplify these types
of exchanges, simultaneously unbalanced in terms of power yet mutually enriching
in terms of musical borrowings.
Many scholars, musicians, and listeners have contributed to the debates about
cultural ownership and national identity in salsa music. For many, including Celia
Cruz and Tito Puente, salsa music consists of Cuban musical forms commercially la-
beled “salsa” for U.S. and international consumption (Nacif, 1997). For others, such
as U.S. Puerto Rican sociologist Félix M. Padilla and Afro-Puerto Rican writer
Mayra Santos Febres, salsa is a hybrid, urban musical style that emerged from the
working-class experiences of second-generation Puerto Ricans in New York City
and has acquired a “translocal” dimension within a pan-Caribbean context (Padilla,
1990; Santos Febres, 1997). Another perspective, proposed by Puerto Rican histo-
rian Angel Quintero Rivera, sees salsa as “una manera de hacer música” (“an approach to
making music”), (Quintero Rivera, 1998a; 1998b) thus embracing a diversity of
rhythms and musical forms from the Caribbean and Latin America and avoiding the

conundrum of its origins. In chapter 3, “Con Sabor a Puerto Rico: The Reception
and Influence of Puerto Rican Salsa in Venezuela,” Marisol Berríos-Miranda argues
against defining salsa as a homogeneous musical form identified only with New York
or Cuba and points out the need to engage in case studies of salsa in different
Caribbean and Latin American countries. Her fieldwork on salsa music in
Venezuela traces the influence of Puerto Rican musicians and composers on the de-
velopment of Venezuelan musicians such as El Pavo Frank (José Francisco Hernán-
dez). She critiques the emphasis on Cuban-centered authorship that various
scholars have created around the origins, authenticity, and national identity of this
music. Salsa music, precisely because it is a musical form that encompasses and em-
braces diverse Afro-Caribbean and Latino musical traditions, destabilizes both
Cuban and Puerto Rican nationalist claims. These claims to authenticity, authorship
and influence, and the obsession with origins have historically been fueled by the
colonial conditions of the Caribbean and have been perpetuated by scholarship in
Caribbean studies that poses Cuba as the Caribbean. Although the Venezuelan mu-
sicians in Berríos-Miranda’s ethnographic study acknowledged the collaborative and
transnational nature of salsa, these continuing debates remind us of how national-
ism, colonialism, scholarly traditions, and the political economy of the music market
inform the social values of music.
In the Cuban diaspora, musicians in the Cuban exile community have recon-
structed a nostalgic vision of Cuba that reaffirms their community’s conservative po-
litical stance. In chapter 2, “La Cuba de Ayer/La Cuba de Hoy: The Politics of Music
and Diaspora,” Gema R. Guevara argues that these exiles have created an “imaginary
geography” that is ahistorical and that erases racial and class conflict in prerevolu-
tionary Cuba. She shows, for instance, how Gloria Estefan’s “Mi Tierra” deploys
Cuban forms such as the guajira and the guaguancó and resemanticizes them—that is,
it changes their meanings in order to reconstruct a harmonious and whitened view
of the island. Guevara traces shifts in the political and social value of particular mu-
sical structures. She also examines how song lyrics by Celia Cruz, Willie Chirino, and
Marisela Verena appropriate the revolutionary discourse around the liberation of
Cuba in the nineteenth century and use it to “liberate” Cuba from its socialist state.
Guevara’s chapter, like Giovannetti’s, suggests that Afro-Caribbean musics serve to
“imagine communities” and have thus been recontextualized in the diaspora or
across the Caribbean. They have been put to a wide range of political uses, from rad-
ical liberation movements to political conservatism. In light of the tendency in cul-
tural studies to focus on the ways in which popular music radically contests and
resists dominant forms, Guevara’s and Giovannetti’s chapters remind us (as Pacini
Hernández has similarly argued in the case of the Dominican merengue), (1991)
that music has the equal potential to articulate conservative political agendas and to
reaffirm the privilege of the upper class.
Diasporic Caribbean studies, however, are far from limited to communities in the
United States. Equally resonant and richly complex are the musics conceived within
the course of postcolonial relations between Europe and the Caribbean. These rela-
tionships encompass the colonial experiences of internalizing and subverting domi-
nant musical paradigms in the process of hybridization. Chapter 4, James A.
Winders’s “‘Le Francais dans la Rue’: Caribbean Music, Language, and the African Dias-
pora,” explores the francophone creolization of French and Parisian culture through
the zouk music of the group Kassav’. By tracing the historical shifts in the production

and reception of Afro-Caribbean musics in France, Winders reveals the variegated

nature of (post)colonial interventions. The potential of Kassav’ for creolizing
French musical culture was already informed by the historical colonial relations be-
tween France and African nations, especially as mediated through the Caribbean.
Coming from Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean, the members of Kassav’ represent
transnational currents underlying postcolonial musical expressions. Yet the process
of creolization is mitigated by changing social and political forces. In contrast to the
1980s, when zouk music became part of the world beat market and was celebrated for
its “cultural politics of difference,” the 1990s brought a political backlash under the
government of Jacques-René Chirac. This is evidenced in the linguistic and immi-
gration policies of the French state, which, for example, limit the amount of non-
French-language broadcasting to 40 percent. Moreover, multinational record
companies have taken over smaller, independent labels, often at the expense of zouk
musicians, whose work may be seen as less marketable than previously.
Paralleling the ways in which Caribbean musics challenge dominant notions of
nation, race, ethnicity, musical genres and forms, and geopolitical boundaries, some
of the essays in this collection also interrogate traditional disciplinary boundaries,
methodologies, and categories. Chapter 6, Austerlitz’s “Mambo Kings to West
African Textiles: A Synesthetic Approach to Black Atlantic Aesthetics,” proposes an
interartistic comparison between African textile strips and African diasporic
rhythms in order to contribute to our understanding of the dimensions of sound and
rhythm in the black Atlantic (Gilroy, 1993).
This synesthetic approach is situated within a recent trend in musicological stud-
ies addressing the relationship between musical sound organization and visual artis-
tic media. Chapter 6 also builds on a longer tradition of comparative, interartistic
scholarship that uses one artistic system to understand another (Steiner, 1982). This
interdisciplinary approach reaffirms the specificity of musical sound and rhythmic
organization based on Afrocentric aesthetic conceptions of organization of time,
space, and motion. In so doing, it provides an alternative to the overlaying of Euro-
centric systems of musical interpretation (notation, rhythmic duration) on, and thus
the colonization of, Afro-Caribbean musics.

Cultural and Racial Hybridity

“Cultural hybridity,” as the construction is used in this section, refers to two distinct
concepts. First, it is inevitably informed by Néstor García Canclini’s analyses of the
postmodern conditions in Latin America in which so-called “traditional” and “mod-
ern” elements of culture and society coexist simultaneously in specific cultural pro-
ductions, rituals, and spheres. This definition of hybridity looks at (1) the mutual
transculturation of the traditional by the forces of modernity and new technologies
and (2) the infusion of traditional arts and cultures into the spaces of modernity
(García Canclini, 1995).
The concert by the group Los Pleneros de la 21 at the 1997 Rhythms of Culture
Conference at the University of Michigan is an excellent illustration of such cultural
hybridity. Although the concert was planned as part of the programming of an acad-
emic conference, it was not, as one might suppose, removed from everyday musical
practices among U.S. Latinos/as. In fact, it engaged a broad spectrum of issues related

to Latin(o) popular music expressions, particularly the tensions between and simul-
taneity of tradition and modernity. The free concert, attended by about four hundred
people from the university, from Ann Arbor, and from Detroit, was a multiracial
event. University students from diverse ethnic and racial groups together reveled in
the musical beats of the ritualistic Afro-Puerto Rican bombas and the socially-inflected
lyrics of the plenas. The diversity of the audience was also intergenerational, as stu-
dents touched elbows with mostly Latino families that included grandmothers, par-
ents, youngsters, and infants. Different social classes interacted under the
call-and-response structures of the music of the Pleneros, as scholars, musicians, stu-
dents, and middle-class and working-class families shared the same space for three
hours. On stage, the icons of folklore were evident in the dress styles of the musicians
as well as in the traditional percussion instruments used, many of which were built by
the group. These icons were juxtaposed with the elegant, Eurocentric style of the ball-
room, as well as with the contemporary, informal, and eclectic dress styles of the au-
dience members. At the musical level, the plenas and bombas sung by Los Pleneros de la
21 addressed the continuity between traditional bombas and plenas, on one hand, and
contemporary concerns regarding the Puerto Rican political status, migration,
racism, and cultural identity, on the other. Thus, the concert exemplified “cultural hy-
bridity” as the construction has been used in Latin American cultural studies, and the
racially-based concept of hybridity as it has been in the United States.
In some ways, García Canclini’s view of hybrid cultures is located within a ge-
nealogy of cultural paradigms, such as Alejo Carpentier’s lo real maravilloso and Gabriel
García Márquez’s realismo mágico, that probe into Latin America’s multicultural and
(post)colonial complexity. As Renato Rosaldo has indicated, García Canclini’s “hy-
brid cultures” is still informed by a binary logic, an axis that divides the traditional,
or premodern (associated with Latin America), from the modern (associated with
the United States) (1995).
Along similar lines, chapter 7, Bridget M. Morgan’s “Musical Frontiers in Martín
Fierro,” argues that the “musical frontiers” created in nineteenth-century Argentina
revolved around the binary of rural versus urban music. This dyad masked the social
and cultural divisions between the European (civilized music) and the folklore of the
pampas (the barbaric and uneducated element). The logic behind García Canclini’s
concept of “hybrid cultures,” then, still carries the residues of this Eurocentric dis-
course as it attempts to transgress it. Some of the chapters in this volume also con-
front this epistemological impasse.
The term “hybridity” itself also carries problematic connotations, given its bio-
logical origins and its association with scientific racism since the late nineteenth
century. However, here we concur with the redefinitions of the terms as they have
been used in cultural studies. As Robert J. C. Young explains in Colonial Desire: Hy-
bridity in Theory, Culture and Race, Homi Bhabha has defined hybridity as “the moment
in which the discourse of colonial authority loses its univocal grip on meaning and
finds itself open to the trace of the language of the other, enabling the critic to trace
complex movements of disarming alterity in the colonial text,” thus approximating
it to “transculturation” proper (1995). Indeed, the chapters in Part II develop the
dialectic tensions between tradition and modernity, as between colonial power and
subaltern agency.
As Juan Zevallos-Aguilar argues in chapter 8, “The Representation of La danza de las
tijeras by José María Arguedas: A Contribution to the Formation of Andean Culture,”

the indigenous ritual of the danza de las tijeras has shifted from communal ritual to na-
tional folkloric spectacle. It has not only been represented by mestizo writer Arguedas
in a short story; it was also later reproduced in a modern video produced by the Uni-
versity of Iowa. These dislocations and multiple representations evince the fluidity of
culture, as it shifts sites and agents of production, technologies, media, and, ulti-
mately, audiences. Issues of authority and authenticity inevitably surface in the post-
colonial context of Andean communities in Peru, which have survived centuries of
imperialist interventions. The danza de las tijeras in particular illustrates both diachronic
and synchronic shifts in its production, its representations, and thus, in the process of
signification that it may trigger.
In the U.S. context, Cándida F. Jáquez’s analysis of the transnational relationships
in mariachi music (see chapter 10, “El Mariachi: Musical Repertoire as Sociocultural
Investment”) is also related to García Canclini’s discussion of tradition and moder-
nity. Authenticity and traditionalism are informed not only by the social histories of
the instruments, whose combined textures produce a “mariachi mestizo sound aes-
thetic,” but also by the privileged nationalist role of the ranchera, huapango, polca, son, and
vals. Traditionalism, moreover, is associated with Mexican-based groups and with oral
tradition, in contrast to U.S.-based practices of a growing reliance on musical nota-
tion. Yet this binary is problematized by the hybrid performances of U.S.-based mari-
achi groups such as Los Camperos, who use the very traditional, nineteenth-century
Jaliscan harp but have also performed the traditional Japanese song “Sakura” for in-
ternational audiences. The emerging repertoire of salsa, merengue, and Chicano rock
has expanded the traditional boundaries of the mariachi repertoire. Yet, as Jáquez ar-
gues, “it is only by understanding mariachi as a culturally constructed icon that we
begin to see the sociocultural positioning of individual speakers emerge as ideologi-
cally based expressions.” Indeed, the debates around tradition and change among
mariachi musicians illustrate how sounds, instruments, lyrics, and performance are
ultimately tied to ideological values and social constructions.
In chapter 9, “Tradition and Modernity in Trinidadian Steelband Performance,”
Shannon Dudley showcases how individual musicians have internalized not only Eu-
rocentric hegemonic notions of musical standards, such as composition and tradi-
tions of learning, but also many formal and stylistic elements that are derived from
European symphonic music. This aesthetic is naturalized and elevated to the realm
of the “pure” and the “beautiful” through the Western logic of musical analysis. Just
as significant are the creolized transformations of these dominant forms that emerge
as a result of the artistic agency of the colonized subjects.
Hybridity can also be an index of the new semantics produced by the transnational
circulation of music in (post)colonial contexts. In other words, forms of popular music
become hybridized and “transculturated” as they cross national borders and cultural
boundaries. The most obvious case study is the growing significance and popularity of
rock in Latin American countries. Historically rejected by many Latin Americans as
imperialist and foreign despite its oppositional value in the North, rock has become
“rock en español,” a phrase that clearly denotes its Latin transculturation and musical
appropriation. As Luis A. Ramos-García suggests (see chapter 12, “Rock ‘n’ Roll in
Peru’s Popular Quarters: Cultural Identity, Hybridity and Transculturation”) in Lima,
Peru, chicha rock articulates a new, marginal subjectivity of the cholo who sings about the
social experience of urban migration, mestizaje (mixture), and class subordination. In
California, however, the contributions of Chicanos/as to U.S. rock ‘n’ roll and to jazz

have been minimally acknowledged. This invisibility is the result of their minority sta-
tus within the larger U.S. musical market. Chapter 11, Anthony Macías’s “Rock con Raza,
Raza con Jazz: Latinos/as and Post–World War II Popular American Music,” not only
unearths the participation of Chicanos/as in the Post–World War II California music
scene, but also indicates the racial and intercultural hybridities that resulted from the
collaborations and mutual influences between African-Americans and Chicanos/as.
Chapters 11 and 12, read together, illustrate the transculturation of rock in specific
local and national contexts. Rock in Latin America became rock en español and chicha rock.
In California the notion of the development of rock ‘n’ roll as primarily an Anglo-
American/British production (which, of course, appropriated African American
rhythms and styles), is substantially dismantled by the historical revisions of Macías. If
on the East Coast scholarship has stressed the Puerto Rican-Black mutual collabora-
tions in hip-hop, break dancing, and rap music, analogous musical exchanges emerged
out of the social structures and spaces shared by both Chicanos/as and African Amer-
icans, as Raúl Fernández has pointed out (1994, 441–47).
If the California of the 1940s and 1950s had jump blues, corrido rock, and norteño
rock, Mexico City has rock en español, combining indigenous musical structures with
mambo rhythms and música tropical. Thus, the tropicalized songs of the Beatles in
Tropical Tributes to the Beatles make sense, given the multiple hybridities that ensued
from the migration of rock into Latin America (1996). These songs stand as an ex-
ample of a postcolonial act of transculturation that, in turn, signals the historical in-
fluence of Latin(o) popular music in the development of rock.
Within these transnational movements, however, a sense of national identity or
the need to imagine communities is not altogether lost. Collective and cultural
memory, thus, plays a pivotal role in negotiating the tensions between the reaffir-
mation of local culture and its transnational dimensions. The social and historical
meanings of specific instruments in mariachi music, as chapter 10 illustrates, are
evoked through their sounds, timbres, textures, and traditional performance tech-
niques. The controversy surrounding the introduction of the drum trap set by mari-
achi Campanas de América needs to be contextualized within the history of
Mexican-Americans as a racialized group in the United States, a history that propels
the need for self-conscious efforts in maintaining a Mexican musical tradition as a
source of ethnic pride and identity.
Together, the chapters in this collection illustrate the challenges posed by the
transnational circulation of sounds, rhythms, and musical performances across Latin
America, the United States, and Europe. They acknowledge popular music as an-
other discursive site in which culture is produced, reproduced, subverted, and nego-
tiated. They call for transforming traditional methodologies and theoretical
frameworks that have defined music and music making primarily through discrete
categories such as national identity and musical genre. They strongly illustrate the
fact that the social meanings of musical structures, sounds, and styles are embedded
in the problematics of cultural identity in (post)colonial contexts.


1. We have chosen the phrase “Latin(o) popular music,” rather than “Latin music,” be-
cause in its parenthetical form “Latin(o)” foregrounds the dialectics between popular

music in Latin America and the cultural agency of U.S. Latinos/as in the music’s dias-
poric production. By itself, the term “Latin” connotes the social construction of Latin
American popular music by an Anglo-American public and market. The term
“Latin(o)” rewrites and dialogizes this discourse. Other contributors to this collec-
tion, such as Deborah Pacini Hernández, however, use the term “Latin” in order to
encompass both the music produced in Latin America and the music produced by
U.S. Latinos/as.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.
London: Verso.
Aparicio, Frances and Susana Chávez-Silverman. 1997. Tropicalizations: Transcultural Representa-
tions of Latinidad. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England.
Desmond, Jane. 1997. Embodying Difference: Issues in Dance and Cultural Studies. Everynight
Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o America. Ed. Celeste Fraser-Delgado and José Esteban
Muñoz. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Fernández, Raúl. 1994. Note from East L.A. American Quarterly 46, 3 (September): 441–47.
García Canclini, Néstor. 1995. Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity. Trans.
Christopher L. Chiappari and Silvia L. López. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Mass.: Har-
vard University Press.
Larmer, Brooke and Veronica Chambers, Ana Figueroa, Pat Wingert, and Julie Weingarten.
1999. Latino America. Newsweek 2 (07/12/99): 48–51.
Lipsitz, George. 1994. Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism and the Poetics of Place. Lon-
don: Verso.
Nacif, Alberto. 1997. Interview with Celia Cruz. Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Pacini Hernández, Deborah. 1991. La lucha sonora: Dominican Popular Music in the Post-
Trujillo Era. Latin American Music Review 12, 2 (Fall-Winter): 105–23.
Padilla, Félix M. 1990. Salsa: Puerto Rican and Latino Music. Journal of Popular Culture 24
(Summer): 87–104.
Quintero Rivera, Angel. 1998a. Salsa: Desterritorialización? Nacionalidad e identidades. Re-
vista de Ciencias Sociales 4 (January): 105–23.
———. 1998b. Salsa, sabor y control: Sociología de la música tropical. Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno Editores.
Rosaldo, Renato. 1995. Foreword to García Canclini, Hybrid Cultures.
Santos Febres, Mayra. 1997. Salsa as Translocation. Everynight Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o
America. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Steiner, Wendy. 1982. The Colors of Rhetoric: Problems in the Relations between Modern Literature and
Painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Young, Robert J. C. 1995. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge.

Caribbean Transnationalisms

Amalgamating Musics
Popular Music and Cultural
Hybridity in the Americas

Deborah Pacini Hernández

atin American popular musics have long been recognized as one of the more
felicitous consequences of racial and cultural mestizaje that followed the other-
wise violent and repressive post-1492 encounters between European,
Amerindian, and African cultures. Recently, the study of this rich and diverse musi-
cal domain and its recent U.S. offshoots has come of age, as the plethora of books
and articles being published on the topic within the last few years clearly demon-
strates. Although this is certainly cause for celebration, it is also cause for reflection.
This chapter seeks to provide an interpretive overview of the geographically dis-
persed and multilayered cultural and industrial processes that have shaped the de-
velopment of these musics and their dialogic relationships with the academic field
that has grown up around them.1
The field of Latin American and Latino popular music studies has matured thanks
to the work of scholars of Latin American and Latino music, many of whom are rep-
resented in this volume, who have done the primary job of analyzing the emergence
and cultural significance of genres such as cumbia, plena, and merengue—which are com-
monly associated with particular nations or ethnic groups. This foundational work
now makes it possible to gain a broader historical perspective, one that takes into con-
sideration the panregional social, political, economic, and aesthetic contexts in which
these musics have been embedded, albeit in unequal ways, over the past decades. Such
a transnational approach is particularly pertinent now, given the globalization of the
music industry and the increase in international migration, which together have pro-
vided Latin American and Latino musicians with new aesthetic and economic possi-
bilities that were unavailable to them before. The emergence of the world
music/world beat phenomenon in particular has challenged the assumed purity and
boundedness of musical categories that have long been taken for granted.
As for the exercise of contemplating the emerging field of Latin(o) American
popular music studies, its goal is to reverse the usual practice of making others—those
outside of the academy—the subject of scholarly attention. But more important, it is

to underscore the tenacity of Eurocentric and English-centric approaches to popular

music studies in the academy that have hindered the development of the field, and to
expose the difficulty of overcoming these prejudices.
The narrative strategy I employ for this endeavor is necessarily complex, and can
perhaps best be described with a weaving metaphor. One strand, a historical survey
of major transformations that have marked Latin American and Latino musics over
the past few decades, is the warp; the other, a critical commentary on how the acad-
emy has responded to developments in these musics, is the weft. Given the scope of
this chapter, I must necessarily gloss over many important details, but I trust that
the design—to continue the metaphor—will become apparent.2
I should begin by commenting on the terminology I have chosen to employ. I am
well aware of the distinctions between Latin American and Latino, in both cultural
and musical terms; however, in some contexts these distinctions are either unneces-
sary or undesirable. To avoid repeating the cumbersome (if more accurate) phrase
“Latin American and Latino popular musics,” unless I need to specify, I will use the
abbreviated (if less precise) construction “Latin music.”
“Rock” is an example of another unstable term. Most academic and popular pub-
lications use the word as a generic term for mainstream U.S. popular music—every-
thing that might be discussed in an issue of, say, Rolling Stone. Some observers, however,
have noted that as 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, in which African American influences were
prominent, was pared down to the term rock in the 1960s, African American artists
were, for the most part, separated out as soul or rhythm and blues (R & B) artists.
This marginalized African Americans within the rock category, which now tends to
conjure up white styles such as punk, metal, and alternative. In this regard the generic
term “rock” has become like the word “America,” which officially encompasses the en-
tire hemisphere—but which has been appropriated in the United States to refer to
only citizens of that country. Given the complicated dynamics of racism in the United
States, particularly since the 1960s, it is perhaps more accurate to think in terms of a
rock/R & B continuum, which ranges from predominantly European sensibilities at
one end to predominantly African American sensibilities at the other, with consider-
able overlap throughout. There are, therefore, moments when we can legitimately
refer to the phenomenon of rock and moments when we must distinguish between
rock and R & B. I have tried to be sensitive to these subtleties.
As we look at popular music studies, the relative newness of the field is striking.
The field as a whole emerged in earnest only after World War II, and a significant
body of work on Latin music did not begin to appear until the 1980s. Prior to the
emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, the dominant critique put forth by scholars associated
with or influenced by the Frankfurt school (Marxists who, unlike many of their more
orthodox colleagues, took culture seriously) was that popular musics reflected and
confirmed the status quo. Early rock ‘n’ roll, however, defied such characterizations:
as a profoundly hybrid music primarily grounded in African American genres and
performance styles, this music challenged mainstream bourgeois values; clearly, its
relationship to society was qualitatively different from that of its Euro-centric pre-
decessor, Tin Pan Alley.
Yet if rock’s genealogy has been acknowledged as multiracial, its language has al-
ways been English-only. This has meant that immigrants who lack a command of (or
a desire to use) English have automatically been denied recognition in the main-
stream popular music arena. Indeed, in the United States, language barriers seem to

be even more intractable than racial barriers. As a result, the scholarly attention
given to African American popular music did not spill over into an interest in styles
associated with other minority groups who happened to be immigrants and whose
language and citizenship status rendered their socioeconomic position more com-
plex and precarious than even that of African Americans. Thus, in spite of the
United States’s long and publicly vaunted history of immigration, musics associated
with ethnic minorities remained peripheral to a popular music landscape dominated
by English-language rock and R & B.
Latinos/as, however, have participated in the mainstream rock ‘n’ roll scene from
its inception in the 1950s. Both East and West Coast Latinos/as, for example, sang
in 1950s doo-wop groups, and their sound was indistinguishable from that of the
doo-wop being produced by African Americans and other white (primarily Italian
American) musicians. Outside of their communities, however, they were seldom ac-
knowledged as Latinos, passing instead as white or black. In general, however, Chi-
canos/as have always been much more willing than their East Coast (primarily
Puerto Rican) counterparts to utilize the rock/R & B idiom and English, and a thriv-
ing Chicano rock scene has existed since the 1950s (see Lipsitz 1992, 1994; Loza
1993; LeÛn 1996). As a result, Chicano musicians have sporadically appeared in the
mainstream rock music arena, playing straight-up rock ‘n’ roll or one of its many
variants (for example, soul, acid, punk) or, as in the case of musicians such as Los
Lobos, rock-ified versions of Mexican music. The most widely recognized Chicano
rocker is Ritchie Valens, whose ethnic identity—in addition to his centrality to the
early history of rock ‘n’ roll—was firmly established by Luis Valdéz’s successful 1987
film La Bamba. Less well-acknowledged Chicano influences on early rock ‘n’ roll in-
cluded barrio dress, dance, and speech patterns incorporated into 1950s rock ‘n’ roll
(Lipsitz 1994) and later, in the 1960s, a particular aesthetic in some mainstream
rock produced by the funky sound (or, a rasquache sound; see Ybarra-Frausto 1991) of
the Farfisa organ favored by Chicano rock groups such as Question Mark and the
Mysterions, Chris Montez, and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (Garofalo 2002).
In the 1970s Chicano musicians participated actively in the West Coast punk scene
(Lipsitz 1994, Reyes and Waldman 1998) and in the 1980s and 1990s, in the new
wave, alternative, and rap scenes. In spite of the many identifiable contributions by
Chicanos/as to rock, however, most of the existing histories of rock have under-
played or ignored their contributions.
East Coast Spanish Caribbean Latinos, in contrast to their Chicano counterparts,
have made fewer (and less successful) attempts either to use the rock idiom or to
make English-language versions of Spanish Caribbean music. Puerto Rican musicians
have had a long history of musical interactions and exchanges with African American
musicians and styles (c.f. Flores 2000; Lipsitz 1994; Glasser 1995), but these were
rarely publicly acknowledged. This is not to deny the impact of Spanish Caribbean
music on U.S. popular music. It has long been argued, for example, that music from
New Orleans, which bore strong Cuban imprint, has in turn marked a whole range of
U.S. popular music—from jazz to rock ‘n’ roll (c.f. Roberts 1979). Pre-revolutionary
Cuban musics—rumba, mambo, and cha cha cha—successively generated nationwide
dance crazes in the United States, but they typically entered the mainstream per-
formed by U.S. interpreters, or by Latin American musicians such as Pérez Prado and
Desi Arnaz, who were obliged to conform to Hollywood-inspired expectations of
what Latin music should sound like. Cuban styles and aesthetics were also used to add

novelty to mainstream popular music, first in Tin Pan Alley songs, and later, in rock
‘n’ roll songs such as “Spanish Harlem.” Bo Diddley brought Cuban rhythms into rock
‘n’ roll even more directly.
In the 1960s, a few New York–based Spanish Caribbean musicians began adding
rock/R & B tinges to their music, primarily by incorporating a back beat underneath
Spanish Caribbean rhythms. In 1963, for example, Ray Barretto had a top-twenty
hit with such an experiment: “El Watusi.” On the surface it sounded like the char-
acteristic Cuban flute and violin-centered charanga, but its subtle rock feel rendered
it more familiar (and hence more appealing) to non-Latino listeners. That same
year, Mongo Santamaría also made the charts with his R & B-inflected “Watermelon
Man.” Later in the decade, young Nuyorican musicians created the bugalú (“booga-
loo” in English), a hybrid of Spanish Caribbean music and R & B (Flores 2000).
Bugalú became a dance craze in Spanish Harlem, and in 1966 Joe Cuba’s “Bang Bang”
even hit the mainstream charts at number 63. This rock/Latin experiment, heavily
criticized by older Spanish Caribbean band leaders and rejected by the Latin music
industry, was short-lived, and by 1969 the bugalú was disappearing from view—just as
salsa was beginning to emerge. Yet, although bugalú did incorporate some R & B aes-
thetics, in general it was far more indebted to Latin music than to rock. Indeed, nei-
ther the music of Santamaría, nor Barretto, nor Cuba was significantly linked to
rock, and their success did not create a more permanent space for rock-tinged Latin
music in the mainstream arena. Interestingly, it was Mexican-born Chicano musi-
cian Carlos Santana who in the early 1970s successfully blended rock with Spanish
Caribbean salsa.3 In short, Spanish Caribbean music remained largely confined
within a Latin music marketing structure that has always been vibrant and active
within the Latino community, but did not articulate extensively with the musical
mainstream until the so-called “Latin boom” of the late 1990s.
In general, then, the influence of Spanish Caribbean music in the U.S. main-
stream has been felt more indirectly, in the realm of aesthetics, rather than directly
via the unmediated performances of Spanish Caribbean musicians. In the 1970s, for
example, Spanish Caribbean aesthetics made an impact on the popular music land-
scape with the advent of disco, which was influenced by the Latin hustle as well as by
the recently emerged New York–based style known as salsa. Disco’s roots were pri-
marily located in African-American funk and soul music, but the busy, complex
polyrhythms underpinning the 4/4 thumping, the highly formalized couples danc-
ing, and the dancers’ insistence on dressing up rather than down, all point to Latino
aesthetics added to the mix of African-American and Anglo practices. But while the
Spanish Caribbean Latino community may have caught disco fever in the 1970s (not
coincidentally, John Travolta and Thalia Shire’s principal rivals in Saturday Night
Fever’s dance contest were Latinos), it was salsa, a music with deep Spanish
Caribbean roots, that really captured their hearts and imaginations. By the end of
the decade, salsa had become a symbol of Puerto Rican national identity, linking the
experiences of Puerto Ricans on the mainland with those on the island. Salsa’s pop-
ularity then spread to Latin America, where it became a powerful symbol of pan-
Latin identity for Spanish-speaking people throughout the hemisphere.
As these musical developments were unfolding in the 1970s, the study of popu-
lar music within the academy was finally becoming legitimized, and even music de-
partments, which had previously ignored popular music of all sorts, began admitting
(if grudgingly) its importance. The journal Ethnomusicology, for example, began pub-

lishing articles on popular music—and even a few on non-Western urban popular

musics.4 Neither disco nor salsa, however, succeeded in attracting analysis from the
U.S. academy commensurate with their cultural importance and economic impact.
Journalists and academics alike vilified disco as a manufactured form of popular
music, and did not bother to scratch below the surface to examine the sociocultural
implications of its hybrid black/Latino origins and aesthetics. Meanwhile, salsa was
simply ignored. Not coincidentally, both disco and salsa were associated with mar-
ginal communities—gays, blacks, and Latinos/as in the case of disco, and Latinos/as
in the case of salsa. In contrast, while contemporaneous punk music had compara-
tively insignificant record sales, it received considerable critical attention from both
academics and journalists attracted to its perceived rebelliousness and authenticity
(c.f. Garofalo 2002). John Storm Roberts, a nonacademic, must be credited with
being the first to provide non-Spanish speaking readers with even basic information
about musical developments among New York Latinos/as. In his 1972 book Black
Music of Two Worlds, Roberts made note of a recently emerged style that he described
as a cross-fertilization of Cuban music and jazz, with lesser influences from the blues
and rock that younger immigrant musicians had grown up with. In retrospect, it is
clear that the new style Roberts called “Latin jazz” was the nascent salsa. Interest-
ingly, Roberts also noted the lack of interest in this development outside of the
Latino community (Roberts 1972). In 1979 Roberts went on to publish his equally
groundbreaking book, The Latin Tinge, which chronicled the influence of Latin music
on U.S. popular music (in which he noted the move of salsa away from experiments
with rock into what he called “Cuban orthodoxy”).
As for the academy, a 1977 issue of Western Folklore published an article on salsa by
Robert Baron, but otherwise, salsa attracted so little attention from scholars that
ethnomusicologist Joe Blum, in an article entitled “Problems of Salsa Research”
published in Ethnomusicology in 1978, concluded that salsa, so closely associated with
poor Puerto Rican immigrants, was invoking political and economic realities too un-
comfortable for researchers to face. In the late 1970s, Roberta Singer was, in fact,
developing a seminal doctoral research project on salsa in New York. Unfortunately,
her 1982 dissertation was never published as a book, and it was not until 1983 that
her article summarizing its conclusions appeared in Latin American Music Review. At
that point the initially hard-edged, barrio-based salsa had been transformed into the
highly commercialized, percussively simplified style called salsa romántica, and was al-
ready being surpassed in popularity by the more energetic Dominican merengue. In
retrospect, it is hard to believe that the emergence of a musical phenomenon of
salsa’s magnitude was so neglected by the academy.
As the U.S. academy and mainstream press overlooked salsa, however, Latinos/as
and Latin Americans themselves were quite aware of its significance. In the United
States, community-based magazines such as Latin New York published articles about
salsa throughout the 1970s, while in Venezuela, DJ César Miguel Rondón’s ency-
clopedic book Salsa: Crónica de la Música del Caribe Urbano appeared in 1980. Unfortu-
nately, local periodicals such as Latin New York made little impact on the field of
popular music studies because most university libraries did not subscribe to them,
and books published in Spanish, such as Rondón’s, could not overcome the language
barrier surrounding the U.S. academy.
In the early 1980s, when I began my graduate research, popular music studies
were poised on the brink of a dramatic expansion, with the new field of cultural

studies providing innovative new methodologies and theories that took into account
how race, class, gender and ethnicity shaped the production and reception of popu-
lar music. The British scholar Dick Hebdige was the first to bring the theoretical so-
phistication of cultural studies to bear specifically on popular music production in
the context of international migration. In his 1979 book Subculture: The Meaning of Style,
Hebdige analyzed the complex and often conflictive social relations between white
British working-class youth and nonwhite, primarily Jamaican, migrant youths, that
was expressed in musical hybrids such as the ska-based sound labeled “two tone.” A
few years later, Manuel Peña published The Texas Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-
Class Music (1985), an equally groundbreaking analysis of the musical practices of
Texas-Mexicans that took into account both the particularities of their situation as
an ethnic minority within the United States and the importance of musical influ-
ences from both sides of the border.
Additionally, scholars affiliated with music departments (as distinguished from
the anthropologists, sociologists, and other social scientists who had produced most
of the early work on popular music) were also—finally—paying serious and con-
certed attention to non-Western popular musics, greatly enriching the field with
their expertise in musical analysis. One mundane indication of this change was the
landmark inclusion of entries on non-Western popular music in the 1980 revised
edition of the prestigious New Grove Dictionary of Music. But more important, a cohort
of ethnomusicologists completing their doctoral research in the early to mid-1980s
was advancing extensive field research on a variety of Latin American, Latino, and
African popular musics, addressing the particularities of the relationship between
popular music and society in postcolonial settings.
This new body of research being conducted throughout the hemisphere (as well
as in other less-industrialized parts of the world) by scholars from and across a range
of fields and disciplines, laid the groundwork for the next generation of scholars,
paving the way for scholars (like myself ) who were embarking on graduate studies
on Latin American and Caribbean popular musics in the 1980s. Thus, the popular
musical map of this hemisphere began to be charted in the 1980s, as new work ap-
peared (and continues to appear) on a range of Latin American, Caribbean, and
Latino popular music, from salsa to reggae, Chicano rock, Puerto Rican bomba and
plena, Peruvian huayno and chicha, Brazilian and Cuban popular music of all sorts,
French Caribbean zouk, Haitian popular music, Dominican merengue and bachata,
Colombian cumbia, Trinidadian calypso and soca, Mexican banda (to name only some
of the styles analyzed), reflecting a truly remarkable burst of scholarly activity and an
explosion of the knowledge base.
The early 1980s also saw the establishment of organizations and periodicals de-
voted exclusively to popular music studies, which offered valuable support for the vi-
brant new research on popular music in international contexts that was emerging
from the academy. The International Association for the Study of Popular Music
(IASPM), for example, was founded in 1981. Because most of the founding mem-
bers of IASPM were from Western Europe and the United States, it is not surpris-
ing that its conferences and publications focused primarily on rock. Nevertheless,
IASPM made conscious efforts to internationalize its membership, and to ensure
that its conferences provided venues for disseminating research on popular musics
outside the hegemonic domain of U.S./Western European rock. Appearing contem-
poraneously was the journal Popular Music, published by Cambridge University Press.

Like IASPM, Popular Music was predominantly concerned with rock, but the publi-
cation solicited articles about popular music from Latin America and the Caribbean,
Africa, Asia, and Australia as well. Meanwhile, in the United States, the journals
Latin American Music Review and Studies of Latin American Popular Culture also appeared in
the early 1980s, providing additional channels for disseminating research on Latin
American and Latino popular music.
Interestingly, the internationalization of popular music studies that took place in
the early 1980s paralleled similar developments in the music industry, which was
also beginning to extend its definition of and its attention to popular music beyond
the traditional orbit of U.S./Western European rock. An extraordinarily diverse
range of musics originating in multiple international contexts was becoming avail-
able and being marketed as “world music,” an ethnomusicological construct that ba-
sically referred to everything that could not be identified as “Western” music. A
related construction, “world beat,” referred to a subset of world music that included
styles intended for urban dance floors. Since the single most important element of
dance music is rhythm, it is no accident that most world beat musics—juju, soukous,
zouk, and soca, to name a few—emerged from Africa and its diaspora, where percus-
sion has been most consistently and successfully cultivated over time.
Although most world beat musics originated in third world contexts, they were
far from the pristine traditional folk musics that had been studied by ethnomusicol-
ogists as world music. On the contrary, they were highly hybridized products of
cross-fertilization between third world aesthetics and first world technologies and
styles—primarily rock. The work of Zaire’s Kanda Bongo Man, Haiti’s Boukman
Eksperyans, and U.S. rock musicians such as David Byrne and Paul Simon who drew
on African and Latin American sources were examples. Significantly, world beat, po-
sitioned within a new aesthetic and commercial space located along the boundaries
between the well-established domains of Western rock and traditional ethnic music,
became the first commercially viable non-English language dance music in the
United States. World beat, then, did not compete directly with rock in the main-
stream arena. Nevertheless, as contemporary urban dance music, it was recognized
as being fundamentally different from—not to mention more profitable than—folk
music. Industry resources accordingly began to flow into its development. Dozens of
record labels specializing in world beat sprang up in the early to mid 1980s, provid-
ing international distribution to musics that otherwise would have circulated only
within community-oriented networks. Specialized mass media venues for dissemi-
nating information on developments in world beat, such as Beat Magazine and the Na-
tional Public Radio series Afro-pop Worldwide, also appeared.
Although the world beat industry’s goals were clearly commercial, its entrepre-
neurs tried to distinguish themselves from their rock music counterparts by em-
ploying the discourses of education and cultural exchange in order to market their
products.5 For example, detailed liner notes always accompanied recordings, mail-
order catalogues were extensively annotated, and world music magazines and radio
programming provided consumers with in-depth information about the origins and
cultural contexts of the diverse musical styles. The demand for relevant information
created a new synergy between the music industry and the academy. A number of
scholars specializing in non-Western popular musics began collaborating with world
beat record companies, assisting with content selection as well as preparation of
liner notes, while others began writing for industry-related magazines such as Beat.

Such scholarly participation lent credibility and authority to industry efforts to mark
their products as genuine and to avoid the taint of crass commercialism.
As world beat became a more visible feature of the international popular music
landscape in the late 1980s and early 1990s, popular music scholars began to analyze
its economic and cultural implications as a global phenomenon, beyond whatever in-
terest individual scholars might have had in a particular genre (c.f. Laing 1986; Feld
1988; Hamm 1989; Goodwin and Gore 1990). Since world beat musicians were pri-
marily people of color from poor and underdeveloped countries, whereas consumers
in the North were generally affluent, well-educated, and white, most of the early
analyses—those written in the late 1980s—focused on the inequalities that charac-
terized the bilateral relationships between North and South, and accused the indus-
try of exploiting third world cultural resources. Paradoxically, this generated more
attention for rock stars such as Simon and Byrne, who were experimenting with
third world music, than for third world musicians themselves who were experi-
menting with nontraditional technologies and styles. Moreover, little heed was paid
to either the multilateral flows of music (that is, among various regions of the de-
veloping world) that world beat was fostering—for example, the extraordinary pro-
liferation of reggae hybrids throughout the globe—or to the impact these might be
having on the formation of racial and ethnic identities in local contexts.
In the early 1990s, increased scholarly attention to the impact of globalization
and transnational migrations began providing more sophisticated theoretical
frameworks for analyzing world beat (for example, Roberts 1992; Chambers 1992;
Erlmann 1993). It was Paul Gilroy, however, who most emphatically underscored
the links between the trajectory of the world music phenomenon and international
migration. In The Black Atlantic (1993), he pointed to the history of musical ex-
changes among blacks in the Americas, Europe, and Africa to support his theory
that the disparate communities of the diaspora share an identity transcending na-
tional boundaries based on their shared experience of displacement and exploita-
tion. He denounced the world music industry, however, for manipulating images of
racial authenticity in order to market black music to white audiences and, worse, for
using festive images of diasporan people and culture to suggest that the essence of
diasporan musics is a good time instead of endorsing its implicit ideological con-
sciousness. Feld (1995) also critiqued the world music industry’s rhetorical claims
to authenticity and raised questions about potential conflicts of interest when
scholars—including himself—simultaneously serve as curators, patrons, and pro-
moters when collaborating with the world music industry. Some of the scholars an-
alyzing world music and world beat, however, agreed that the commercial and
aesthetic spaces being opened up by the new transnational music industry were
stimulating local musical production and circulation in unexpected and not entirely
negative ways (for example, Garofalo 1993; Guilbault 1993).
Not all diasporan musics, however, fared equally in the world beat arena.
Throughout the 1980s, the decade that saw world beat’s meteoric rise, Dominican
merengue and salsa—even in the latter’s romántica style—had been the mainstays not
only of the Spanish Caribbean dance scene but of other areas of Latin America as
well, where, along with cumbia, they were collectively referred to as música tropical. All
of these musics, but particularly salsa and merengue, appeared to be analogous to
other world beat musics—they were modern, mass-mediated dance musics with
complex rhythms that fell outside the domain of Western rock. Moreover, in the

world beat arena, English was not required. Nevertheless, these musics were largely
ignored by the world beat industry in the United States. Beat magazine, for example,
which included regular columns on Brazilian and Haitian musics, barely mentioned
salsa or merengue, and they were not heard on world music radio shows or invited
to the stages of world music festivals.
The low visibility of Spanish Caribbean dance music in the U.S. world beat arena
in the 1990s might initially be explained as a consequence of the fact that Latin
music had long circulated within a vigorous but self-contained Latin music industry.
Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that Latin musicians were not interested in the
economic benefits of “crossing over” to wider audiences. The 1985 film Crossover
Dreams, starring salsero Rubén Blades, for example, dramatized such desires. Why,
then, were salsa and merengue denied access to a growing group of consumers eager
to try something new?
We might begin to look for explanations in the domain of aesthetics. The African
predilection for rhythmic complexity can be heard in virtually all diasporan musics,
including merengue and salsa, so the latter’s intricate rhythms cannot be posited as
a barrier to acceptance by non-Latino audiences. The African and Afro-Latin
groups that achieved the most success in the world beat marketplace, however, were
those incorporating the electric guitar and the trap set into their instrumental
lineup. These instruments, along with the electric bass, had long provided the core

figure 1.1 Timbalada. Images of black diasporan cultures have character-

ized many world beat recordings. (Courtesy of Universal Music)

sound texture of Western rock, and may have served as a sonic bridge between West-
ern audiences and non-Western musicians playing non-Western musics. In the do-
main of Spanish Caribbean music, in contrast, in spite of the long centrality of the
acoustic guitar in genres such as the bolero and música jíbara, dance musics had always
been characterized by a sound texture produced by brass sections and percussion in-
struments such as congas, timbales, and bongos. Could it be that salsa and merengue
were sonically too unfamiliar to mainstream ears to easily crossover into the world
beat arena?
Although there may be something to these observations, U.S. race relations pro-
vide additional explanations. In spite of their clearly African-derived percussion
sections, salsa and merengue in the 1980s lacked the explicit references to African
roots that characterized other world beat groups, and they therefore failed to meet
northern expectations of authenticity. On the contrary, far from being perceived as
the makers of happy, feel-good music that Gilroy criticizes in other world beat of-
ferings, Spanish Caribbean Latinos had long been stereotyped as greasers or gang-
sters, and their culture as flashy and vulgar—that is, manufactured rather than
authentic. In Europe, in contrast, which had not received major waves of Spanish
Caribbean migration, salsa and merengue had always been fully incorporated into
world beat venues.

figure 1.2 Cuban gold. Cuban music was enthusiastically embraced by world
beat labels (Courtesy of Qbadisc).

However, Spanish Caribbeans and Spanish Caribbean Latinos/as themselves may

share some of the responsibility for their musics’ position vis à vis world beat. Un-
derstandably sensitive about their historical vulnerability to U.S. cultural hegemony,
they may have resisted pursuing the world beat market more actively precisely be-
cause it was so closely associated with and dominated by non-Latinos/as. From the
perspective of those Latinos/as resisting the assimilationist melting pot and at-
tempting to control the marketing of their own cultural resources, it may have been
more advantageous to maintain distance between their musical domain and the
rather amorphous domain of world beat, however much that position limited the
possibilities for participating in a potentially profitable new market.
Spanish Caribbean music’s relationship to world beat might also be attributed to
the region’s history of ambivalence toward its own darker-skinned population, mak-
ing participation in the racialized world beat arena less attractive. In the Spanish
Caribbean, the predominance of people of racially mixed ancestry has engendered
myths of racial democracy. Yet with the exception of postrevolutionary Cuba, pub-
lic discourse in the region has generally ignored or downplayed its African heritage
in favor of a more Iberocentric identity, and musics displaying overly prominent

figure 1.3 Tania Libertad. Latin American musicians are more freely acknowledg-
ing and celebrating music of African derivation (Courtesy of SONY Music Enter-
tainment, Mexico).

African characteristics, whether folk or popular, have historically been rejected (c.f.
Boggs 1992; Davis 1994; Quintero Rivera 1994). Even salsa was initially rejected
among elite and middle-class Puerto Ricans because of its association with black
working-class fans disparagingly called cocolos (Aparicio 1998). If world beat pro-
moters relied on exotic images of black diasporan authenticity to market their music,
the Latin music industry preferred images of whiteness and a culturally homoge-
nized, pan-Latino identity. (See figures 1.1 and 1.2) In short, given the region’s his-
tory of ambivalence toward its own darker-skinned population, it is not altogether
surprising that most Spanish Caribbeans expressed little interest in belonging to the
pan-African community being articulated by world beat musicians.
In the 1990s, however, the boundaries between the domains of Latin music and
world beat became more permeable. Interestingly, this was due in large part to the
reappearance of Cuban music in the United States after decades of exclusion. When
restrictions on the exchange of cultural materials between the United States and
Cuba were relaxed in the early 1990s, Cuban dance musics reentered the U.S. mar-
ketplace—but not, as might have been expected, via Latin music networks. Instead,
the refusal (for political reasons) of the U.S.-based Latin music industry to promote
music from Cuba diverted much of the flow of Cuban music into the domain of
world beat labels such as Qbadisc, David Bryne’s Luaka Bop, and Island Records’s
imprint Mango. These labels were attracted to Cuban music partly because of the
degree to which its Afro-Cuban characteristics were foregrounded—the result of
Cuba’s long-standing policy of publicly affirming its African heritage. Not surpris-
ingly, northern world beat consumers proved to be highly receptive to Cuban music
of all sorts, from folkloric groups such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas to contem-
porary dance bands such as NG La Banda, and even rock-oriented groups such as
Mezcla and Síntesis. The culminating moment of world-beat-inspired interest in
Afro-Cuban music came in 1997 with the wildly successful release of the Ry
Cooder-produced Buena Vista Social Club (CD 79478)
As U.S. world beat audiences were reintroduced to the range and quality of
Cuban dance music, they began showing more interest in other Latin musics as well.
Beginning in 1995, Beat magazine began to include a regular feature on develop-
ments in Latin music, and at the end of 1995 Celia Cruz was featured on the cover,
marking the first time a Latin artist was so honored. Beat’s newer competitor Rhythm
Music also began including extensive coverage of Latin music. These changes were
similarly reflected in Boston’s daily world music radio program, which began incor-
porating a wide range of Latin music—mostly but by no means exclusively Cuban—
to the usual lineup of world beat offerings.
Interestingly, the intersection of world beat and Latin music could also be ob-
served within Latin America, where various diasporan musics were being drawn
upon by musicians eager to experiment with the vibrant musical resources now in
circulation—and also interested, no doubt, in gaining access to the world beat mar-
ketplace. Musicians such as the Dominican Republic’s Juan Luis Guerra and Colom-
bia’s Carlos Vives, for example, ventured beyond the formerly well-defined
boundaries of Latin musics such as merengue, salsa and vallenato, hybridizing them
with various diasporan genres. Similarly, Colombian salsa musician Joe Arroyo also
performed the sort of African and Afro-Caribbean-influenced music associated
with world beat. In addition to these hybrids, Arroyo also revitalized coastal Colom-
bia’s own traditional musical repertoires with modernized interpretations of Afro-

Colombian genres such as cumbias and porros displaced by salsa in the 1970s (Pacini
Hernández 1996). Even on the aptly-titled recording Abriendo Puertas (Opening
Doors) (BK67284), Miami’s pop-oriented diva Gloria Estefan mixed salsa,
merengue, cumbia, and vallenato with Afro-Latin genres such as Colombian currulao
and chandé and Venezuelan tamborito. Album cover art and music videos featuring
prominent images of Afro-Latin culture also indicate that musicians were more
freely acknowledging and celebrating musics of African derivation—or alternatively,
that they were changing their marketing strategies to target world beat audiences.
Unfortunately, the sort of racialized images of authenticity that characterized the
northern marketing of world beat were often adopted uncritically in Latin America,
where stereotypical images of blacks had long been a fact of life. In some cases pro-
ducers adopted the more festive images preferred in the North. For example, Juan
Luis Guerra’s video for “A Pedir Su Mano” (interestingly, a merengue version of
“Dede Priscilla,” an Afropop hit by the Central African Republic’s Lea Lignazi) fea-
tured colorfully costumed black people dancing through sugarcane fields, inter-
spersed with cartoon images of a red train chugging gaily through a tropical
landscape. Although ostensibly referencing the Afro-Dominican gagá dancing that
does indeed take place on cane plantations during Holy Week, the song itself had

figure 1.4 King Chango. East coast Latino band King Chango fuses ska, reggae,
cumbia, and rock (Courtesy Luaka Bop).

nothing to do with gagá, either lyrically or aesthetically. Moreover, the carnivalesque

images of plantation merriment hardly corresponded to the reality of Dominican
Republic’s cane fields, notorious for the brutal conditions under which the mostly
Haitian workforce labors for virtually slave wages. Other videos that attempted to
project an exotic diasporan image were more insidious, perpetuating long-standing
stereotypes of black bodies as primitive and hypererotic. The video for a song enti-
tled “Bomba” (a modernized version of the traditional Afro–Puerto Rican bomba) by
the Puerto Rican ballad singer Danny Rivera, for example, interspersed shots of
Rivera singing by a raging bonfire with gratuitous images of a naked black couple on
a beach in a rolling, passionate embrace as waves pour over them. Other images in-
cluded shots of scantily clad black women writhing with their arms upraised and
their hands tied to wooden posts, and other less sexual but equally suggestive images
of “primitive rituals” with dramatically shadowed masked dancers, and an elderly
shaman-like figure throwing cowry beads.
Such infelicitous marketing strategies aside, the fact remains that the increased
willingness of Latin American musicians to foreground the region’s rich repertoire
of African-derived traditions was a positive development, relaxing some of the race
and class-based boundaries that had so often limited the development of new musi-
cal styles. By creating new opportunities for musical cross fertilizations, a variety of
eclectic new styles began to emerge. Categorizing such musical hybrids, however
(which were appearing not only in the Americas but throughout the globe) created
a problem for those writing about them. It pushed Beat magazine, for example, to use
the awkward titles “All over the map” and “World sound visions” for its columns on
these new developments.
Such ventures into musical hybridity in the Americas were not limited to Latin
American musicians. Indeed, U.S. Latino musicians had long (if not necessarily con-
sistently) experimented with musical cross-fertilization between Latin and non-
Latin genres, as preceding sections of this chapter show. Nevertheless, it is important
to remember that East and West Coast Latinos/as had approached the art of fusion
in quite different ways, particularly with regard to the musical variants of rock and
R & B. As I have discussed extensively elsewhere (Pacini Hernández 2000), musi-
cal cross-fertilization between Nuyorican music and the rock/R & B continuum had
never been extensive, and when it had taken place, as with the bugalú in the 1960s
and the Latin hustle in the 1970s, it was with styles more clearly associated with
African Americans, such as soul and R & B, rather than with the electric guitar-
based rock more closely associated with whites (such as punk and progressive) that
their Chicanos/a counterparts had worked with comfortably.6 Nuyorican musicians,
it appeared, were more concerned with preserving the distinctiveness of their Span-
ish Caribbean musical heritage—which they were able to accomplish economically
thanks to their access to a reliable market for salsa among Spanish Caribbean Lati-
nos as well as in Latin America. As a result, few had ventured very far beyond the
limits of salsa and, more recently, merengue.
The virtual equation between Nuyorican musicians and salsa began to change in
the mid to late 1980s with the emergence of a new style called freestyle. Produced in
New York by musicians such as George (García) LaMond and TKA, freestyle was a
club-based dance music characterized by hip-hop beats, strong Latin melodies, and
lyrics in English, which became immensely popular among young New York Lati-
nos/as. (Freestyle, I might add, received absolutely no comment or analysis from the

academy.) Because freestyle’s success in the club scene did not transfer to the record-
ing business, freestyle died out within a few years (Parris 1996)—although two
freestylers, India and Marc Anthony, went on to develop successful careers in Span-
ish-language salsa. Nevertheless, the desire of young Nuyoricans to move beyond the
“traditional” salsa of their parents marked an important shift. This trend intensified
in the 1990s, with cross-fertilizations between Latin and non-Latin genres becom-
ing increasingly commonplace, and more importantly, commercially viable. Some of
these hybrids were in Spanish, some in English, while others were completely bilin-
gual. Nuyorican/Dominican groups such as Proyecto Uno and DLG, for example,
playfully mixed languages and bent genre boundaries in hybrid styles combining
salsa and merengue with non-Latin music, primarily African American hip-hop, but
also Jamaican reggae and dancehall.
Purists disdained this music as a commercial product lacking cultural authentic-
ity, and predictably, scholars largely ignored it. Anxieties over musical borders, of
course, were not entirely new. In the 1960s, the similarly hybrid bugalú was actively
criticized (and even obstructed within the music business) by some within the Nuy-
orican community because it was perceived as assimilationist (Flores 2000; Salazar
1992). Clearly, what was at stake were long-held and deeply-felt notions about the
relationship between music and national identity: if merengue encapsulates lo do-
minicano, who or what did meren-rap with Spanglish lyrics signify? In fact, these hybrids
pointed directly to a generation of young Latino musicians and fans whose cultural
roots were not located unambiguously in Latin America. Instead, these young peo-
ple had grown up living at the crossroads (to borrow Lipsitz’s apt term) of the Latin
American, Latino, black diasporan, and Anglo worlds, and their multiple (and often
contradictory) identities were neatly and succinctly expressed by these musics’ di-
verse cultural references.
Young Spanish Caribbean musicians’ growing enthusiasm for experimenting with
genres generally considered to be non-Latin can also be seen as manifesting an under-
standing of how race relations have shaped and permeated popular music in the
United States. As I noted earlier, many if not most rock styles originated in the African
American community. Typically, however, black-identified styles such as R & B and
disco were produced for mainstream consumption by white artists such as Elvis Pres-
ley and the Bee Gees. Rap, in contrast, had achieved mainstream success without the
intervention of white interpreters, and as a result, its origins in the black community,
unlike rock’s, were unequivocal. If rap was indebted to any group outside the African
American community, it was to Jamaican and Puerto Rican immigrants in New York
who participated in the formative development of hip-hop culture in the 1970s, be-
fore rap was ever recorded (Flores 1992–1993). Indeed, Raquel Z. Rivera has argued
that Nuyorican hip-hoppers were the (largely unacknowledged) “co-originators” of
rap, and she insists that rap should also “be considered a further development in the
history of Latin music” (1996: 213). Cultural ownership issues aside, the fact remains
that rap has diverged sufficiently from the domain of rock that the case could be made
that rap represents a completely new musical paradigm—in other words, a distinct
idiom, or template, separate from rock. Whether or not this is historically accurate, the
perception of rap’s distance from rock appears to have been strong enough to explain
why young Latin American and Spanish Caribbean Latino musicians who formerly
may have been disinclined to incorporate rock into their music because of its associa-
tion with U.S. cultural imperialism, felt comfortable incorporating rap. Rap, that is to

say, may have carried a “Made in the USA” label, but unlike mainstream rock, it was
clearly perceived as an oppositional music associated with marginalized communities
of color.
Reggae in both English and Spanish similarly became a widely-used template
throughout the African diaspora and the Americas—in fact, in this regard, reggae
preceded rap by a decade. Reggae, which emerged in the 1960s, was itself a cross-
fertilization of Jamaican mento rhythms and Rastafarian percussion with U.S. rock
and R & B. But in spite of its connections to rock ‘n’ roll—including the centrality
of the electric guitar and trap set in its instrumentation—its strong Afro-Caribbean
orientation and anti-imperialist messages distinguished it from rock. The reggae en es-
pañol produced by young island-based Puerto Rican musicians, however, was more
frequently derived from the hard-edged and sexually explicit dancehall style that
succeeded the more contemplative and political roots of 1970s reggae.
A development related to these bilingual and bicultural musical styles was the in-
creasing popularity of club DJs, whose success with dancers lay in the range of gen-
res woven into an evening’s performance—from salsa to reggae to house to Andean
music to flamenco and beyond. The San Francisco-based Latino youth–oriented
magazine Frontera called this sort of blending “esoteric, post modern, or just straight
up fresh” (Karimi 1996: 28), but I also heard the trend referred to as “genre jump-
ing” and as “traveling music” (the latter by a fan totally unfamiliar with Clifford’s
concept of “traveling cultures” [1992]). Popular as such sounds were among the
young, however, these developments similarly threatened the integrity of formerly
distinct categories of Latin music, angering some Latinos/as. A 1996 article entitled
“Wax Alchemists” that appeared in Frontera, for example, cited a DJ commenting on
the resistance he encountered from the Latino community because of his genre mix-
ing: “The salsero won’t open his hands to me because I do salsa y house” (Karimi
1996: 29). Nevertheless, these club-based hybrids, like their recorded counterparts,
were no longer exceptions to the rule. Indeed, these DJs were deliberately using
mixing “as a way of making political change in the musical community, where divi-
sions run deep” (Karimi 1996: 29).
Finally, I want to offer some brief observations on another form of music popu-
lar throughout the Americas, rock en español. As I observed above, Chicano musicians
had long felt comfortable expressing themselves in the rock idiom, although success
came most easily to those who resorted to English. Within Latin America, a signifi-
cant segment of young musicians had similarly been interested in exploring the rock
idiom since the 1960s (c.f. Zolov 1999; Vila 1992; Riaño-Alcalá 1991). Early efforts
were typically English-language covers of U.S. hit parade material, but by the late
1970s and early 1980s original rock in Spanish was being produced throughout the
hemisphere. Nevertheless, in spite of the undeniable quality of rock produced by
musicians such as Argentina’s Fito Páez, Chile’s Los Prisioneros, and Mexico’s Los
Caifanes, no Latin American rock group was able to make significant headway in the
U.S. English-only rock marketplace until the late 1990s.
Furthermore, until recently, Latin music scholars made few efforts to support rock
en español by writing about it. In Latin America, the genre was usually seen as the bas-
tard offspring of rock ‘n’ roll, the quintessential symbol of U.S. cultural imperialism;
U.S. scholars, in contrast, were uninterested in a music perceived as derivative, sim-
ple imitations of northern models. As a result, very little was published analyzing
Latin America’s national rock traditions until the late 1990s, when a succession of

rock en español groups such as Colombia’s Aterciopelados and Mexico’s Maná became
successful throughout the hemisphere, including in the United States. The popular
press, in contrast, has been much more interested in rock en español: youth-oriented
magazines such as Frontera, Banda Elástica, and Retila, for example, regularly published
articles about Latin American and Latino/a rock. Happily, the numerous papers on
rock at the Rhythms of Culture: Dancing to las Américas conference in 1997(as well as at
IASPM conferences held in March 1996 in Chile and in April 2002 in Mexico in-
dicate that academic prejudices against rock en español are finally being overcome. As
this new research is published, it will significantly enrich the field of Latin Ameri-
can and Latino popular music studies by dispelling the idea that rock is the exclusive
cultural property of the North.
I bring up the subject of rock here not only to insist on its importance to the field,
but also because a surprising amount of the musical cross-fertilization that began to
take place in the 1990s came from Latin American and Latino/a musicians whose pri-
mary identification was with rock. Latin American bands such as Argentina’s Fabu-
losos Cadillacs and Venezuela’s Desorden Público, for example, produced Spanish
language hybrids of reggae, ska,7 and rap. In the United States, King Changó, an East
Coast–based Latino ska band, released an eponymous CD on David Byrne’s Luaka
Bop Label (46288–2), and on the West Coast, an active Latino ska scene was hap-
pening in San Francisco (Albornoz 1996). Other rock bands, such as Mexico’s Café
Tacuba, Colombia’s Moisés y la Gente del Camino, and the U.S.’s Ozomatli took an
even more experimental approach, making unlikely combinations of rock with tradi-
tional national styles as well as other Latin American and diasporan sources.
Because of the prominence of rock aesthetics in these musics, they did not fit
comfortably into the world beat category as did other musics in which traditional
sounds were foregrounded. Nevertheless, these rock experiments challenged the
formerly distinct categories of rock and world beat. In fact, I argue that world beat
has always had a closer relationship to rock than has been acknowledged. World beat
may indeed depend on perceptions that the music is rooted in local authenticity, but
the use of the electric guitar and trap set—or their synthesized equivalents—used in
so many world beat musics was clearly responsible for the distinctions between
world beat and its acoustic cousin, world music. This, I think, explains Chris Sta-
pleton and Chris May’s somewhat bold title of their 1990 book on contemporary
Afropop styles that clearly fell under the world beat umbrella African Rock: The Pop
Music of a Continent. It may also account for the crossover success of Latin American
musicians such as the Dominican Republic’s Juan Luis Guerra and Colombia’s Car-
los Vives—both of whom began their careers as electric guitarists playing rock. In
short, if world beat can be thought of as national musical traditions cross-fertilized
with varying degrees of rock aesthetics, then the newer styles of rock en español might
be thought of as its opposite: a rock base cross-fertilized with varying degrees of tra-
ditional Latin American aesthetics. Either way, it may be time to rethink the nature
and utility of these two categories.
It may be too early to make final judgments, but we seem to be witnessing the
destabilizing of boundaries separating the once discreet domains of Latin music,
rock, and world beat. If global capitalism is rendering national boundaries irrelevant,
it is not surprising that musical boundaries are collapsing as well. To be sure, as
scholars, we need to cast a critical eye on these developments, questioning whether
they are pointing to greater diversity or to greater homogenization, scrutinizing who

is being served, and how profits are being distributed. Still, we should not let our un-
derstandable cynicism toward capitalism blind us to the significance and value of the
mercurial hybrids springing up in multiple settings. We should be mindful that the
disintegration of familiar and comfortable boundaries—whether between nations,
languages, or genres—may inspire fears that cultural roots and integrity (and atten-
dant notions of authenticity) are being lost. Indeed, much of the genre-jumping that
has characterized recent Latin music involves much more than simply mixing musi-
cal styles for purposes of novelty: it is quite deliberately and self-consciously about
transgressing traditionally defined borders and about creating new artistic and cul-
tural spaces. And if we look at the groups producing these hybrids, they are more
often than not multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural—and so are
their fans. As scholars as well as consumers of music, we should support these musi-
cians and fans, not in the name of a fuzzy, ill-defined multiculturalism, but because
they are challenging the exclusionary genre-segregated, English-only mainstream
popular music arena—and their Spanish-language equivalent as well. If biological
and cultural mestizaje created a raza cósmica in the post–Columbian Americas, then
these are the sounds of its next generation.


1. This essay was originally written as the keynote address for the “The Rhythms of
Culture: Dancing to Las Américas” conference in 1997, whose proceedings are in-
cluded in this volume. While some references and sources have been updated, the
text does not fully analyze major developments in Latin music that have emerged
since the conference.
2. I want to recognize the intellectual contributions to this chapter made by my husband
Reebee Garofalo, who has been researching and writing about U.S. popular music
since the 1970s. The many hours we spent discussing our individual work—mine on
Latin American popular music and his on U.S. popular music—yielded mutually dis-
covered insights on parallels and intersections between the domains of rock and Latin
music that I have incorporated into this chapter.
3. Carlos Santana’s brother Jorge also performed salsa/rock hybrids, but did not achieve
the same level of mainstream recognition.
4. Only two of the articles concerned Latin popular music: Gerard Béhague’s 1973 arti-
cle on Brazilian bossa, and Joe Blum’s 1978 article on salsa.
5. The cultural aspirations of world music promoters are apparent in the promotional
literature for the 1996 Europe-based WOMEX world music trade fair, which orga-
nizers claimed was “the largest stand-alone event of its kind to be held in the
world . . . making its participants members of the biggest cultural network in the
world,” intended to “unite the commercial concerns of the world music industry with
the complementary concerns of cultural cooperation.” This is not an appropriate
forum to initiate a debate concerning either the implications of such transnational
cultural exchange networks or the legitimacy of the ideology and aspirations of those
who make up the world music network. Suffice it to point out that what is at stake in
the world music landscape does not concern simple profit margins; it concerns the
ability to mediate cultural interactions not only between North and South, but be-
tween South and South as well.
6. It should be emphasized, however, that even styles closely associated with African
Americans are far from “pure,” as they themselves contain influences from a variety

of European and Caribbean sources. Doo-wop, for example, is heavily indebted to

Euro-American styles and musicians.
7. Ska, reggae’s stylistic predecessor that originated in Jamaica in the 1960s, was incor-
porated into British rock in the early 1980s (where it was known as “two tone”), and
later, in the 1990s, enjoyed a renaissance of interest in both the United States and
Latin America.

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“La Cuba de Ayer/La Cuba de Hoy”

The Politics of Music and Diaspora

Gema R. Guevara

hortly before Cuban music entered a period of profound creativity—the
decades of Dámaso Pérez Prado, Israel “Cachao” López, Arsenio Rodríguez,
Barbarito Diez, Celina y Reutilio, and Beny Moré, among many others—
Cuban musicologist Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes issued the following challenge:
“We must have the investigating spirit and the mental freshness and curiosity to be
able to dig into the mystery of our musical past, un-earthing information and recov-
ering data which serves as a basis for the rectification of errors or to perpetuate un-
questionable premises” (quoted in Grenet 1939). This chapter attempts to act on
this injunction, though not along the lines that Sánchez de Fuentes intended.1
Specifically, this chapter explores one aspect of Cuba’s “mysterious” musical past, in
order to trace the connections between the modern appropriation and reworking of
traditional tropes to reinforce the militant antirevolutionary nationalism prevalent
in the U.S. exile community since 1959.
In the United States, the Cuban exile diaspora occupies a paradoxical position: an
attempt to preserve the cultural identity in a host country while simultaneously pro-
moting economic sanctions and possible military intervention against the home-
land. Ironically, the discourse of patriotism and independence that both
noncommunist and communist nationalists from the early twentieth century used
against the United States is now being rearticulated by the exile community as a
weapon against the Cuban Revolution. José Martí’s model for explaining the rela-
tionship between Cuba and the United States is thus inverted, with revolutionary
Cuba represented as a “monster” that consumes itself.2
Although numerous Cubans of different political perspectives have moved be-
tween Cuba and the United States since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the
current diaspora was created in four waves after the revolutionary triumph of Janu-
ary 1959. The first wave, from 1959 to 1962, brought 248,070 émigrés to the United
States—primarily from the island’s landed elite, political leaders, and military offi-
cers loyal to Fulgencio Batista—and 28,000 unaccompanied minors. The second
wave, from 1965 to 1973, departed Cuba on the “freedom flights,” an airlift program
sponsored by the Johnson administration that carried 297,318 Cubans to the United

States. These refugees included small-business owners and professionals, along with
a smaller number of urban and agricultural workers. In 1980, 124,776 Cubans ar-
rived in the United States in a spontaneous and unregulated migration, the “Mariel
boatlift,” which brought entire families as well as many young, single men from a
wide range of social and ethnic backgrounds. The marielitos were subjected to both
negative attention by the mainstream press and the scrutiny of the established exile
community, which defended the Cuban identity as a “model immigrant” population.
In addition, established exiles considered the marielitos to be politically suspect be-
cause they had lived for so long under the influence of the revolution. The balseros of
1994 were the fourth and most recent Cuban immigrant population: 30,305 Cubans
who crossed the Florida Straits in tiny boats and makeshift rafts, who had been dri-
ven from the island by the near collapse of the Cuban socialist economy after the
demise of the USSR.3
Alejandro Portes and Robert L. Bach (1985), who have studied Cuban immigra-
tion since the revolution, have concluded that each successive wave demonstrates a
decline in both average educational attainment and occupational skills and includes a
higher percentage of both single men and people of color generally.4 Before Mariel,
people of color averaged less than 5 percent of each influx; after Mariel, the average
jumped to 30 percent (Portes and Bach 1985: 88). These shifts in demographics have
produced economic, social, and political tensions within the established Cuban-
American community in south Florida. María Cristina García argues that although
the marielitos, like the exiles of previous waves, support U.S. economic pressure on
Fidel Castro’s government and complain that there is a lack of liberal political insti-
tutions in Cuba, they tend to acknowledge the benefits of the revolution, particularly
widespread access to education and health care. They are also less confident of their
future in a market economy (García 1996: 116). Constant movement from Cuba to
the North has thus created a multiclass and multiracial Cuban-American community
in several major urban areas of the United States, particularly Miami and greater New
York. This “community” is not, however, socially or politically cohesive.5
The public representatives of this community are, however, overwhelmingly
white, middle-class, and right of center. Most of these official spokespeople have set-
tled comfortably in the United States but continue to agitate for a return to Cuba on
their terms. They are supported in this effort by a number of musicians and pro-
ducers who are concerned, like the earlier generation of Grenet and Sánchez de
Fuentes, with creating a single national musical patrimony that obscures, if not
erases, the very diverse class and racial origins of the Cuban musical heritage. This
essay examines how several current Cuban-American and Cuban émigré artists
embed their work with conservative ideological elements, as they simultaneously re-
inforce a collective history of a Cuban diaspora in the United States. This collective
memory, in turn, lends strength to the exile community’s ongoing efforts to further
isolate the Cuban Revolution by appropriating the earliest and most powerful tropes
of Cuban nationalism.

The Politics of Music and Diaspora

The cultural politics of the contemporary Cuban-American community in the

United States is fostered by a strong connection to the homeland and the expectation

of an imminent end to the Cuban Revolution. Geographically displaced, antirevolu-

tionary Cuban-American artists in the United States employ nostalgia to construct a
hollowed-out version of Cuban history that falsely homogenizes the remembered
culture and negates its numerous elements of conflict. Chief among these omissions
is the erasure of racial conflict and pronounced inequalities of wealth, two factors that
originally helped to bring about the revolution in the late 1950s.
An example of this phenomenon can be found in the enormously popular Mi
Tierra (My Homeland), Gloria Estefan’s 1993 paean to cubanidad. This album was
recorded entirely in Spanish eight years after Estefan began to popularize the Latin-
derived “Miami sound.” Mi Tierra was marketed primarily on the artist’s devotion to
her national roots and musical tradition. A November 12, 1993, article in Madrid’s
El Mundo quoted Estefan’s words at a ceremony in Madrid where the album was
awarded a fourth platinum record, during which Estefan spoke of her attachment to
Cuba: “Y radiante se ponía Gloria Estefan al hablar de Cuba, su tierra añorada. ‘El
mejor recuerdo que tengo de ella es la música. Aunque me fui de allí a los doce años,
mi madre, más cubana no la hay, me educó siempre de acuerdo con mi origen.’”
(“And Gloria Estefan became radiant as she spoke of Cuba, her beloved homeland.
‘The best memory I have of it (Cuba) is the music. Although I left when I was
twelve years old, my mother, no one is more Cuban, always taught me in accordance
with my origin.’”) Thus, in spite of her early departure from the island, her mother
was able to instill in her the necessary cultural values. The national and overseas
marketing campaigns for her album also seem to conform to what conservative
politicians in the United States currently embrace as essential “traditional” values:
loyalty to the nation, respect for tradition, and love of family. At the same time, the
mainstream media employs these traditional values to construct the cultural stereo-
types that define Latino families. Thus, the tropes used to construct Estefan’s image
are part of a larger marketing strategy to establish a shared identity with the larger
Latino community.6
To a great extent, Estefan’s marketing strategy depends on her claim that she “au-
thentically reproduces” prerevolutionary Cuban music. Her 1993 album is promoted
as an important cultural production that accurately replicates a previous era. For this
purpose, the Estefans enlisted the musical expertise of Juanito Márquez, “Cachao,”
and Tito Puente in an effort to capture the “rhythms, lyrics, melodies, and the gen-
eral sentimentality that prevailed in Cuban music in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s”
(Lannert 1993: 66). Estefan says of these artists, “They knew what sound we were
going for. We wanted to get closer to guajira music, the stuff that came from the
campo, or outback of Cuba” (1993: 66).7 The Cuban musicologist Argeliers León ar-
gues that the guajira and criolla have been historically linked to Cuban nationalism:
“From the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, Cubans increasingly sought
modes of artistic expression which would be sufficiently distant from those of Spain
as to identify us as distinct. Such aesthetic nationalism conditioned the coalescence
of the stylistic elements which are today heard in campesino music” (1991: 18). León
points out that this genre had a tremendous appeal at the turn of the century because
it “also served as a refuge for whites who sought a genre which was at once distinc-
tively Cuban and yet devoid of African-derived elements” (1991: 16). It is therefore
not surprising that this same genre has been appropriated by urban middle-class
Cuban-Americans, such as Estefan, to recapture their homeland and exhibit their

Estefan markets her “epic release,” Mi Tierra, as an homage to her guajira, “musical
origins,” but she fails to acknowledge its deep debt to the son montuno and guaguancó.
This represents an attempt, not unlike Grenet’s, to foreground the supposedly white
and Spanish elements of Cuban music at the expense of the Afro-Cuban. The
album’s five-week run on the bestseller list demonstrates the effectiveness of mar-
keting cubanidad to a mainstream audience. It also illustrates the political potential of
mass-marketed popular culture that promotes a radical nationalism while it adopts
an ideologically neutral stance.8
Mi Tierra combines songs from three musical popular genres that span from the
late colonial period to the late 1950s: romantic boleros, sones montunos, and a solitary
guaguancó. All these genres are danceable and are considered urban, unlike the rural
guajira, which is understood to be a listening genre. The melodic nature of the tradi-
tional guajira lends itself thematically to bucolic and amorous lyrics.9 Referring to
writing the lyrics she composed for Mi Tierra, Estefan claims, “It was a challenge to
me because I write pop songs, and pop songs tend to use words and phrases we know
in our culture. So we tried to do something timeless” (Lannert 1993: 66). It is im-
portant to note that “Sí, Señor! (“Yes, Sir!”) is a celebration of the son and not of the
guajira in spite of the fact that the lyrics romanticize the artifacts traditionally asso-
ciated with the Cuban campo that symbolically represent nationhood: sugar fields and
sugar, a blue sky, palm trees, the guajiro, coffee, tobacco, and rum. These lyrics omit
any reference to the historically uneven distribution of wealth in el campo, the stag-
nation of a monocultural economy, competition for work between white and Afro-
Cuban cane workers, and so on. Instead, they inscribe the historical memory of
Cuba with various powerful natural symbols that all Cubans can easily visualize:
cane, tobacco, coffee, and palm trees. Thus, this recording invokes nostalgia for an
idyllic, depopulated tierra beyond political instability, racial conflict, or poverty.
Far more elaborately arranged than the typical guajira are Estefan’s son montunos. The
rural sones feature a sonero improvising coplas (rhymed verses) over an accompanying
guitar or tres (a Cuban folk guitar with three sets of double steel strings), maracas, and
a güiro. This genre traditionally includes an opening melodic section and an answer-
ing choral refrain, or montuno. The son montuno is perhaps the best example of a mixed
genre with origins in white guajiro culture that later develops an Afro-Cuban variant,
the chunguí. Morton Marks (1992) suggests that the chunguí, developed in the province
of Oriente, among the rural descendants of slaves and freemen who played the tres,
marímbula, botija (earthenware jug), bongo, maracas, güiro, and claves. The sones included
in Mi Tierra are certainly not representative of white or black “country” music between
the 1930s and 1950s, as Estefan has claimed. In fact, by the 1920s at the latest, the son
montuno was an urban genre extremely popular among low-income urban blacks. The
instrumentation of Estefan’s son montunos includes three guitars, claves, piano, bass,
percussion, timbales, trumpets, trombone, flute, violin, viola, cello, and a chorus of
three singers that bring it closer to the innovation that Arsenio Rodríguez brought to
the urban son montuno in the 1930s and 1940s.10 Estefan’s son montunos are thus a simu-
lacrum of the linguistic code traditionally associated with guajira or campesino music,
which tends to evoke specific geographic features, the landscape of the countryside,
and the love of country in order to create a powerful mood of nostalgia for what most
Cuban-Americans born after 1959 cannot, in fact, remember.
Estefan’s most spectacular son montuno, “Mi Tierra,” describes a holy land whose
drums and timbales call out to both its faraway children and an undefined listener

who is made aware of being absent from the homeland as he or she hears the tierra
sigh for its absent children. Emotional detachment from one’s homeland is thus im-
possible. In this instance, Estefan uses “tierra” as a synonym for “patria,” a term that
E. J. Hobsbawn has identified as the classic Hispanic synonym for “our nation, with
the sum total of material and immaterial things, past, and present and future that
enjoy the loving loyalty of patriots” (1990: 20). The use of “tierra” for “patria” confers
an additional advantage, in that “tierra”—the more romantic, even mystical, term—
can be understood as excluding the state, which governs, misgoverns, or abuses the
Only one rumba, “Tradición,” which celebrates not a physical aspect of Cuban
culture but the rumba itself, can be found on the album Mi Tierra.11 The traditional
rumba, which was strictly a product of marginalized black and mulatto urban soci-
ety, was disparaged as such by the white elite. Grenet categorized the rumba as a
genre “bordering on the African” with rudimentary melody, “primordial” repetitive
rhythms, a lack of formality, and a picturesque and sensually aggressive primitivism
belonging to “Our Negro” (1939: 42). In addition, Grenet argued that African gen-
res, which, he said, inherently reflected “bad taste,” failed to take hold in the “white
environment of our society, not even among the best colored [mulatto] element”
(42). We must question why Estefan, who claims her recording embodies what
“came from the campo,” employs as representation of all Cuban music outside of
Cuba a musical genre that began as urban and nonwhite. In fact, “Tradición” acts as
a grand finale paying homage to the guaguancó as a Cuban musical creation. However,
the lyrics also emphasize the artist’s role and responsibility in transmitting and
maintaining cultural pride. Like the guajira, the guaguancó embodies a discourse of na-
tionalism for a specialist audience whose national identity is largely predicated on its
musical tradition. In this instance, the artist assumes that the musical genre is suffi-
cient to invoke national pride among Cuban Americans who can readily recognize
and read the cultural implications embedded in the genre. Thus, Estefan acts to dif-
fuse Cuban music beyond Cuba as she culturally empowers her exile community.
Estefan thus joins earlier Cuban artists in interpreting the guaguancó as “fuente viva
(living force)” for resistance and protest. At the turn of the century, anti-imperialist
guaguancós that addressed the relationship between Cuba and the United States were
extremely popular. During the machadato, the presidency of Gerardo Machado, new
guaguancós were written to protest the regime. In fact, under Machado, a law was
passed that prohibited guaguancós from being sung or danced in public. More recently,
Cuba’s national poet, Nicolás Guillén, wrote “Yo Nunca Digo No (I Never Say
No),” a poem that discusses the power of the guaguancó to protest or resist:

Yo nunca digo
que mi canción es de protesta;
yo siempre dejo
que me lo diga ella . . .
Si mi guaguancó protesta,
ay, también protesto yo.
mi cuchillo tiene filo,
no le sujetes, no, no.
Guaguancó, que guaguancó
que guaguancó, guaguancó.12
(quoted in Acosta 1991: 68)

Unlike Guillén’s poem, however, Estefan’s guaguancó is emptied of the form’s original
content, which attacked domestic dictatorship, economic oppression, and U.S. im-
perialism. Estefan uses the now empty shell of the guaguancó, instead, to congratulate
the exile community for surviving long enough to witness the fall of the Cuban Rev-
olution. And she simultaneously instructs the mainstream audience in the history of
Cuban music without feeling the need to discuss the specific racial and class origins
of any particular genre.
In Estefan’s exilic narrative, the patria is a “timeless” project that denies the oper-
ation of temporal historical forces. The homeland is a democratized utopia available
to all diasporic Cubans regardless of their race, class position, or gender. Hamid
Naficy (1991) has found a similar mobilization of nostalgia in Iranian television pro-
grams and music videos, which has become a major representational practice among
Iranian exiles in Los Angeles. Naficy argues that although a return to Iran is the
most dominant trope, it is precisely the impossibility of a return that is the defini-
tive feature of this discourse. He identifies a resolution to this conflict in the indi-
vidual’s search for the social, political, familial, and linguistic structures of “home,”
in which various natural elements provide the exiled individual with a sense of
“timelessness, boundlessness, predictability, reliability, stability, and universality”
(291). Like Naficy’s Iranian videos, Mi Tierra provides images of nature: blue sky,
sugar and fields of sugar cane, tobacco, palm trees, mountains, and the sun. Similarly,
recent Iranian cultural productions in the United States evoke much earlier forms of
“Persian” art: “It is poetry, especially sufi (mystic) poetry, that provides the paradig-
matic worldview and language of exile, embodying a variety of journeys, returns, and
unifications” (286).
In the case of the Cuban exile community, it is music, in particular the internal
dialogue between the musical genres and a discourse of nationalism that links the
exile community to its “authentic” cultural roots. Cuban music is thus inscribed with
multiple layers of meaning, and the constant celebration of its various genres invokes
nostalgia as both a “pure” emotion and a very specific reading of the island’s history.
The island’s history becomes indistinguishable from the development of its popular
musical genres, and the social role of the musician in the Cuban-American diasporic
community is to reinforce the very solidarity of the community itself.

Narratives of Nostalgia and Exile

After 1991, the fall of the Soviet Union plunged Cuba’s economy into a prolonged
crisis designated as the “special period.” Cuba’s dire economic situation, combined
with the balsero crisis and the increased defection of Cuban intellectuals, artists, and
even government officials, offered the Cuban-American community renewed hopes
that the revolution was nearing its end. These developments fostered the emergence
of musical productions that forsook nostalgia to articulate more explicitly antirevo-
lutionary goals.
Before 1991, Cuban-American identity was shaped, in part, by the impossibility
of a return to Cuba in the near term. After the crisis of the early 1990s, the possi-
bility of a return has increased, thus challenging the community’s exilic identity and
raising the question of whether it is possible to continue to be a Cuban outside of
Cuba once the diasporic community is able to go home. Traditionally, the question

of what it means to be Cuban or Cuban American in the United States has been
linked to age of departure, length of residency in the United States, and ideological
evaluation of the revolution. But the question has now expanded to include inten-
sity of attachment to national—that is, insular—culture.
In Celia Cruz’s 1994 album Irrepetible (Not Replicable), Estefan’s metaphorical
return to an idyllic past gives way to an imagined return to the future. In a manner
similar to Estefan’s erasure of history, Cruz’s exilic narrative describes a reunification
of exiled artists with those who remained in Cuba, which is achieved through the
transformative power of music. Following a marketing pattern common to the pe-
riod, Irrepetible contains a variety of recordings dating back to the 1930s, including the
Afro-Cuban classics “Bembelequa” and “Drume Negrita,” as well as some new re-
leases. Among its contemporary songs is “Cuando Cuba se Acabe de Liberar”
(“When Cuba Becomes Free”),” in which, unlike other exilic narratives, the dream
of a glorious return does not stop at the moment of departure. Instead, the song
ends with “ya llegamos” (“we have arrived”), it invites Cruz’s artist friends to cele-
brate Cuba’s long-awaited liberation at Havana’s Central Park.13 Although her lyrics
do not directly address the condition of exile, the trope of returning continues to
dominate her latest work. Now, however, the return is viewed as possible and, in-
deed, imminent.
Significantly, in “Cuando Cuba se Acabe de Liberar,” Cruz does not engage in
what Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson describe as “the culture-play of diaspora [in
which] the familiar lines between ‘here’ and ‘there,’ center and periphery, colony and
metropole become blurred” (1992: 10). For Cruz, Cuba is not an imagined space; it
is a specific place to which she will return, with her friends, who will bring their con-
gas, güiros, maracas, timbales, the instruments appropriate to the Cuban son. Cruz, in
company with Willy Chirino, as we will see, is crossing the Florida Straits in the op-
posite direction and carrying to the homeland both her national patrimony and what
she has acquired in exile. Cruz expects to be well received by those who remained on
the island: “Esos cubanos de allá que bien nos recibirán” (Those Cubans from there
[Cuba] will receive us well).
Cruz makes a clear distinction between those Cubans who live “there” and the
exiles who live “here.” She expects Cubans on the island to extend their welcome:
“Los artistas cubanos no necesitan invitación, porque ellos son los anfitriones”
(Cuban artists [those residing in Cuba] do not need an invitation, since they are the
hosts). Cruz thus assumes that the differences of the past three decades plus can
simply be dissolved in music.14
Echoing Grenet’s discussion of the ability of Cuban music to represent the Cuban
national character, Esteban Fernández’s January 18,1993, article “La isla sagrada”
(“The Sacred Island”) in the Los Angeles newspaper 20 de Mayo enumerated the rea-
sons that Cubans living in the United States should feel national pride based on
their musical heritage: “How great it is to wake up every morning and to know that
we have created the mambo, the cha cha cha, the bolero, the rumba, the danzón, the son mon-
tuno, the punto guajiro, the pachanga and the Sonora Matancera” (10). This nationalist
discourse functions as an affirmation for those individuals who identify themselves
as émigrés (those who are in exile), not immigrants, and for whom the idea of “na-
tion” is not necessarily attached to a specific territory. Fernández’s article highlights
the persistent tendency of contemporary Cuban-American popular musicians to
maintain an internal dialogue with the island’s musical past. Individual genres thus

constitute a significant aspect of the collective memory that signifies what it means
to be Cuban in the United States.
Among the many recordings that address this theme is Chirino’s “Nuestro Día
(Ya Viene Llegando)” (“Our Day [Is about to Arrive]”), released in 1992. It is a saga
of the exile community since 1959 and a celebration of their eventual return after the
fall of the revolution. But most important, Chirino’s nostalgic remembrance of his
arrival and his expectation of a jubilant return is built on the assumption that the
connection between the place and its culture—instead of being broken or disrupted
by his geographical dislocation, the language differences, and the experience of im-
migration—is simply spatially relocated to a different place. Among the many
recordings that address this theme is Chirino’s “Nuestro Día (Ya Viene Llegando).”
Chirino declares himself “Cuban till death,” since, from his perspective, it is possi-
ble to be a “Cuban” on either side of the Florida Straits.
In his lyrics, Chirino “navigates” 90 miles north with only a suitcase. He brings
several commonly recognized national symbols to reconstruct his identity in the
United States: one of Martí’s books, a colibrí (hummingbird), a palm tree, and a bohío
(peasant hut). However, it is the music he has selected to bring along that reveals his
sense of self as a composer and a musician: a danzón (considered Cuba’s national
dance), created by the mulatto working-class musician Miguel Failde in 1879; Beny
Moré, extremely popular sonero of the 1950s; the Trio Matamoros, founded in 1925
in Santiago de Cuba by Miguel Matamoro; Siro Rodríguez; Rafael Cueto; and
Miguelito Cuní, a vocalist in the Conjunto Chapotín, formed by Arsenio Rodríguez
in the 1950s. Thus, Chirino is able to transport not only the national symbols nec-
essary to construct national identity but something even more significant, his musi-
cal heritage. Chirino works in genres that establish a common musical culture among
the exile community through constant repetition of specific markers of identity. In
“Nuestro Día (Ya Viene Llegando),” Chirino combines several genres in an ex-
tended homage to the composers and musicians in whose images he fashions him-
self. For example, the recounting of childhood memories and the first years of exile
are accompanied by the melodic bolero-son, a musical genre popularized by the well-
known sonero and composer Miguel Matamoros in the 1930s. As his lyrics make the
transition from the nostalgia occasioned by exile to the euphoria of an imagined re-
turn, the music becomes faster, louder, and more rhythmic. In a most dramatic ges-
ture, Chirino shifts his thematic focus and starts singing to Cuba. However, the
island is silent, and the only response heard is the “internacional” slowly fading. The
somber Chirino suddenly screams, “Nicaragua, Polonia, Hungría, Checoslovaquia,
Rumania, Alemania Oriental” as the chorus traditionally associated with the son mon-
tuno responds, “Ya viene llegando” (“It is about to come”)—that is, the revolution
will soon end. At this point his music stops and a “boom” is heard in the background,
followed by a brief silence and the ringing of bells. This brief interlude ends with “El
Himno de Báyamo,” the Cuban national anthem, heard as if through a loud speaker
as background voices celebrate the long-awaited return.
The intelligibility of this seemingly chaotic recording depends on Chirino’s as-
sumption that his audience shares with him a common musical background as well
as an understanding of Cuba’s recent history and the cultural politics of the exiled
community. Underpinning the lyrics and the application of the musical genres is yet
another layer of meaning: for Chirino, not only did Cubans go into exile, Cuban
music went into exile at the same time. This theme was present in one of the earli-

est recordings to achieve popularity among Cuban exiles in the United States: Billo
Frómeta’s “El Son Se Fue de Cuba” (“The Son Has Left Cuba”) (1960), whose title
suggests that happiness has left Cuba and that the exiles are preserving Cuba’s music,
its national patrimony, across the Florida Straits. However, the vocalist does not ac-
knowledge that he is in exile; he is merely away from Cuba in some unspecified place.
Meanwhile, a Cuban peasant questions the silence in Havana. He is amazed to find
out the son has left the island and becomes truly alarmed when he is told that the na-
tional anthem is also gone. In this rhetorical construction, it is the exile community
that is empowered to triumphantly return to Cuba to its musical heritage.
Yet for artists such as Marisela Verena, who left Cuba later than Cruz and
Chirino, the political differences since 1959 can be resolved only through the de-
struction of the Cuban Revolution. For Verena, spatial separation from the home-
land produces no regret, as she views the Cuban exile community as the true patria.
In her 1992 recording Somos Tal para Cual (We Belong Together), Verena celebrates
the collapse of the Soviet Union, the imminent end of the Cuban Revolution, and
the exiles’ subsequent return to the homeland. Verena draws heavily on a particular
reading of Cuban history that links the mambises, the anti-Spanish guerrillas of the
late nineteenth century, to the supposedly betrayed liberal or centrist insurgents of
the late 1950s who abandoned the movement after Castro’s proclamation of the rev-
olution’s Marxist-Leninist direction.15 For Verena, these were the true revolutionar-
ies, who would never have freed Cuba merely to deliver it into the hands of a more
distant but no less oppressive external sponsor, the U.S.S.R. Verena depends on se-
lective public memory when she identifies with the major figures of Cuba’s war of
independence: Ignacio Agramonte, Antonio Maceo, and José Martí, who represent
the ideal of freedom and independence from colonial subjugation. Verena’s lyrics as-
sume a series of historical circumstances that enable her to draw a parallel between
the colonial Cuba of the 1890s and the communist Cuba of the 1990s. Thus, the
exile community, for Verena “the mambises of the nineties,” are ideologically and his-
torically justified to overthrow and succeed Cuba’s socialist government.
Verena’s “Madre Cuba Está de Parto” (“Mother Cuba Is Giving Birth”) is a po-
litical manifesto that reflects the militant anti-Castro position espoused by the pub-
lic leadership of the Cuban-American community. Like Chirino’s “Nuestro Día,”
Verena’s “Madre Cuba” announces that the hour of redemption for the patria is at
hand, as it emphasizes the “unconditional support” that Cubans in Cuba can expect
from the exile community in the United States. However, Verena’s “Mother Cuba”
is a gendered and naturalized force that is not simply remembered and fetishized but
actually giving birth to a “long awaited sister”—that is, bourgeois democracy.
In “Son de las Tres Décadas” (“Son of the Three Decades”), Verena emphasizes
the agonies of exile: fragmentation of the organic community, separation from fam-
ily members, and the difficulties of maintaining a Cuban identity in the North. Un-
like Estefan’s political agenda, Verena’s is incorporated directly into the text: she
advocates further economic sanctions against the island and, if necessary, an invasion
by the United States. The lyrics of “Son de las Tres Décadas,” unlike exile music of
the 1960s and 1970s, foreground the actual historical events that have shaped the
political identity of the Cuban diaspora: the revolutionary expropriations of land
and wealth, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the five subsequent waves of migration,
the plight of Cuban political prisoners, a ferocious denunciation of the former So-
viet Union’s patronage of Cuba, and the unwillingness of the United States to use

military force to end the Castro regime. Verena’s interpretation of recent history, no
less than Estefan’s refusal to consider history at all, culminates in an erasure of the
racial and class differences that contributed to the revolution.
Verena’s protest songs of the Right recall the revolutionary nueva trova (new songs)
of Pablo Milanés.16 Peter Manuel describes nueva trova as the musical genre that most
explicitly reflects and promotes the spirit and ideology of the revolution (1987: 173).
This seeming paradox foregrounds the political significance of Grenet’s nationalism:
To what use is the form applied, and to what extent is it adulterated? In this instance,
it is Cuban-American exile artists such as Chirino and Verena who have respected
the form but changed the political content of a revolutionary genre to rail against the
continued existence of the revolution.


In spite of emotional variations in presentation, the artists discussed in this chapter

uniformly reject the legacy of the Cuban Revolution and, in the process, reinvent “la
Cuba de ayer” (the Cuba of yesterday). Although the cultural politics of the Cuban-
American diaspora are founded on a strong remembered connection to the home-
land, the community’s cultural identity changes as the social composition of the exilio
changes and as each influx of new immigrant populations threatens to change the
community’s racial and class balance. Thus, in spite of (or perhaps because of ) eco-
nomic sanctions, restrictions on travel, and the barrier of the Florida Straits, migra-
tion both alters the essential elements of cubanidad outside Cuba and reminds the
Cuban community in the United States of the political and economic conditions
that shaped their own earlier exile.
Verena’s, Chirino’s, and Cruz’s decision to record only in Spanish reflects a
form of cultural nationalism or, in softer contemporary terms, “cultural empower-
ment.” Cruz, the “Queen of Salsa,” is widely recognized by Spanish-speakers in the
United States, Latin America, and Europe. Chirino, a longtime resident of Miami,
is well known in the U.S. Latino community as a composer, producer, and per-
former, whereas Verena’s work is best recognized in Puerto Rico and within
Miami’s Cuban-American community. Where Estefan’s Mi Tierra is thematically
unified and promoted as an “epic” cultural release, the music of Verena, Chirino,
and Cruz is promoted by means of a different marketing strategy: recording com-
pact discs that combine romantic ballads with calls for action against the Cuban
Revolution. The antirevolutionary stance that Verena, Chirino, and Cruz take,
however, is partially obscured by songs that call for cross-national Latino solidar-
ity in the United States. Thus, for the larger Latino community, these recordings
can be seen as defending “our” cultural identity. At the same time, they act as his-
torical texts, marking the official symbolism that unifies this diasporic community.
Their narratives thus explicitly express the condition of exile, patriotism, and
frustrated nationalism.
Estefan’s Mi Tierra is both a nostalgic longing for a musical past abstracted from its
historical context and a reminder of the idealized Cuba that the exile community has
constructed. It is precisely the absence of an overt political discourse that lends ap-
peal to Estefan’s product among a wider audience and encourages an international
marketing effort based on the artist’s putative devotion to her national roots and

Cuban musical traditions. Her husband and manager, Emilio, has stated that Mi
Tierra is meant to aid younger Cubans who are struggling to recover their musical
“roots” (Lannert 1993: 66). However, this push for cultural empowerment conceals
the question of just whose roots are being preserved, and whose are being excluded,
effaced, or silenced altogether. These issues are certainly not being addressed by the
music industry, whose profits depend on producing a sufficiently homogenized com-
modity to entice both a middle-class Cuban-American audience in Florida and a
larger U.S. Latino audience who longs for cultural recognition.
Sony Disco, Estefan’s record label, sought a mass-marketed “Cuban sound” for Mi
Tierra to encourage just such crossover appeal between different audiences. Dan
Beck, vice president of product development for Sony Disco, describes Estefan as
“an artist whose consumer awareness is massive and whose roots are very well un-
derstood by a mass market” (Lannert 1993: 67). This is precisely what allows her to
cross from a mainstream North American to a specifically Latino audience and back
again into the Cuban-American community. In 1993 alone, she recorded an album
of classic standards with Frank Sinatra and a guaguancó with Cruz. She writes pop
songs and boleros, and she appears on both MTV and Univisión. She sang for the
Pope in Rome and prayed with him for Cuba’s liberation, an event aired on Miami
television. In 1995, she visited the Guantánamo Naval Base, where she sang live for
Cuban refugees awaiting visas to enter the United States. This event was aired na-
tionwide on Univisión. Estefan’s popularity and mainstream recognition allow
Americans to congratulate themselves on their appreciation of diversity as her music
furthers the political imaginary of her own community through ostensibly nonpolit-
ical cultural celebrations of cubanidad.
The U.S. embargo against Cuba has become increasingly porous, however. Not
only do musicians, scholars, and average citizens visit the island, bringing U.S. dol-
lars, but, in spite of the Helms-Burton Act that imposed further restrictions on the
economic embargo placed on Cuba, numerous Cuban musicians and performers are
also recording in U.S. studios. Thus, the Florida Straits, which have long functioned
within the Cuban-American “imaginary” as both a route to freedom and a geo-
graphical barrier separating the exilio from the homeland, have now been sur-
mounted by quick, safe, and anonymous air travel. Up until this historical juncture,
the Cuban-American diaspora in the United States has insisted on its identity as ex-
iliados rather than emigrantes. We can only wonder what new discourses the exilio cubano
will generate to maintain its political legitimacy as increased travel to and from the
island further erodes any meaningful distinction between the politics of “inside” and
“outside,” and thus alters the construction of nostalgia and the meaning of a return
to Cuba. And as the political context changes, so will the role of Cuban-American
musicians and performers within the exilio, who must now negotiate a path through
fundamental changes in their artistic “condition of exile.”


I thank Rosemary Marangoly George, George Lipsitz, and Jorge Mariscal for reading and
commenting on earlier drafts of this chapter. I am also grateful to Frances R. Aparicio and
Cándida Jáquez for their editorial comments on the final version. I especially wish to thank
Raúl Fernández, who offered invaluable interpretations of Cuban music.


1. Sánchez de Fuentes and Grenet held Cuban music to be a part of the national patri-
mony uniquely able to describe the Cuban “character” and represent the nation in-
ternationally and to the United States. Both also sought to construct typologies of
Cuban music that would stress the importance of European as opposed to African
“origins.” This approach could also defend traditional Cuban musical forms against
the consequences of wholesale North American appropriation and contamination.
Thus, a correct “reading” of Cuban musical history could prevent further cultural cor-
ruption. The government of the Republic of Cuba sponsored Grenet’s text as a “con-
tribution toward the diffusion of our culture” (Acknowledgment page), confirming
an ideological link between the Cuban state and Grenet’s cultural nationalism,
Grenet subdivided Cuban music into three clusters of genres: “genres bordering on
the Spanish,” including the zapateo, guajira, Cuban punto, and habanera; “genres of equi-
table black and white influence,” including the contradanza, danza, danzón, son, danzonete,
conga, bolero, guaracha, criolla, and pregón; and “genres bordering on the African,” in-
cluding the tango congo, conga, comparsa, and rumba. Popular Cuban Music was approved for
free distribution to libraries in the United States.
2. See Martí 1975. Martí’s use of the term “monster” to describe the role the United
States would soon play in the Caribbean originated in a May 18, 1895, letter to Manuel
Mercado: “It is my duty—inasmuch as I realize it and have the spirit to fulfill it—to
prevent, by the independence of Cuba, the United States from spreading over the
West Indies and falling, with that added weight, upon other lands of our America. All
I have done up to now, and shall do hereafter, is to that end. . . . I have lived inside the
monster and know its entrails—and my weapon is only the slingshot of David.”
3. For immigration data on the four waves of the postrevolutionary Cuban migration,
see García 1996. The term balseros is derived from balsa (raft), which was the primary
means of transportation used by members of this particular group to leave Cuba, in
the hope that the U.S. Coast Guard would rescue them at sea.
4. See U.S. Department of Commerce 2000: 29. The total population of Cuban-
Americans residing in the United States according to the 1990 U.S. Census Bureau
was 1,044,000, the vast majority residing in the South (70.5), that is, in the state of
Florida and more precisely in Miami, which has come to represent the center of the
exilio. The Northeast (greater New York) has the second largest population of
Cuban-Americans (17.6), with only a small percent of Cuban-Americans living in
the West (8.5) and the Midwest (3.5).
5. See García 1996. Until his death in 1997, Jorge Mas Canosa, president of the Cuban-
American National Foundation (CANF), was perhaps the most influential
spokesperson for the exile community. Founded in 1981, CANF manages Radio
Martí and TV Martí, both funded by the U.S. Information Service. CANF also op-
erates Project Exodus for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which
screens Cuban exiles from third world countries for admission into the United States
once CANF has agreed to sponsor them.
6. During interviews on Spanish-language television networks and in various newspaper
interviews, Estefan has employed a discourse of domesticity to emphasize her devo-
tion to her children and her husband/manager, Emilio. She has also explicitly linked
her “private” identity to her public advocacy for the balseros and for Cuban-Americans
who lost their homes to Hurricane Andrew.
7. Other players and vocalists included on this album are Clay Ostwald, Jorge Casas,
Tito Puente, Sheila E., Arturo Sandoval, Paquito Rivera, Néstor Torres, Luis Enrique,

Jon Secada, Mexico’s outstanding guitarist Chemin Correa, and Miami Sound Ma-
chine Randy Barlow and Teddy Mulet (Lannert 1993: 66).
8. See the “Hot Latin Tracks” feature in the July 17, 1993, to September 18, 1993, issues
of Billboard Magazine. This information is compiled from the National Latin Radio Air-
play reports.
9. The guajira is accompanied by string instruments, usually two guitars (rarely a lute),
maracas, and a güiro. In the 1930s Cuba’s best-known composer and singer of the tra-
ditional guajira, Guillermo Portabales, incorporated improvised lyrics that addressed
events in the lives of local individuals who lived in the countryside. With the advent
of the radio in the 1930s, social, picaresque, and humorous themes became incorpo-
rated in live radio performances. More recently, the guajira has seen a revival through
Albita Rodríguez, a Cuban-American vocalist who sings lyrics from the 1930s and
1940s with new musical arrangements that add the Cuban flute and often the elec-
trical piano to the traditional instrumentation of the guajira.
10. Estefan’s son montunos follow the conjunto style popularized in the late 1930s and early
1940s by Arsenio Rodríguez. Marks argues that Rodríguez reinvented the way the son
montuno was played by “suppressing the predominant role of the bongó, and shifted
the rhythmic center of gravity downward to the deep-toned conga drum, or tumbadora.”
(Marks 1992:4).
11. See León 1991. León cites chroniclers and poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth cen-
turies to document the origins of the contemporary rumba. He suggests that the mod-
ern rumba is a combination of multiple African dances and genres: ñandú, parcumbé,
gurrumbé, yeyé, gayumbas, gurujú, and zumbé. There are three distinct forms of rumba: The
guaguancó, the most commonly performed, involves a male and a female dancer. The
male seeks to possess (“vacunar”) his female partner via a pelvic thrust that imitates the
sexual act. The yambú, the oldest form of rumba, is a slower dance in which an older
couple displays the physical limitations of age. The colombia, the fastest rumba, which is
danced only by men, is used to display the talents of the dancer and drummer.
12. “I never say / that my lyric is one of protest; / I always let / it tell me. . . . / If my
guaguancó protests, / well, I also protest. / My knife is razor sharp, / do not hold it, no,
no. / Guaguancó, what a guaguancó / what a guaguancó, guaguancó.”
13. The guest list in Cruz’s song includes the names of both her Cuban-American artist
friends and several artist friends from various Spanish-speaking countries: Pedro
(who will host the party); La Sonora Matancera (the first orchestra Cruz ever sang
with); El Gran Combo; Julio Iglesias; Johnny Pacheco; Rafael; Luis Miguel; Willie
Colón; José José; Ana Gabriel; Johnny Ventura; and, of course, Ralph Mercado
(Cruz’s longtime record producer, who will be the guest of honor), Tito Puente, Ar-
turo Sandoval, Willy Chirino, and Emilio and Gloria Estefan.
14. Behar and León 1994. Cruz’s confidence that Cubans in Cuba and Cubans in the
United States will be able to reconcile their differences at least through music ap-
proximates the position that various Cuban-American academics have taken in their
attempt to look for “reconciliation, dialogue, and renewal” with Cuba’s intellectuals.
15. Castellano and Castellano 1994. Castellano and Castellano argue that mambí is rooted
in the Cogolese word mbi, which means “malevolent,” “cruel,” “savage.” In the late
nineteenth century, Spanish colonial authorities used mambí to denounce rural anti-
colonial insurgents. Currently, the words mambí and gusano, or “maggot” (gusano was
coined by Castro to denounce antirevolutionary Cubans) have become honorific self-
descriptions in the Cuban-American diaspora.
16. Verena’s use of the son típico in “Son de las Tres Décadas,” the political lyrics, and the
modern harmonic approach all approximate the form of the nueva trova and its social-
political concern.

Works Cited

Acosta, Leonardo. 1991. The Rumba, the Guaguancó, and Tío Tom. In Essays on Cuban Music:
North American and Cuban Perspectives. New York: University Press of America.
Behar, Ruth, and Juan León. 1994. Bridges to Cuba / Puentes a Cuba. Michigan Quarterly Review
(Summer): 399–414.
Castellano, Jorge, and Isabel Castellano. 1994. Cultura afrocubana. 4 Vols. Miami: Ediciones
Fernández, Esteban. 1993. La isla sagrada. In 20 de Mayo. 18 January. Los Angeles, California.
García, María Cristina. 1996. Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida,
1959–1994. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Grenet, Emilio. 1939. Popular Cuban Music: Eighty Revised and Corrected Compositions Together with an
Essay on the Evolution of Music in Cuba. Trans. R. Phillips. Havana, Cuba: Ucar, García y Com-
Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson. 1992. Beyond “Culture”: Space, Identity, and the Politics
of Difference. Cultural Anthropology 7, 1 (February): 6–44.
Hobsbawn, E. J. 1990. Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge
University Press.
Lannert, John. 1993. Estefan’s New Album Hits Close to Home. Billboard Magazine 26, 1 (June
26): 66–67.
León, Argeliers. 1991. A Panorama of Popular and Fold Music. In Essays on Cuban Music: North
American and Cuban Perspectives, ed. Peter Manuel. New York: University Press of America.
Manuel, Peter. 1987. Marxism, Nationalism and Popular Music in Revolutionary Cuba. Popu-
lar Culture 6, 1 (May): 161–178.
Martí, José. 1975. Inside the Monster: Writings on the United States and American Imperialism. Trans. Eli-
nor Randall. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Naficy, Hamid. 1991. The Poetics and Practice of Iranian Nostalgia in Exile. Diaspora 1, 3:
Portes, Alejandro, and Robert L. Bach. 1985. Latin Journey: Cuban and Mexican Immigrants in the
United States. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.


Chirino, Willy. 1992. Un Tipo Típico y Sus Exitos. Globo Records.

Cruz, Celia. 1994. Irrepetible. Sony Discos.
Estefan, Gloria. 1993. Mi Tierra. Sony Discos.
Frómeta, Billo and His Caraca’s Boys. 1997. El son es Cubano. Big World.
Marks, Morton. 1992. Liner notes. Cuban Counterpoint: History of the Son Montuno. Rounder.
Verena, Marisela. 1992. Somos Tal para Cual. CBS Discos.

“Con Sabor a Puerto Rico”

The Reception and Influence of
Puerto Rican Salsa in Venezuela1

Marisol Berríos-Miranda


uerto Rican musicians have put their stamp on the twentieth century and be-
yond with impressive musical contributions to the Americas and across the
globe. This chapter presents a view of these Puerto Rican contributions from
the perspective of Venezuelan musicians and aficionados. It also presents the argu-
ment that Puerto Rican musicians on the island and in New York have facilitated
the development of salsa music as an idiom that has inspired musicians from other
islands and countries and has given them the space to develop their own musics. The
evidence presented here derives from musical analysis as well as from ethnographic
data (gathered mainly in Caracas from 1993 to 1994) concerning the Venezuelan re-
ception of Puerto Ricans, ranging from presalsa musicians such as Noro Morales and
Humberto Morales to modern innovators such as Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera.
After a brief introduction to the scholarship on salsa, this chapter is organized
into four sections. The first section recounts the career of “El Pavo Frank” Hernán-
dez (also known as “El Pavo Fran”) to illustrate the history of the influence of Puerto
Rican musicians in Venezuela. The next section discusses “ownership” in salsa, and
the last section is a discussion of the music of Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera with
particular emphasis on their model for integrating diverse Latin genres into salsa.
This will be structured in part as a response to Peter Manuel’s 1994 article “Puerto
Rican Music and Cultural Identity: Creative Appropriation of Cuban Sources from
Danza to Salsa,” which I cite as an example of the generally Cuban-centered per-
spective that has become common in recent scholarship.
A review of salsa music scholarship is that there is an urgent need for more case
studies on salsa in different Latin American countries. Although there is an insepa-
rable connection between salsa in New York, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, it is important
to address the fact that, because much of the English-language scholarship on salsa
to date has focused on the nexus of these cultures within New York, our knowledge

of the influence of salsa music in other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America
has been limited. The most important studies produced since Joseph Blum’s semi-
nal 1973 article “Problems of Salsa Research,” offered the same geographical focus.
Like the majority of publications on salsa, Roberta Singer’s pioneering 1982 disser-
tation “My Music is Who I Am and What I Do: Latin Popular Music and Identity
in New York City,” Félix M. Padilla’s 1989 “Salsa Music as a Cultural Expression of
Latino Consciousness,” Jeremy Marre and Hannah Charlton’s 1979 documentary,
Salsa: Latin Music in New York and Puerto Rico, and 1985 book, Latin Pop Music in the Cities,
Vernon Boggs’s 1992 Salsiology, and Peter Manuel’s 1994 article, “Puerto Rican Music
and Cultural Identity,” all focus on New York. (Frances R. Aparicio’s 1998 Listening
to Salsa, an excellent study of salsa, gender, and identity, as well as Salsa, sabor y control:
Sociología de la música tropical (1998) by Angel G. Quintero Rivera, are significant ex-
ceptions to this pattern.)
The literature in Spanish, in contrast, includes important books on salsa in coun-
tries that have not been at the center of scholarly discussions in the United States.
In these countries salsa has achieved high levels of popularity. César Miguel
Rondón’s 1980 El libro de la salsa: Crónica de la música del Caribe urbano, Juan Carlos Báez’s
1984 El vínculo es la salsa, and Alejandro Ulloa’s 1992 La salsa en Cali are all examples.
Rondón and Báez are from Venezuela and Ulloa is from Colombia. Not surprisingly,
these Latin Americans are interested in the pan-Latino character of salsa, and dis-
cuss salsa’s vitality and influence not only in their native countries but in other Latin
countries as well. Although they all recognize the Cuban origins of the music, they
also demonstrate the “Venezuelanness” or the “Colombianness” of salsa. Despite the
high quality of Rondón, Báez, and Ulloa’s work, U.S.-based scholars who treat salsa
primarily as a reinterpretation of Cuban music have largely ignored the perspectives
of these authors.
The notion of salsa as a mere reinterpretation of Afro-Cuban music has been
given prominence because of who is writing about it and where the research has
been conducted. This characterization of salsa denies many significant global per-
ceptions about salsa music. Much of the academic debate on this question either af-
firms or reacts to what Jorge Duany calls “a diffusionist mentality that seeks to
identify the spread of Caribbean music from a single point of origin, Cuba” (1996:
181). However, even if this center-periphery model fits well with Cuban music, the
exclusive focus on its Cuban origins obscures what happens to the music between
the place of “origin” and the many places of its “reinterpretation.” Therefore, I pro-
pose that the issue of ownership of salsa must be reviewed from multiple perspec-
tives, and as a process rather than only as a fact. An examination of salsa’s reception
in other countries, such as Venezuela, immediately points to the importance of other
regional contributions, and is thus essential to the transnational understanding of
the salsa phenomenon.
In addition to New York and San Juan, Latin American cities that have been im-
portant centers of salsa and that have also influenced the development of various
salsa styles include Cali, Bogotá, and Medellín in Colombia; Panama City in Panama;
Caracas, Maracaibo, and Barlovento in Venezuela; Lima in Perú; La Paz in Bolivia;
Quito in Ecuador; and Buenos Aires in Argentina. However, with the exception of
Báez’s 1984 and Ulloa’s 1992 works (both of which are written in Spanish and are
therefore not frequently considered by North American scholars), there are few
studies that consider salsa as intrinsically connected with musical identity in all these

regions. The transnational roots of salsa are largely unexamined, and perhaps even
unknown, by salsa scholars in the United States.

El Pavo Fran and the Puerto Rican Influence in Venezuela

Many Latinos outside Cuba, New York, and Puerto Rico speak of Puerto Rican and
New York salsa as the model for salsa in their countries. This pattern of influence,
which calls into question the Cuban center-periphery model, is exemplified in the
story of one of Venezuela’s most influential percussionists, José Francisco Hernán-
dez “El Pavo Fran.”
Timbal virtuoso El Pavo Fran became an “institution” in Venezuela in 1969, when
he began the musical style known as la onda nueva (the new wave), a landmark for the
development of Venezuelan music. Along with Aldemaro Romero, he created a mu-
sical style based on Venezuelan music from el llano.2 In particular, Hernández and
Romero adapted the joropo in 3/4 meter to piano, drums, and bass, played in ensem-
ble with Venezuelan instruments such as the cuatro, arpa (harp), and maracas. Fur-
thermore, upon fusing traditional Venezuelan musical genres such as the joropo with
jazz harmonies and salsa rhythms, they created a musical style that appealed to
Venezuelan urban musical tastes, a sound that revolutionized the concept of
Venezuelan popular music. Members of the new generation of timbaleros in
Venezuela regard El Pavo Fran as the father of the Venezuelan timbal and a great in-
novator in Venezuelan music. In a 1994 interview that I conducted in Caracas, Ger-
ardo Rosales stated:

Aquí tú tienes al Pavo Fran, que junto con Aldemaro Romero fueron los creadores de
la onda nueva, esa música que mezcla el joropo con salsa y jazz, y El Pavo no es sino el
papá del timbal en Venezuela. Todos los timbaleros venezolanos de la época de la salsa
aprendieron muchísimo escuchando al Pavo Fran.

[Here you have El Pavo Frank, who together with Aldemaro Romero were the creators
of “La Onda Nueva” the new wave, that music that mixes joropo with salsa and jazz, and
El Pavo is nothing less than the father of the timbal in Venezuela. Every Venezuelan
timbalero of the salsa period (roughly 1970 to 1985) learned a lot listening to El Pavo

El Pavo Fran himself described to me his formative experience with Puerto Rican
musicians and how they shaped his musical career:

En 1933–1934 vino a Venezuela, a Maracai, para cuando eso era el dictador Juan Vi-
cente Gómez, Noro Morales y Humberto Morales, y ellos tenían su orquesta y tocaban
en el Hotel Jardín de Maracai. Y al general Gómez le gustaba mucho su música. Pues
el primero que vino aquí con la batería y las pailas fue Humberto Morales. Y fue con él,
escuchándolo a él, que aprendí a tocar los timbales. Tú ves, en ese tiempo en Venezuela
nadie que yo conocía tocaba los timbales, y fue porque Humberto los trajo que em-
pezamos a tocarlos. Él trajo los timbales a Venezuela, y después de eso un montón de
gente empezó a tocarlos. Él luego diseñó unos con la Ludwig en Nueva York. Aquí de-
spués se empezaron a hacer. Entonces todos los músicos de aquí empezamos a com-
prarlos y a tocarlos. Yo aprendí mucho con los discos de Noro y con José Curbelo, César

Concepción, con todas esas grandes viejas orquestas de salsa, de música latina. Pero los
timbales los aprendí fue con Humberto Morales, ese gran músico puertorriqueño.

[In 1933–1934 Noro Morales and Humberto Morales came to Venezuela, and they had
their orchestra and played every night at the Hotel Jardín in Maracay. At the time, Juan
Vicente Gómez was the dictator of Venezuela, and General Gómez liked their music a
lot. Well, Humberto Morales was the first one to bring the pailas (timbales) here. And it
was with him, listening to him, that I learned to play the timbales myself. You see, at that
time in Venezuela nobody that I knew played the timbales and it was because Humberto
Morales brought them that we started to play them. He brought the timbales to
Venezuela, and after that a lot of people began to play them. He later designed some
for Ludwig in New York. Later they started to make them here. Then many musicians
from here began to buy them and to play them. I learned a lot from Noro’s records, and
from José Curbelo, and Cesar Concepción, from all of those great old salsa, Latin music
orchestras. But the timbales I learned was with Humberto Morales, a great Puerto Rican

El Pavo Fran revealed in the same interview that he reaped the ultimate reward from
these learning experiences when he had the opportunity to substitute for Tito
Puente in Puente’s own orchestra in New York:

En el 1958, estando en esas actividades tocando con el grupo de Randy Carlo, ya em-
pezaron los muchachos a escucharme y comentaban, “Mira, hay un muchacho vene-
zolano que toca muy bien el timbal.” Y lo escuchó Bobby Rodríguez, el compadre de
Tito Puente, y una vez a Tito le dio un preinfarto cardíaco, y era una época de verano,
y ellos estaban tocando en “El Patio” de Long Island, y a Tito el médico le dijo, “No, tú
no puedes tocar.” Y lo mandaron pa’ Monticelo, pa’ la montaña, a descansar. Entonces
pusieron a otros percusionistas, a Willie Rodríguez. Y Bobby me escuchó cuando
vinieron con Machito al Club. Entonces Bobby dijo, mira que hay un muchacho vene-
zolano ahí que toca muy bien; vamos a traerlo pa’ que toque. Y como yo me conocía
muy bien el repertorio de Tito Puente que era de mis orquestas favoritas junto con Tito
Rodríguez y Machito. Entonces yo hasta toqué “El Rey del Timbal” cuando Tito no es-
taba en la orquesta, y cuando Tito llegó, me agradeció públicamente el trabajo que yo
había hecho. Tocamos juntos los dos “El Rey del Timbal.” Hicimos mano a mano de
timbales él y yo, y todo fue muy chévere. Y Tito quería que yo me quedara en la
orquesta con él, y claro yo me quedé tocando, pero yo quería hacer mis solos a la par que
él. Y claro el solista, el principal era él porque la orquesta era de él. Entonces yo le dije,
“Mira, Tito, yo te comprendo; tú eres el director, y eres el dueño de la orquesta, y
quieres que yo trabaje contigo y todo, pero es mejor que yo me vaya.” Porque en ese mo-
mento Mongo Santamaría quería formar su orquesta, y necesitaba un baterista y tim-
balero y eso era lo que yo quería, tocar los dos . . . Entonces Tito me dijo, “No, está
bien.” Pero cuando Tito tenía grabaciones, siempre me llamaba porque como el tenía
que estar en la consola dirigiendo las cosas, entonces yo tocaba los timbales. Y así tra-
bajé mucho con él. Y me fui con Mongo. Pero aprendí mucho de esa experiencia, y la
atesoro en mi corazón.

[In 1958 I was involved in those activities playing in New York with Randy Carlo’s
group, and guys began to listen to me, and they commented, “Look, there’s a Venezue-
lan boy who plays the timbal very well.” And Bobby Rodríguez, Tito Puente’s compadre
(very close friend), got wind of that. I used to play in several New York nightclubs and
one time Tito Puente had a heart attack. It was summer and they were playing at The
Patio in Long Island. The doctor said to Tito, “No, you can’t play.” And they sent him

to Monticello, to the mountains, to rest. Then they put on other percussionists, like
Willie Rodríguez. One night Bobby Rodríguez came with Machito to hear me playing
at the club. He said “Look, there’s a Venezuelan guy who plays very well; let’s get him
to play while Tito gets better.” And I knew Tito Puente’s repertoire very well because
his orchestra was one of my favorites, together with Tito Rodríguez and Machito’s of
course. Then they asked me to play with them. I even got to play “El Rey del Timbal”
when Tito wasn’t with the orchestra, and when Tito came back, he thanked me publicly
for the work I had done. The two of us played “El Rey del Timbal” together. He and I
played dueling timbales together, and everything was wonderful. And Tito wanted me to
stay in the orchestra with him, and of course I started to play, but I wanted to do my
solos as much as he did.
And of course he was the soloist, the principal player, because it was his orchestra.
So I told him, “Look, Tito, I know you are the director, and you are the owner of the
orchestra, and you want me to work with you and everything, but it’s better for me to
go.” Because at that time Mongo Santamaría wanted to form an orchestra, and he
needed a drummer and that’s what I wanted, to play the two. So Tito said to me “No,
its OK.” But when Tito taped sessions, he always called me because since he had to be
at the console directing things, I played the timbales. And that way I worked with him a
lot. So I went with Mongo. But I learned a lot from that experience, and I treasure it
in my heart.]

Puerto Rican musicians’ influence in Venezuelan music is not only exemplified by El

Pavo Fran’s appreciation for both the relatively unknown Humberto Morales, and
the celebrated Tito Puente, but by many other Venezuelan musicians who recounted
to me similar experiences. This is a pattern of influence that dates back to the 1930s.

The Salsa Dispute

In contrast to this sense of brotherhood that has characterized musical exchange in

Latin America and the Caribbean for centuries, in the past two decades or so an an-
tagonism has intensified between people who use the term “salsa” and people who
reject this term in favor of “Afro-Cuban music.” There are numerous reasons for this
antagonism, but I will limit my discussion here to the one cause that I believe to be
fundamental to both the Cuban and the Puerto Rican factions. Charley Gerard
summarizes the basic Cuban resentment as follows:

When Fania artists recorded songs by Cuban composers, they made a policy of not list-
ing [their] names. The name of the composer was substituted with the initials D. R.,
meaning Derechos Reservados (Reserved Rights) . . . As a result, the general public
was not made aware of the tremendous amount of materials by Cuban composers
recorded by Fania artists. Then Fania released the movie “Our Latin Thing” (Nuestra
Cosa) and according to Díaz Ayala, the movie made the suggestion that salsa had come
almost directly from Africa to lodge itself in New York, by-passing Cuba entirely!
(Gerard and Sheller 1989: 11)

I remember when listening to new Fania releases in Puerto Rico, older family mem-
bers and friends insisted that the younger learn the names of the composers of these
songs, be they Cuban or otherwise. Thus, many in Puerto Rico were aware of the un-
fairness of the Fania recording industry toward the Cuban composers. And because

Cubans and Puerto Ricans have enjoyed a particular historical affinity, the unfairness
of the recording industry affected both groups deeply. Still, our experience in Puerto
Rico does not change the reality that many people, particularly in the broader inter-
national scene, remained ignorant of the Cuban influences on salsa music.
The deep resentment created by this exclusion has caused some to take the argu-
ment too far in the other direction, denying any contributions to salsa from non-
Cubans. Thus, the commendable efforts by scholars to clarify the wrongdoings of
the recording industry have had the unfortunate effect of downplaying the contri-
butions of non-Cubans to salsa. This in turn has created resentment in the Puerto
Rican community.
For example, in 1993 I witnessed a surprisingly lukewarm Puerto Rican reception
for Celia Cruz during her concert at the Pan-American games. I had heard about the
resentment she had sparked by commenting that salsa was Cuban music and that
what Puerto Ricans had done to salsa was “to make little arrangements here and
there.”4 Because Puerto Ricans typically identify strongly with salsa music, they do
not take this kind of comment lightly. Celia Cruz, who has always been beloved by
Puerto Ricans, was being punished on the occasion of the Pan-American games con-
cert for daring to declare that salsa was not Puerto Rican.5
However, current resentments should not overshadow the fact that the relation-
ship between musicians from Puerto Rico and Cuba has historically been one of mu-
tual respect and admiration. Our tradition of sharing musical styles and musicians in
the Caribbean and Latin America is well-documented by Ruth Glasser in her 1995
book My Music Is My Flag: Puerto Rican Musicians and Their New York Communities, 1917—1940.
The sharing and exchange is so persistent and so much a part of the musical life of
these countries that boundaries of origins and ownership are sometimes blurred and
viewed as unimportant. For example, many Cubans think of a number of songs by
the great Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández (such as “El Cumbanchero” and
“Cachita”) as Cuban compositions. And when Daniel Santos, a famous Puerto Rican
singer, took voluntary exile in Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s, many Cubans thought
he was Cuban. The fact that he was a popular interpreter of Rafael Hernández’s
songs and recorded with the famous Cuban ensemble La Sonora Matancera con-
tributed to the Cuban confusion. Moreover, the first female singer to join La Sonora
Matancera was the Puerto Rican Myrta Silva, who was later replaced by Celia Cruz
(Díaz Ayala 1981, 1988: 47) These are just some of the numerous examples of shar-
ing and exchange between Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians.
Although scholars have tended to foreground questions of origins and ownership
in Caribbean music,6 and much of the academic debate on this question either af-
firms or reacts to the center-periphery “diffusionist mentality,” scholars are not
solely responsible for the unbalanced concept of salsa as being only Afro-Cuban
music. This idea is also prompted by musicians such as Tito Puente, who has as-
serted on several occasions that salsa is just Cuban music with a new name. The fact
that statements such as this, especially when they come from a Puerto Rican musi-
cian as prominent as Puente (or a Cuban performer as prominent as Celia Cruz) are
taken seriously does not mean that this is the only truth. Many salsa musicians have
also expressed opposing views.
An excellent source of opinions on salsa is Sergio Santana’s 1992 book ¿Qué es la
salsa?: Buscando la melodía. Reviewing the many quotes that Santana has collected, I was
impressed by the difference between the statements about salsa made by most

Cuban musicians and those attributed to Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, or Colom-

bians. Whereas the Cubans tend to insist that salsa is only Cuban music, other mu-
sicians tend to define it as Afro-Caribbean or as Latin music.
Paquito D’ Rivera, Cuban sax player, has this to say:

“Lo que en Nueva York llaman Salsa es música afrocubana y no afroantillana. Puerto
Rico inventó la bomba y la plena y eso es todo. El son montuno es nuestro y no es ha-
banero tampoco, es de la provincia de Oriente.” (quoted in Santana 1992: 86)

[“What in New York they call salsa is Afro-Cuban and not Afro-Antillean music.
Puerto Rico invented the bomba and the plena, and that is all. The son montuno is ours, and
it is not from Havana either; it is from the Oriente province.”]

Mario Bauzá, Cuban trumpetist and director, comments:

“En realidad no es nada nuevo esto que llaman Salsa. Cuando la música cubana estaba
de verdad en demanda, los muchachos no le hicieron caso. Ahora le llaman Salsa y creen
que les pertenece. Es tan útil como un truco.” (quoted in Santana 1992: 15)

[“In reality what is called salsa is nothing new. When Cuban music was really in de-
mand, the [Cuban] guys didn’t pay much attention. Now they call it salsa, and they
think it belongs to them. It is as useful as a trick.”]

Gabriel García Márquez, Colombian writer, says:

“Tengo discos de Salsa, desde luego, pero con la conciencia de que no es una música
nueva, sino la continuación exilada y sofisticada para bien de la música tradicional de
Cuba, como lo dijo en una entrevista Dámaso Pérez Prado.”7(quoted in Santana

[“I have salsa records, of course, but with the conscience that it is not a new music but
rather the exiled and sophisticated continuation for the good of the Cuban traditional
music, as Dámaso Pérez Prado said in an interview.”]

Angel “Cachete” Maldonado, Puerto Rican percussionist, comments:

“Para mí la Salsa no es nada nuevo, porque la Salsa es sencillamente la música tradi-

cional de los pueblos caribeños, que ha pasado a tomar parte en un estandarte interna-
cional muy bueno. Pero para mí la Salsa es sencillamente la música tradicional de los
pueblos latinoamericanos.” (quoted in Santana 1992: 18)

[“To me, salsa is nothing new, because salsa is simply the traditional music of the
Caribbean countries that has gone on to take part in a very good international standard.
But for me, salsa is simply the traditional music of the Latin American countries”].

Willie Colón, Puerto Rican trombonist and bandleader, has this to say:

“El sonido cubano fue un comienzo, pero nuestra música, la salsa, no puede girar
alrededor del mismo por siempre . . . Se le puso ese nombre con la intención de iden-
tificar propiamente la música de los latinos que vivimos en Nueva York. Luego el tér-
mino se amplió a toda esa música caribeña y se perdió esa identificación que se buscaba,

por eso estamos buscando una nueva denominación. . . . Salsa es la combinación de

muchas nacionalidades. Fue fácil aceptar ese término, pues es algo picante, sabroso,
caliente; siempre tiene que ver con algo de comer. Además, para el negocio de las dis-
queras esto resultaba sumamente comercial y les funcionaba como tal.
Creo que la Salsa no es un ritmo ni un género que se pueda identificar y clasificar:
la Salsa es una idea, un concepto, un modo de asumir la música desde la perspectiva de
la cultura latinoamericana. . . . En Estados Unidos los latinos son una minoría que vive
en un contexto donde hay discriminación y sólo en el barrio ellos logran reproducir su
ambiente original, y ese mismo ambiente crea una necesidad: en los barrios se desarrolla
una formación social que es la expresión de un pedacito de la patria de cada emigrado,
y en ese medio se da un valor a lo latinoamericano como algo importante.
Creo que alrededor de esas necesidades espirituales y la carencia de comunicación
mas allá de las fronteras del barrio están las profundas razones sociológicas y culturales
que dan origen a la salsa, precisamente en los barrios latinos de Nueva York, donde
surge como una muestra de resistencia cultural, pues si sabemos que todavía no somos
completamente aceptados por la cultura norteamericana, por qué sumarnos al rock and
roll u otro tipo de música?
La salsa surge como algo nuestro y por eso viene cargada de historias de la calle, de
la esquina, de las situaciones políticas. Es una música de la ciudad y su sonoridad es-
cencialmente citadina.
Esa es la misma historia de la salsa: un suma armónica de toda la cultura latina reunida
en Nueva York, expresada a través de un tipo de música.” (quoted in Santana 1992: 21–22)

[“The Cuban sound was a beginning, but our music, salsa, can’t revolve around the
same thing forever. . . . It was given that name with the intention of properly identify-
ing the music of the Latinos/as who live in New York. Then the term was extended to
all of that Caribbean music, and the identification we were looking for got lost; that’s
why we are looking for another denomination. . . . Salsa is the combination of many na-
tionalities. It was easy to accept that term, since it is something spicy, tasty, hot; it al-
ways has to do with something to eat. Also, for the record business this resulted in
something extremely commercial, and it worked for them that way.
I believe that salsa is not a rhythm or a genre that can be identified or classified:
salsa is an idea, a concept, a way of assuming music from the Latin American cultural
perspective. . . . In the United States, Latinos/as are a minority who live in a context
where there is discrimination, and only in the barrios do they succeed in reproducing
their original cultural milieu, and that same milieu creates a necessity: in the barrios, a
social formation is developed that is the expression of a little bit of the motherland of
each emigrant, and in that medium [context], the Latin American is given a very im-
portant value.
I believe that around those spiritual necessities and the lack of communication
across the barrio borders lie the profound sociological and cultural reasons that give
origin to salsa, precisely in the Latino barrios of New York, where it emerges as an ex-
ample of cultural resistance, because if we know that we are not totally accepted by the
North American culture, why join rock and roll or other types of music?
Salsa emerges as something that is ours, and as such it comes charged with histories
of the street, of the corner, of political situations. It is a city music, and its sonority is
essentially urban.
That is the history of salsa: a harmonic sum of all the Latin culture that is reunited
in New York, expressed through a type of music.”]

Charlie Palmieri, Puerto Rican pianist and eldest brother of Puerto Rican pianist
Eddie Palmieri, says:

“Sencillamente es una palabra nueva para nuestros ritmos latinos de siempre. Incluye
todos los ritmos, hasta el merengue, cosa que me parece estupenda. Pero es lo mismo
de antes. La Salsa es como se llama actualmente el conglomerado de grupos antil-
lanos. . . . Al mezclarse lo africano con lo español, al darse el choque de las dos culturas,
nació un ritmo negro con palabras blancas. . . . Lo mismo pasó en Puerto Rico y Santo
Domingo, pero la cubana fue la música que más se internacionalizó pues aquel siempre
fue un país exportador que se preocupó por presentar sus productos en el mercado
mundial. . . . Entre los antecedentes cubanos directos de la Salsa de hoy están el Son
Montuno, la Guaracha y el Guaguancó.” (quoted in Santana 1992:22)

[“It is simply a new word for our same old Latin rhythms. It includes all the rhythms,
even the merengue, something I think is stupendous. . . . But it is the same as before.
Salsa is what is known nowadays as a conglomerate of Antillean groups. . . . When the
African and the Spanish were mixed, as the two cultures came into contact, a black
rhythm with white words was born. . . . The same happened in Puerto Rico and Santo
Domingo, but the Cuban music was what got internationalized most, because Cuba
was always an exporting country, that was interested in presenting its products to the
world market. . . . Among the direct descendants of salsa today are the son montuno, the
guaracha, and the guaguancó.)

Gilberto Marenco Better, Colombian writer, comments:

“La denominación de afrocaribe me parece más apropiada y justa que la de Salsa,

porque ya parece que la polémica de si la salsa existe o no, ha sido parcialmente satis-
fecha con la misma eclosión de La Fania. Para mí la Salsa ha sido el mejor vínculo de
comercialización de todas las expresiones musicales caribeñas, incluso de aires folclóri-
cos que nunca trascenderían si no se populariza dicho término. . . . [La Salsa] se difer-
encia simplemente por los sonidos de las orquestas o los conjuntos, pero tiene ese
nombre genérico. (quoted in Santana 1992: 40)

[“It seems to me that ‘Afro-Caribbean’ is a more appropriate and just denomination

than is ‘salsa,’ because it seems that the polemic of whether or not Salsa exists has been
partially satisfied by Fania. To me, Salsa has been the best commercial link of all the
Caribbean musical expressions, including those folkloric airs that would have never
transcended if not for the popularization of that term . . . [Salsa] is differentiated sim-
ply by the sounds of the orchestras or the groups, but it has that generic name.”]

Gary Domínguez, Colombian, states:

“La Salsa es algo más que música, que un sello, que un tumbao, es la expresión popular
que puede transportar a cualquier latino a ese Caribe urbano que nos apasiona, donde
se suda y se sobrevive todos los días. La Salsa es institución, es movimiento, es afinque,
y merece respeto no importa si se ha comercializado, sofisticado o estilizao (‘esteril-
izado’). . . . Desde que hayan barrios populares, desarraigo, gente humilde, gente con
sangre en las venas, irreverencia, desesperación, color y sabor, la Salsa sobrevivirá.”
(quoted in Santana 1992: 41)

[“Salsa is more than music, than a label, than a tumbao; it is the popular expression that
can transport any Latino/a to that urban Caribbean that empassions us, where we
sweat and survive every day. Salsa is an institution, it is a movement, it is afinque, and
it deserves respect no matter whether it has become commercialized, sophisticated,
stylized (“sterilized”). . . . As long as there are popular barrios, detachment, humble

people, people with blood in their veins, irreverence, desperation, color, and flavor,
Salsa will survive.”]

As these statements show, ideas about origins and meanings of salsa vary signifi-
cantly between Cubans and others. Nonetheless, scholars have foregrounded the
Cuban claims disproportionately, leaving the sentiments and experiences of so many
others largely undocumented.
In an exception to the Cuban-centered view, Ruth Glasser (1995) correctly
points out that Puerto Rican musicians have been playing not only Cuban music but
a whole variety of music for decades, and they have added their stamp of originality
to all of it.8 Because they have played these musics for so many years and because
they played them “a la Puerto Rican,” they have inevitably influenced the way the
music sounds. A similar claim can be made for Venezuelan and Colombian musi-
cians who have changed the way Puerto Rican salsa sounds.
In the process of its “reinterpretation” and “indigenization,” Afro-Cuban music
has experienced many changes. These changes are best understood by the people
who have participated in the process, be they musicians, composers, listeners, or
dancers. But it has been difficult to take a more multilateral view of salsa because re-
search in different countries has been limited. I undertook my fieldwork in
Venezuela to address this need. My research confirmed my initial hypothesis that (1)
by capitalizing on musical elements and concepts that are shared throughout the
Caribbean and Latin America, salsa has become a common musical denominator
among Latinos/as and (2) at the same time, its flexibility with respect to the inclu-
sion of distinctive local genres and the reflection of the musical variety that exists
among Latino people has permitted people of different nationalities to regard salsa
as their own. As a result of my experience in Venezuela, I am convinced that con-
ducting case studies in the many countries in which salsa has become an icon of
identity is necessary to correct the inordinate focus on Cuba and New York.9

Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera

To examine the diffusionist view of salsa as purely Cuban music, I start with a cri-
tique of Manuel’s 1994 article “Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity: Creative
Appropriation of Cuban Sources from Danza to Salsa.” Manuel’s article gives the
impression that Puerto Rican musicians have copied almost the entire body of music
that they identify with and claim as their own. His argument represents the diffu-
sionist mentality that is all too common among scholars and, I believe, needs to be
To begin with, Manuel deemphasizes the role that bomba and plena10 have played in
making salsa a Puerto Rican genre. For example, in a footnote, he states:

Trombonist Chris Washburne who has played regularly in a wide variety and number
of New York salsa bands since 1988, states that he has never heard a band play an en-
tire plena or bomba. . . . [Manuel goes on to state that Cortijo’s own plenas or bombas are
not played live in clubs.]
It is also worth noting that César Miguel Rondón also over-emphasizes the role of
plena and bomba in Cortijo’s own music, referring to hits like “Quítate de la Vía Perico,”

“El Negro Bembón,” and “Severa” as examples of such genres. In fact they are all
guarachas played in mainstream Cuban style. Perhaps Rondón’s misunderstanding in
this regard led him to exaggerate the popularity of plena and bomba. (1994: 278)

In contrast to Manuel, Rondón stresses the importance of bomba and plena in salsa. Sev-
eral reasons explain this contradiction. First, Rondón bases his analysis on entire al-
bums (not just selected “hits”), which include a variety of genres. For example, in the
album Quítate de la Vía, Perico (Cortijo and Rivera n.d.), there are twelve numbers listed
as follows: “Perico” (guaracha), “Bomba Carambomba” (guaracha, erroneously listed as
bomba), “El Chivo” (pachanga, erroneously listed as charanga), “Si Te Contara” (bolero),
“El Trompo” (plena), “Cortijito” (son montuno), “Piedras en Mi Camino” (ritmo changüí),
“Caramelo Santo,” (bomba), “Plena Española” (plena), “Ensíllala” (guaracha), “El Pájaro
Chogüí” (6/8 Afro listed as guaguancó), and “El Carnaval” (popurrí). I reviewed several
other records by Cortijo and Rivera, and they exhibit a similar variety of genres.11
In addition to this variety, in any given record, there is a confusion of genres (mis-
labeling, as noted in the list in the previous paragraph). There also may be mixing of
genres within one piece. Take, for example, Rivera’s (1975) “Bomba Carambomba.”
The title and lyrics suggest a bomba, but the rhythmic structure is a guaracha. The form
is suggestive of a plena, in that it consists of several four-line verses, but the coro/soneo
(call/response) chorus is more typical of a bomba or the montuno section of a son or
salsa piece:

SONG.Title: “Bomba Carambomba”

SONG1: Ya se llenó de alegría el festival
SONG: Pero que ya, se llenó de alegría el festival.
Ya retornó en el confín el bacará,
el bacará, el bacará.
SONG.Sp: Entra la negra Rosa con su traje apretao
SONG: Y muy tirao de blanco la sigue Estanislao
Y se forma la rumba con un gran furor
Y se viste de fiesta mi amante corazón.
SONG.Sp: Soneo: Bomba carambomba ven baila mi bomba
SONG: Coro: Bom-bacaram-bombacaram -bom-ba
Soneo: Pollito lindo, pa’ ti te traigo la bomba
Coro: Bom-bacaram-bombacaram -bom-ba
SONG.Sp: Mi Rosa me dijo a mi,
SONG: no se corta con tijera
Todo lindo material
que se te parezca seda.
SONG.Sp: Coro: Bom-bacaram-bombacaram -bom-ba
SONG:Soneo: Bomba carambomba carambomba la bomba
Coro: Bom-bacaram-bombacaram -bom-ba
Soneo: Oye, mira, que sabrocita es mi bomba
Coro: Bom-bacaram-bombacaram -bom-ba
SONG.Sp: Cuando una mujer te diga
SONG: “Papito te quiero tanto,”
No te duermas camarón
Que es que te están vacilando.
SONG.Sp: Coro: Bom-bacaram-bombacaram -bom-ba
SONG:Soneo: Bombará que bombará que bombará que bomba

Coro: Bom-bacaram-bombacaram -bom-ba

SONG2: Soneo: Bomba carambomba carambomba sabrocita mi bomba . . . etc.

Adding to the confusion of formal elements, Rivera’s soneo identifies the following as
a bomba:

SONG1: “Bomba carambomba ven baila mi bomba,

SONG: Pollito lindo, pa’ ti te traigo la bomba,
SONG2: Bomba carambomba carambomba sabrocita mi bomba.”
SONG1.Sp: (Bomba carambomba come and dance my bomba,
SONG: Pretty baby, for you I bring the bomba,
SONG2: Bomba carambomba carambomba, delicious my bomba)

All these factors—diversity of genres, mislabeling, and mixed references (in lyrics,
rhythmic structure, and form) to various genres within one piece—affect the way
people like Rondón hear Cortijo’s music. Rondón’s sensitivity and breadth of lis-
tening make him understand both the diversity of repertoire and the mixing of gen-
res. In the case of Cortijo and Rivera, he recognizes that their sound is distinct from
“mainstream Cuban style.”
There are also subtle influences of bomba and plena in Cortijo and Rivera’s music
that are difficult to analyze, influences to which Rondón and many other experi-
enced salsa listeners will be sensitive. For example, to begin the second line of
“Bomba Carambomba,” Rivera uses one of his signature phrases—“pero que . . .”
(see figure 3.1). The rhythm of this motive works perfectly as an answer to the bomba
sicá rhythm that Cortijo and other Puerto Rican salsa musicians sometimes use, and
Rivera often uses this or a similar motive in his vocal improvisations.
To give another example, in “Negro Bembón” (one of the pieces Manuel classi-
fies as “a guaracha played in mainstream Cuban style”), I note suggestions of bomba
evoked by the campana (bell) pattern, which is similar to the bomba stick pattern (see
figure 3.2). This is only slightly different from the bell pattern that usually accom-
panies the singer’s improvisation in the Cuban son. But in “Negro Bembón,” it is

figure 3.1 Ismael Rivera, Pero que . . . (fraseo rítmico)


played throughout the song, making it part of the entire song’s rhythmic feel,12 as
would be the case in bomba but not in son, where it is played only in the coro section.
In addition, it feels like bomba because of the bass, which, in contrast to the typical
syncopated pattern of Cuban music, here it plays in a more on-beat pattern that is
suggestive of the burlador’s pattern in the sicá style of bomba. Rivera’s fraseo (rhythmic
phrasing) also evokes bomba in many places. “El Negro Bembón,” therefore, is so syn-
cretized with the bomba that I would not label it simply a guaracha, since one can eas-
ily hear the many bomba references in it.
The distinctiveness of Cortijo’s style goes beyond uses of bomba and plena ele-
ments—there are many other ways in which Cortijo and Rivera distinguished them-
selves from other groups of their time. Although it is true that “Quítate de la Vía,
Perico,” and “Severa,” for example, are guarachas, they are played not in a “mainstream
Cuban style” (as Manuel asserts) but rather in a style created by Cortijo and Rivera,
a style that was extremely influential in Venezuela (as Rondón points out). Musi-
cians all over Latin America sat up and paid attention when Cortijo’s band came on
the scene in the late 1950s. In Caracas there is a club called El Maní Es Así, which
plays salsa brava every Wednesday night, a repertoire that includes many of Rivera’s
songs. As I was reviewing my videotapes from El Maní, my mother came in from the
kitchen and remarked, “Oye, quiénes son esos? Suena como Ismael Rivera y la banda
de Cortijo.”(Hey, who are they? It sounds like Ismael Rivera and Cortijo’s band.”)
Ironically, this kind of sensitivity to musical style, although it is common among
Latinos/as generally, is lacking in much of the salsa scholarship.

Cortijo and Rivera’s Music as a Model for Salsa

Rondón’s emphasis on the role of bomba and plena in salsa is not an “exaggeration,” as
Manuel implies, but rather an accurate representation of how salsa, particularly the

figure 3.2 Campana pattern in Negro Bembón

figure 3.3 Musical transcription of Noche sensacional by Grupo Guaco

music of Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera, sounds to Venezuelans. Cortijo and
Rivera’s influence in Venezuela came up in every single one of my interviews and in
virtually all of my conversations about salsa during my fieldwork there. Even though
I had gone to Venezuela with the idea of Puerto Rican salsa’s influence, the perva-
sive mention of Rivera and Cortijo surprised me. In my 1994 interview with Ros-
ales, for instance, the percussionist told me that he believes that what revived salsa
in Venezuela was Rivera’s death.
Rosales remembers how, after a period of stagnation during the early 1980s, the
salsa tradition was reevaluated by Venezuelan musicians in their country as a result
of Rivera’s May 13, 1987, death. This reevaluation brought about a salsa revival that
gave birth to El Maní Es Así, where salsa bands play mostly Puerto Rican salsa: what
they call salsa brava, salsa pa’lante, and salsa fuerte. In El Maní, the bombas and plenas of
Rivera and Cortijo are disproportionately influential in the bands’ repertoire.
Cortijo and Ismael Rivera’s fusion of bombas and plenas with Cuban genres was not
only compelling stylistically, but served as a model for the inclusion of Afro-
Venezuelan music in their own salsa repertoire, and ultimately helped pave the way
for salsa to become the pan-Latin music of today. This contribution is widely recog-
nized by salsa aficionados in Venezuela. In particular, Cortijo and Rivera inspired
the Venezuelan gaita/salsa group named Guaco. Guaco did with the gaita13 genre what
El Pavo Fran had done with the joropo. As pianist Alirio Pérez commented to me in
a 1994 interview in Caracas, the group fused gaita with salsa, to form what Cheo Fe-
liciano calls la salsa rara de Venezuela (Venezuela’s strange salsa).
For example, Grupo Guaco’s (1989) “Noche Sensacional” illustrates two tech-
niques that many salsa musicians use in their arrangements: 1) juxtaposition (alter-
nation between genres) and 2) syncretism (fusion of genres). This tune begins in
triple meter, the traditional gaita meter, then changes to a duple meter to fit the con-
ventional salsa rhythm (see figure 3.3). The gaita “feel” is conveyed by the tambora
rhythm interacting with the charrasca (metal scratcher) and the bass. The piano plays
a salsa-style montuno in triple meter. And the bass plays embellished lines derived
from the gaita rhythm and informed by the gaita style of singing. When the song shifts
to a salsa feel, it is conveyed by the salsa-style piano montuno, the anticipated bass, and
the cáscara rhythm14 played on the campana (bell). Even after switching to duple meter,
though, the musicians maintain a feeling of gaita by playing a gaita rhythm on the tamb-
oras (with drums substituted for the congas) and by embellishing the bass line in the
gaita style.
Juxtaposition happens in the first section of the tune as the musicians begin with
the gaita feel then switch to a salsa feel (see figure 3.3). Guaco is also fusing elements
of gaita with salsa, the tambora playing the gaita rhythm, and an ornamented bass, a la
gaita, and a piano montuno and cáscara pattern a la salsa. The use of these techniques
allows the musicians to create a new salsa style that consists of elements of their mu-
sical vernacular fused with elements of a more pan-Latin salsa style. This innovation
gives them the license to claim salsa as their own because part of their musical ver-
nacular has now become part of the larger salsa style.
Another example of juxtaposition of genres occurs in “Mi Cumbia,” (1980) by
the Puerto Rican pianist Eddie Palmieri. This song evokes the Colombian cumbia
with its distinctive drum pattern that accentuates the upbeat of a 2/4 meter, the “on
the beat” base line, and the piano stressing the upbeat accents of the drum.
Throughout the piece, the band alternates between the cumbia and a straight salsa

feel. Although this example represents some syncretism of styles (Palmieri’s salsa
band gives the cumbia a different “feel” by using a more active piano, very similar to
the piano montuno and a strong sound in the brass section), it demonstrates, more
importantly, the ability of salsa musicians to quote any national genre in a salsa piece.
The inclusion of the cumbia in a salsa context has broadened the concept of what salsa
is. “Mi Cumbia” by Eddie Palmieri is not solely a mambo or a cumbia; rather it repre-
sents the unity of more than one Afro-Caribbean genre (the cumbia is from the north
coast of Colombia, which is culturally linked to the Caribbean) into a piece that can-
not be called exclusively Cuban or Colombian, but rather could be labeled Latin.
This type of Latin music is what Latinos/as decided to call salsa.15
The internationally popular Venezuelan sonero Oscar D’León also uses national
genres to give diverse flavor to his music. In his album Ríquiti (1987), he uses two
Afro-Caribbean genres: the Puerto Rican plena, in “Juntos pa’ gozar,” and the Do-
minican merengue, in “No soy digno de ti.” In the plena “Juntos pa’ gozar,” D’León
closely reproduces the rhythmic core of the traditional plena. However, as a salsa
band his group produces a stronger sound through the horn and percussion sections
and the use of the piano montuno. This is a plena played by a Venezuelan salsa band for
whom plena is not their national genre, but rather (like the merengue and the cumbia)
it is one of many Caribbean genres available to the group as part of what is consid-
ered “the salsa repertoire.” The song is identifiable as plena by the rhythmic charac-
ter of the Puerto Rican genre, while the salsa instrumentation relates the song
stylistically to the other selections in the band’s repertoire.
Each of these ensembles references its national music using salsa as a common
idiom. Moreover, this practice has expanded the repertoire of styles available to salsa
musicians everywhere. Thus, not only do Puerto Rican salsa bands often use ele-
ments of Puerto Rican traditional music in their salsa arrangements, many other
salsa bands such as Grupo Niche, Joe Arroyo, and Orquesta Guayacán from Colom-
bia, Oscar D’León, Dimensión Latina, and Guaco from Venezuela, do the same.
Besides being innovative and entertaining, these techniques of juxtaposition and
syncretism serve two important purposes: they acknowledge different Latin nation-
alities among their listeners, and they “indigenize,” or give a local flavor to the salsa
played in different countries. Listeners respond strongly to these connections be-
tween style and identity, even though the pieces in which they occur may be broadly
classified by labels such as “salsa” or “guaracha.” Therefore, any estimate of the num-
ber of bombas and plenas in a band’s repertoire, or on a radio station’s’ play list, is
not the best index of the influence of bomba and plena (or other non-Cuban genres)
on salsa. A more sophisticated methodology would solicit from musicians and lis-
teners qualitative judgments about the significance of bomba and plena influence, and
would also recognize that these influences are not easily quantifiable.


The influence of Puerto Rican salsa in Venezuela is impressive. Seen through the
prism of my experience in Venezuela, the friendliness and enthusiasm of musical
sharing loom larger than do any disagreements about ownership and appropriation.
Venezuelan musicians’ assertions make it clear that Puerto Ricans have been not
only disseminators, but also creators and innovators of salsa. For my part, I have

deepened my appreciation for the unique contributions to salsa made by Venezue-

lans such as Alberto Naranjo, Gerardo Rosales, Cheo Navarro, El Pavo Fran, and
Alirio Pérez.16
I want to stress again that scholarship will be advanced tremendously by more
case studies of salsa that look at its production and reception in places other than
Cuba and New York. This includes, by the way, Puerto Rico, for which, with the ex-
ception of works by Duany (1984), Quintero Rivera and Alvarez (1990) and Quin-
tero Rivera (1998) there is remarkably little documentation on the subject. It also
includes Europe, where salsa has enjoyed tremendous popularity, as well as Japan,
which has produced La Orquesta de la Luz, an ensemble that has the honor not only
of being the most popular non-Latino salsa band in the world, but also of having
been accepted by the Latino population.
We must also ask just why Puerto Ricans and Cubans are ready to battle over the
issue of salsa “ownership.” What has happened to the mutual admiration that Puerto
Ricans and Cubans have had for each other’s musicians? I, along with everyone I
knew growing up in Puerto Rico, had a deep respect for Cuban music, precisely be-
cause we felt it was so much a part of our own culture. We did not see ourselves as
appropriating; we saw ourselves as participating and creating.
I grew up seeing many collaborations between Puerto Rican and Cuban musi-
cians. I can recall the many times Ismael Rivera sang with the Cuban Rolando La
Serie and the many recordings and live concerts that Celia Cruz has shared with
Puerto Rican musicians. Puerto Ricans such as Myrta Silva, Daniel Santos, and
Bobby Capó all sang in the famous Cuban Sonora Matancera. On those many occa-
sions, our similarities loomed far larger than any difference of opinion regarding the
origins or ownership of the music.
I must also say a word about the use of the term “appropriation” in relation to
salsa. “Appropriation” in the context of African diaspora music has negative conno-
tations that stem from its use in describing the relationship between black and white
music in the United States. Because the historical relationship between Cuban and
Puerto Rican musicians differs significantly from the relationship between black
and white musicians in the United States, I avoid using this term in the context of
Puerto Rican and Cuban music. To begin with, Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians
are ethnically and racially similar. Our histories, which differ significantly from
those of blacks and whites in the United States, are also similar. The use of the term
“appropriation” to define the relationships among Cuban, Puerto Rican, and other
Latin and Caribbean musics may therefore be misleading.
In dealing with distinctions of genre or style in Latin music, we must also be
aware of the rich similarities that connect them. The diffusionist view of salsa’s his-
tory is complicated, for example, by the fact that Cuba is not the only country with
a genre named son; Mexico has also many regional varieties of son. Stylistically, we can
hear striking similarities between the Cuban rumba, the Puerto Rican bomba, and the
Venezuelan tambo de San Millán, all of which are drum dances rooted in Africa. Span-
ish-derived genres such as the seis, guajira, and décima in various Latin American coun-
tries also share many characteristics. As Cuban genres have traveled throughout
Latin America, they have received immediate acceptance precisely because wherever
they reached, they found sister and cousin genres. At the same time, we should not
overlook the potential for parallel developments among peoples whose ethnic her-
itage and social histories exhibit so many commonalities.

Because Puerto Ricans and other Latin Americans resent the all-too-common
assertion that they have merely copied Cuban music, it is important to consider salsa
music in terms not only of its antecedents in Cuba, but also the innovations con-
tributed by people from many other countries. In addition to “diffusion,” we need to
consider “innovation” and “indigenization” as processes that have produced what we
call salsa.
Careful consideration of salsa contributions from different countries is impor-
tant not only out of sensitivity to feelings of cultural identity. It also opens our eyes
and ears to the very sophisticated distinctions of style that salsa listeners make.
Venezuelan percussionist Gerardo Rosales’s distinction between salsa and Cuban
music, for example, articulates a sensibility shared by many salsa enthusiasts:

“La salsa es un ritmo, es una realidad. . . . Que la raíz es del son cubano, es verdad. Que
la clave es importante y que hay que mantenerla, es verdad. Pero la salsa es la salsa. El
Gran Combo toca salsa. Vamos a estar claros. Eddie Palmieri toca salsa. Ray Barreto
toca salsa. Richi Rey, Joe Cuba tocan salsa. Machito toca mambo, toca mambo Jazz.
Cada cosa en su sitio. Machito no toca salsa. Yo lo veo así por las estructuras tanto ar-
mónicas como rítmicas.” (Rosales 1994)
[“Salsa is a rhythm; it is a reality. . . . That the root is from the Cuban son, is true.
That the clave is important and one must keep it, is true. But salsa is salsa. El Gran
Combo plays salsa. Let’s be clear. Eddie Palmieri plays salsa. Rey Barreto plays salsa.
Richi Ray, Joe Cuba, play salsa. Machito plays mambo, plays mambo jazz. Each thing in
its place. Machito does not play salsa. I see it that way because of its harmonic as well
as its rhythmic structures.”]

Such distinctions of sound and style are crucial to the understanding of salsa’s appeal
and, in particular, to the perception throughout Latin America that salsa is a pan-
Latino music.


1. My infinite gratitude goes to my husband Shannon K. Dudley. Without his dedica-

tion, patience, and writing talents, this chapter would not have materialized. I am also
greatly indebted to my mother Juanita M. Berríos who has devoted her time to take
care of little Agueda and Gabriel, in order to enable me to write. A los dos, mil veces
2. El llano refers to the extended plains of Venezuela where cattle-raising culture pre-
dominates. Most Venezuelans, both rural and urban, consider the music of the llanos,
with its traditional ensemble of arpa, cuatro, and maracas, to be the national music of
Venezuela. (Salazar 1993:13)
3. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine.
4. Celia has been quoted orally from radio and television interviews and by many others
including family members.
5. Recently I received a newspaper clip from my aunt from Puerto Rico about the new
movie “Yo soy del son a la salsa” (“I am from Son to Salsa”). She expressed her disap-
pointment about this movie’s lack of acknowledgement of the Puerto Rican contri-
bution to salsa and resents the fact that only the Cuban contribution is presented.
Another important incident that has intensified the animosity between Cubans and
Puerto Ricans was the suspension of the presentation of Andy Montañez in the Calle

Ocho Festival in Miami in 1997, because he made a public appearance with the Cuban
Nueva Canción singer Sylvio Rodríguez, welcoming him to Puerto Rico. The Puerto
Ricans responded with a picket line in the airport at Celia Cruz’s arrival. Celia had
previously criticized Andy Montañez for going to Cuba. Celia returned to the airport
and did not give her show in Puerto Rico as scheduled. These incidents further
demonstrate how sensitive people can be when their ideas about musical ownership
and identity are contradicted. This debate about ownership of salsa has intensified in
recent years due to the dominant role that Miami Cubans Gloria Estefan and Andy
García have exercised in the Latino music scene. In 2001 the Latin Grammy Awards
had to be moved from Miami to Los Angeles because many Latino artists claimed that
the Miami group was exercising disproportionate control over the selections. Because
Gloria Estefan was the producer of many of the Latin Awards nominees that year, this
created a suspicion of favoritism, to the exclusion of other musicians, particularly
Mexican and Mexican-Americans. There is an interesting discussion on the “salsa
Cuban/Puerto Rican” debate in the Izzy Sanabria web page:
Listed is Willie Colón’s sharp criticism of the Latin Grammy Awards monopolized by
what he calls “la mafia cubana de Gloria y Emilio Estefan.”
6. At the 1990 Society for Ethnomusicology meeting, I myself presented a paper titled
“Salsa: Whose Music Is It?”
7. Dámaso Pérez Prado was the Cuban creator of the New York style mambo.
8. In Dangerous Crossroads (1997:77–81) George Lipsitz acknowledges the lack of credit
Puerto Rican musicians have received for their major contributions to Latin music in
the United States.
9. Angel Quintero Rivera’s Salsa, sabor y control (1998), Marisol Berríos Miranda’s The Sig-
nificance of Salsa Music to National and Pan-Latino Identity (1999), and Lise Waxer’s Cali
pachanguero: A Social History of Salsa in a Caribbean City (1998), are the latest additions to
salsa scholarship.
10. Bomba is an encompassing name for several subgenres of West African derived, Afro-
Puerto Rican music. It has survived in areas populated by African descendants, par-
ticularly in Loíza Aldea on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico and in Guayama, in the
south central coast of the island. Its instrumentation consists of two barrel shaped
drums, the burlador and repicador, and a pair of sticks or cuás that are used to beat on the
side of the drums. The bomba is sung in call and response form. Of several subgen-
res, the sicá rhythm has been most influential in salsa. The music accompanies couples
or individual dancers. It is characterized by a duel between the drummer and the
dancer in which the dancer usually dictates the drum patterns. The plena is a hybrid
Puerto Rican genre with strong West African influences that probably reached
Puerto Rico via other Caribbean islands (for example, Trinidad and Jamaica). It has
been used since the late 1800s as the “poor people’s newspaper,” setting important
events in songs that were widely disseminated. Its instrumentation consists of several
hand drums called panderetas, nowadays called pleneras, which play two basic, interlock-
ing rhythms. One pandereta keeps a steady or fixed rhythm while other panderetas im-
provise. Originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, the plena has gained immense popularity
throughout the island and all current political parties and social protests use it to de-
liver their slogans and messages.
11. See for example: Duo Musical, Cortijo y su Combo vs Sonora Matancera; Bienvenido/Welcome! Is-
mael Rivera con Rafael Cortijo y su Combo; Baile con Cortijo y su Combo con Ismael Rivera; Rolando
La Serie—Cortijo y su Combo—Ismael Rivera.
12. For an excellent analysis of rhythmic feel, see Dudley 1996.
13. Gaita is a traditional genre from the Maracaibo region of western Venezuela. Of its
several styles the two most popular are known simply as gaita and gaita de furros. The lat-
ter is defined by the furros, a drum that has a broom stick attached to the center of its

membrane and its friction up and down produces a bass-like sound. Alirio Pérez,
renowned Maracucho pianist (a person from Maracaibo) and arranger for the popu-
lar group Guaco, informed me that gaita was originally accompanied by guitars and
maracas, and it was mostly used as a song of praise. Later it became a vehicle for so-
cial commentary and a song of protest that contended the hegemony of Caracas over
the petroleum produced in the Maracaibo region. There are several forms of gaita.
One popular form consists of four verses with an inserted refrain sung in call-and-re-
sponse form called pie calao. In the past two decades approximately, gaita has become
Venezuelan Christmas music, heard incessantly all over Venezuela. Its fusion with
salsa has enhanced its popularity in cities throughout Venezuela.
14. Rhythmic pattern played on the side of the timbales. It literally means “peel,” which is
what happens to the timbal when the beating with the stick peels the finish on the
15. Before the Fania record company capitalized on this term to market salsa music, its
use was common among musicians and disc jockeys in the Caribbean and Latin
America. Part of the legend surrounding the origins of the term “salsa” recalls that
Fidias Danilo Escalona, a popular Venezuelan disk jockey who had a radio program
called “La hora de la salsa” (“The Salsa Hour”) was the first person to label the music
as such. There are also other stories regarding its origins. The point is that the label
was not invented by Fania, rather it was chosen precisely because of its popular appeal
and acceptance among Latinos.
16. In my dissertation I devote a chapter to the contribution of these musicians.

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Rivera, Ismael, y sus Cachimbos. 1975. Ismael Rivera y sus Cachimbos: Esto Fue lo que Trajo el Barco.
Rosario, Willie. 1985. “Cuando Se Canta Bonito.” Willie Rosario: Quince éxitos. TH Records and
Tapes, TH-AMF 2359.

“Le Francais dans la rue”

Caribbean Music, Language,
and the African Diaspora

James A. Winders

erhaps typically for the complex migratory patterns found in global culture
these days, my way into contemporary Creole music in the Caribbean began
in Paris. In the course of my work on African immigrants there, I have be-
come increasingly aware of the Caribbean presence in Paris, a presence exemplified
by zouk music and the successful career of the Paris-based group Kassav’, by the Cre-
ole cultures of Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe; and by the musical influence and
reciprocity among African and Caribbean francophone cultures. No examination of
the unique immigrant musical culture of contemporary Paris can afford to ignore its
présence antillaise.
The Caribbean immigrant community in contemporary France, like its African
counterparts, became visible by becoming audible—through music. At the grands bals
and carnivals of the mid-1980s, ians from, in particular, Martinique and Guadeloupe
made great headway into French pop musical tastes through zouk music—a high-
energy amalgam of already African-influenced Caribbean rhythms with the new
“Afropop” sounds for which Paris recording studios became well-known during the
decade. To the casual listener, the sounds of the Antillean musicians might not have
seemed significantly different from the various African beats that were making Paris a
center of so-called “world music,” but in the legal terms that defined citizenship, their
presence in Paris was quite distinct. People coming from Martinique and Guadeloupe,
as residents of overseas departments, bore French passports. However “different” they
may have seemed to some French citizens, technically they were French.
But people coming to France from these islands have not always experienced
their citizenship as French. Latin American scholars have long used the terminology
of “core vs. periphery” to describe a dialectic of colonial rule that still structures
urban-rural relations in former colonies. For Martinicans (and, for that matter,
Haitians), the ultimate city has been Paris, with Fort-de-France as its more imme-
diate stand-in. Paris remains the center of the French civilization in whose language
they have been instructed and whose values and achievements they have been taught

to revere, even at the expense of pride in their indigenous culture. In Patrick

Chamoiseau’s prize-winning French-Creole novel Texaco, the residents of the decay-
ing village refer to the metropolis close at hand that always signifies the true métro-
pole simply as “City.”1
For les antillais, moving to France both is and is not a “cultural migration.” Their
world is francophone, but it is also Creole; their culture is, broadly speaking, French,
but it is also distinctive. And no matter how perfectly a person speaks French, resi-
dence in France brings constant reminders of his or her color, especially in an age of
heightened xenophobia and political debates over immigration In the history of
French colonialism, nothing defined “French” identity more than the language itself,
and fluency conferred status on colonial subjects, including persons from such places
as Martinique and Guadeloupe. Even if they found themselves on one of these is-
lands, everything in their education informed them that that their identity was
French. They sped along, plunging further into French cultural identity, only to run
smack into the wall of color—or race. When all was said and done, they were still
black, and therefore something less.
Whatever the usefulness of postcolonial theory to analyze contemporary cultural
migrations, when musicians from Haiti—with its exceptional history—or from
Guadeloupe and Martinique—defined in 1946 as départements d’outre-mer belonging to
France—are considered, the term “postcolonial” begins to show signs of strain. But
if we focus on postcolonial cultures as richly hybrid ones, where questions of cultural
identity increasingly foster what prominent ethnomusicologist Jocelyne Guilbault
has called a “new cultural politics of difference,”2 then the American and European
examples alike, especially in the area of world music, might be justifiably “postcolo-
nial.” Even those who make use of the theoretical discourses of “postcolonialism” are
made uncomfortable by the term’s vagueness, as well as by the methodological con-
fusion and contradiction at the heart of the term, for all its value.3 Anne McClin-
tock, one of the most creative scholars working in this ill-defined domain, questions
“the orientation of the emerging discipline and its concomitant theories and curric-
ular changes around a singular, monolithic term, used ahistorically and haunted by
the nineteenth-century image of linear progress.”4
Just as McClintock investigates race, gender, and sexuality in the history of colo-
nialism, Robert J. C. Young argues convincingly in his book Colonial Desire: Hybridity in
Theory, Culture and Race that the “postcolonialist” school of cultural criticism has un-
critically adopted the limiting binary logic of the nineteenth-century colonial out-
look, despite any shift in political preferences,5 for example from white to black. In
other words, even if one seeks to correct the historic imbalance that made “black”
the lesser of those terms, retaining the binary division is still very problematic. Paul
Gilroy is one recent scholar who has helped to redefine the terms of the critical study
of race and culture by assailing the essential, ghettoizing nature of “African” or
“Afro-American” culture, seen somehow in opposition to “Western” or “European”
culture.6 Equally determined to overcome stifling, rigid cultural categories, Young
provides very useful discussion of the importance of the terms “hybrid” and “hy-
bridity” in colonial and postcolonial culture studies.
With respect to African immigrants in France or to emerging “hybrid” forms of
popular music, I suggest that scarcely any satisfactory terms or categories can be
identified. The musicians I have studied are Africans or of African descent, yet they
are very French in most ways that we would recognize Frenchness. They are some-

thing more than “postcolonial,” and not every cultural activity they engage in is mo-
tivated by a desire to address the legacy of colonialism. They are busy creating what
we might be tempted to call “fourth-world” culture. These musicians are examples
of Henry A. Giroux’s “border-crossers,” those who enact a “cultural politics of dif-
ference” through the exercise of forms of knowledge that cannot be contained
within prevailing national, cultural, or epistemological categories.7 Musicians who
travel back and forth across the Atlantic to perform zouk or other forms of Caribbean
music in Paris or in Fort-de-France are striking examples of Giroux’s term, since
they identify with the traditions that nourished them in Martinique or Guadeloupe
while at the same time embracing French culture. Their identities are what Stuart
Hall has suggested we should call “diaspora identities,” identities that “are constantly
producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and differ-
ence.”8 In the African diaspora that tracks its way across the terrain of the global
francophone culture of the contemporary world, these “identities” are not reducible
to the taxonomy offered by the available “isms” (“post-“ or otherwise). Hall’s spec-
ulations are symptomatic of our fascination these days with “nomadism,” which,
Robert Young explains, “involves any activity that transgresses contemporary social
codes through the dissolution of cultural and territorial boundaries.”9
Musicians of the African diaspora practice such nomadism on a regular basis. The
more successful of them live on the run between Paris, London, New York, Dakar,
Bamako, Abidjan, and Caribbean destinations. Jacob Désvarieux, one of the original
members of the popular French (by way of Guadeloupe and Martinique) band Kas-
sav’, was born in Paris to parents from Guadeloupe, lived for a time in Senegal, and
has followed a musical career marked by regular return to Guadeloupe to perform
and record the zouk music that Kassav’ helped to invent.10 Nomadism can certainly
refer to more than frequent travel, however, migré African musicians in Paris live out
an ongoing nomadism of personal identity, oscillating between the poles of their
Africanness and their Frenchness. Are they essentially African or French? Both and
neither. Tastes and styles in global pop music are themselves nomadic; hip-hop, for
example, born in the South Bronx, migrates through virtually every other culture in
the world. It is all part of the ongoing African diaspora in culture.
No one who has studied the African diasporic immigrant population in Paris can
fail to be struck by the cultural and political transformations that have reverberated
in Paris-based African and Creole pop music circles. Yet while such transformations
manifest themselves in competing national images, abilities to assimilate, and op-
portunities to break into the music world, they also constitute a metamorphosing
politics of space that is a continuum, a nomadism of self-presentation, attitudes,
styles of music, and incursions into a physical terrain ostensibly defined as public,
but privately reserved for those who are not “nomadic.” Just as immigrant popula-
tions challenge the public spaces invested with historical, nationalistic significance—
what the French call lieux de mémoire or “memory places,” their presence challenges the
traditional concept of French national identity; a concept formulated in the very era
that produced the colonial subjects of the francophone world.
No one has analyzed, even psychoanalyzed, the plight of the colonial subject more
eloquently or acutely than Frantz Fanon. In Black Skin, White Masks, he demonstrates
how the politics of language play out in the racial and colonial arenas, where Creole
is mocked as a lesser tongue that connotes racial and cultural inferiority. At the same
time, however, he brutally dissects the embarrassment and barely stifled rage he

himself must certainly have been made to feel in the face of the condescending “But
you speak French so well.”11 This humiliation also served as a reminder of the politics
of language in the French/Creole areas of the Caribbean. Like Jamaican patois, the
very Creole language was born of the extreme deprivations and prohibitions of slav-
ery, so that it became necessary to invent a coded language that imitated the white
master’s speech. This has been demonstrated most vividly in histories of the French
colonization of St. Domingue in the seventeenth century.12
Linguists who study the later development of Creole note what they call the
“diglossia” of cultures split between Creole and French: two different languages with
completely different connotations in terms of class, ethnicity, and national identity. In
a 1986 work on this theme, Hubert Dvonish suggests that industrial capitalism histor-
ically posed a threat to “diglossia,”13 and now, as the Caribbean lands reel from the poli-
cies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, we see a clash between
the linguistic dictates of an increasingly homogenizing economic order and the resur-
gence and proud reassertion of Creole at a time of growing tension between separatist,
nationalist sentiments and the inclination to remain “French.”14 In any case, Creole is
a perfect example of (postcolonial) hybridity. Depending on the context, it is either
what ties members of the African diaspora to the mother country, or the central ex-
pression of the desire to forge a genuinely Caribbean identity, which writer Rex Net-
tleford defines as “rooted in the exercise of the creative imagination and intellect by
the “People from below,” central to the ethos of the post-colonial Caribbean.”15
The enormously influential band Kassav’, founded in Paris in 1977, fervently em-
braced Creole as the language of their songs and the key to their Afro-Caribbean
identity. The majority of the group’s members over the years have come from
Guadeloupe, but the band has included persons from Martinique (such as lead vo-
calist Jocelyne Béroard), France, Belgium, Algeria, and Cameroon.16 Performing in
Paris over the years, but looking both to Africa and to the Caribbean for musical and
cultural inspiration, they called their style of music zouk, a Creole term for a raucous
party with much dancing and celebration.17 Zouk was a blend of the African percus-
sion style known as gwo ka, common to the Antilles, and carnival rhythms and elec-
tronic dance music.18 As such, it was expressive of the popular traditions of both
Guadeloupe and Martinique.19
The basis for the sound is the ti-bois, a stick that serves as the principal percussion
instrument. The band uses the instrument in concerts, but simulates its sound elec-
tronically during recording sessions.20 Keyboardist Jean-Claude Naimro, one of the
Martinican members of Kassav’, cites the Zairean band Rico Jazz, which settled in
Martinique in 1967, as the great musical influence that first pushed Kassav’ in the di-
rection of African music. Other members of Kassav’ have confirmed this influence,
as has Martinican drummer and bandleader Jean-Claude Cabrimol.21
In 1983, Kassav’ scored its first big international hit with “Zouk la Se Sel Medika-
men Nou Ni’,” which translates as “Zouk is the Only Medicine We Have.” The sense
of this title and of the song’s lyrics was that this music held a healing power for the
divisions and cultural differences of Antillean peoples, and it inspired much debate
back home.22 By this time as well, Paris was becoming the auspicious focal point for
all new forms of African and Afro-Caribbean popular music. And in 1987, after the
group’s enormously successful appearances two years running at carnival concerts in
Paris, Kassav’ achieved superstar status in Europe and signed its major-label contract
with Sony.23

Antillean musicians who still use Paris as an important musical career base con-
tinue to credit the carnivals and grands bals as providing the impetus for the conspic-
uousness and popularity of their music. One of those who argues this point is
Cabrimol, the bandleader who has crafted a polished dance music heavily indebted
to jazz, though Cuban son, Puerto Rican salsa and Dominican merengue can be heard
in his arrangements as well.24 I interviewed Cabrimol as he took a break during his
sound check before a late night dance concert at La Coupole, the famous Montpar-
nasse nightspot. He spoke confidently of the appeal of his music, which he described
as épicée 25 for Europeans today. As we sat in the ornate surroundings of La Coupole,
I thought about how significant so many of the contemporary manifestations of the
African and Caribbean presence are in spatial terms. Cabrimol represents a new
generation of artists occupying spaces identified with earlier chapters in the history
of bohemian Paris. Of course, anti-immigrant politics also call attention to what
xenophobes experience as an intrusion. The new immigrants and their music are in
some ways but another chapter in the history of Paris as contested space. We are not
that far from the politics of the Situationists.
Structural changes in the music business and a volatile, changing climate for
African immigrants in France have made the position of African musicians in Paris
less secure, though the musical influence persists. Cabrimol and much better-estab-
lished musicians such as Jocelyne Béroard and Jacob Désvarieux of Kassav’ are con-
fident they can continue to sustain careers there; in any case, however, as holders of
French passports they are not threatened with expulsion as more and more Africans
have been. The decade of the 1990s was a far cry from the previous decade, which
saw the rising career trajectories of “world music” stars like Kassav’, Ray Lema from
the former Zaire, Manu Dibango of Cameroon, Mory Kanté of Guinea, and Salif
Keóta of Mali. All settled in Paris where, by the mid-1980s, they had fashioned
unique new music that managed to forge new directions in pop and also remain true
to African roots. A network of recording studios, clubs like New Morning and other
performance spaces, national festivals,26 and finally, forward-looking independent
record companies such as Island, Mango, and Virgin all sustained the new musical
Soukous, the fast-paced Congolo-Zairean dance music that features constantly
riffing guitars played far down the fretboard and the insistent drum known as the
tam-tam, was one of the dominant styles heard in Paris during these years. But soukous
changed noticeably through its encounter with what we might call the “funkier,”
more rocking sounds of zouk.27 Meanwhile, the music of Kassav’ changed in response
to soukous and, back across the Atlantic, deeply influenced a new generation of bands.
This ethnomusical métissage wonderfully demonstrates what writer Dick Hebdige has
deemed “cut ‘n’ mix,” his term for the prevailing world musical aesthetic coming es-
pecially out of the Caribbean.28 For Hebdige this aesthetic serves as a metaphor for
all sorts of cross-cultural fertilization.
The concept of “cut ‘n’ mix” derives from the influential Jamaican recording stu-
dio practice of recording an alternative rendition known (to describe a type of
recording) as “version” of a reggae song, radically changing the mix to bury the vocal
track, slow down the tempo, and enhance the bass and drum parts. This would even-
tually come to be known as “dub,” and a good dub record would tend to feature sud-
den irruptions of extraneous sounds that jarred the listener, who was mesmerized by
the hypnotic insistent beats that were presented in layers of seemingly impossibly

deep sounds. This of course helped pave the way for the controversial practice
known as “sampling” pioneered by early hip-hop artists, which has gone on to influ-
ence a wide variety of recording styles and genres. Hebdige expands the notion of
“version” to argue broadly that all contemporary cultural production follows a simi-
lar model. Everything we have is “version,” is “sampled,” is a pastiche of “cut ‘n’ mix.”
This view, of course, echoes the postmodern textual theories that infuse the British
cultural studies tradition of which Hebdige’s work is an eloquent expression.
Pop musicians who sing songs in Creole are already using something of a “cut ‘n’
mix” language, and their musical styles also adhere to an eclectic métissage of diverse
elements. Kassav’ weds the guitar stylings of Congolese soukous to richly syncopated
percussion associated with biguine, calypso, and other Caribbean traditions. Then
the group features the punching, riffing horn sounds of Memphis soul. Boukan
Ginen, a prominent Haitian band, makes use of the South African mbaqanga beat as-
sociated with so-called “township jive.”
Eclecticism in music can be exhilarating, despite apparent contradictions. But the
contradictory experiences of cultural migration, the ways in which a host country
can seem both welcoming and inhospitable, can make for a stressful existence. Laws
tightening restrictions on residence for African immigrants, and even providing for
their detainment and expulsion when their papers are not in order (or were never
issued), have made it much more difficult for a new generation of world musicians
to pursue their musical careers in France. Because there is no central immigration
and naturalization authority in France, random checks are left to the national and
local police. This means, in practice, that persons of color are subjected to frequent
orders to produce their passports or cartes de séjour. Even when the French passport
saves the day, there may be questions. Désvarieux remarked that passport control of-
ficials occasionally ask why or how he happens to possess his.29 This type of experi-
ence prevents even a longtime resident of Paris who comes from Martinique or
Guadeloupe from ever feeling “entirely French.”30
This is, in part, why the identification with Creole, the “language of the street,”
the language of “home,” remains strong for so many. It acknowledges their roots, the
sustaining cultural heritage where, unlike in France (and no matter how thoroughly
they master the French language or observe French customs), they are always “at
home.” The linguistic identification resonates politically as well. Créole is a re-
minder of the painful legacy of slavery, a signifier of the undeniability of history. The
year 1998 saw the observance of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in
French overseas possessions. A number of concerts dedicated to this theme took
place throughout the Paris region during the spring and summer of that year. The
day I interviewed Béroard a full year earlier, she was consulting her electronic agenda
and anticipating these performances.
African musicians in Paris, many of them threatened with the specter of forced
reemigration, often think of language in a similar way. They feel career pressure to
record songs in French, and sometimes even in English, but they hold fast to the lan-
guages of home. One such musician is Tiacoh Sadia, a drummer from the Ivory
Coast who has played with many prominent African musicians, including South
African singer Miriam Makeba. In a 1996 interview, Sadia had some interesting ob-
servations about language. He pointed out that his country was known for elaborate
attention to and appreciation of varieties of language, much as we see in the
Caribbean today. As an artist, Sadia said he feels an obligation to use the language of

the disenfranchised—postcolonial theorists would say “subaltern”—in his music.

Speaking of the forbidden (interdit) character of Creole during its history, he advo-
cates “le français dans la rue,” (“the French of the street”), as he put it.31
Sadia shares this conviction with another of my interview subjects, his partner
Xénia Caraïbe. She is a singer from Guadeloupe and cousin of Désvarieux, a mem-
ber of Kassav’, who contributes vocals to his most recent solo CD. She also performs
with an unusual eclectic a cappella sextet called Nipa, whose members hail from the
Caribbean and West Africa. Like Béroard of Kassav’ and the members of the incen-
diary Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans, Caraïbe stresses the inherently subversive
character of the Creole language. In contrast with the “correct” French spoken by
West Indian elites, it is very much dans la rue.32
Though Béroard is perfectly fluent in both French and English, she argues that
she can “express herself better” in Creole.33 She argues that French is less well-suited
as a language for pop tunes, while Creole is best for the complex rhythms of zouk,
where it gets mixed up with the rhythms (se mile aux rythmes). In the best songs by Kas-
sav’, the mix is convincing. Creole embraces African cultural roots, but sounds
enough like French to seem familiar to French ears.
A very good example can be heard on difé, the album Kassav’ released in early
1997. The song in question is “Pa ni pwoblèm (which, in the French translation pro-
vided in the CD booklet was rendered as “Pas de problëme”).” The song’s lyrics were
composed by novelist Patrick Chamoiseau. The lyrics describe scenes of third world
poverty and degradation that seem to belie the bright, upbeat horn and backing
vocal arrangements. Désvarieux’s intoned basso profundo “pa ni pwoblèm” thus pro-
vides an ironic counterpoint to the bleak lyrics as well as to the high-end optimistic
Like many recorded tunes by Kassav’, this one relies on the insistent beat of an
electronic drum machine. This is the first sound we hear in “Pas de problème.”
Claude Vamur, the band’s longtime drummer who appears with the group in live
concerts, explains that the great challenge of zouk percussion is to maintain the “reg-
ularity” of the beat and also remain true to the complexities of percussive syncopa-
tion.35 In the recording studio, electronic percussion is a great temptation, and
Désvarieux and Didier Lozahic (chief engineer at Studio Zorrino, where Kassav’
records on the outskirts of Paris) have perfected its use through careful collabora-
tion. Lozahic attests to Désvarieux’s creative intelligence in this process.36
The Creole lyrics are very close to the French, yet they veer away abruptly at key
points according to the African and neo-African elements in the Creole mix. “Nous
sommes désespérés” (“We are desperate”) is the French translation given for “Nou
ozabwa.” One of the song’s most powerful stanzas likens the situation of Haitians to
that of rats trapped in a cage. The French translation conveys this well enough, but
the Créole is by contrast pared down, rhythmic, and strident to match the beat. The
very rhythms in the Creole lines seem to imitate the sound of rats hurling them-
selves against the bars of their cages.37
Zouk is not the only contemporary Caribbean music in which the Creole lyrics se
milent aux rythmes. Creole as the populist français dans la rue continues to be embraced by
the newer, often staunchly politicized bands of the Caribbean. Boukman
Eksperyans, the most prominent of the current Haitian bands and a firm supporter
of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has weathered a number of political storms, particularly
during the last days of the Duvalierist regime of Raul Cedras. The group’s very name

refers to the bloody though unsuccessful slave uprising of 1791 led by the mysterious
“Boukman,” whose severed head was displayed as a trophy by the French forces who
defeated him.38 The title of the band’s 1995 CD Libète (Pran Pou Pran’l !/Freedom (Let’s
Take It !) announces the group’s political determination to incite radical political ac-
tion and Creole ethnic pride through its music.39
Throughout its career, Boukman Eksperyans has been associated with the insur-
gent politics of Aristide. Early in Aristide’s first campaign for the presidency, the
band’s song “Kalfou danjère” or “Dangerous Crossroads” warned of political vio-
lence that threatened the democracy movement. The Duvalierist regime promptly
banned the song, keeping it off the airwaves and even dispatching police to the
band’s concerts to prevent the song from being performed.40
Naturally, the use of Creole implicitly cast the band’s lot with the country’s un-
derclass, the majority of the Haitian people, historically oppressed by the wealthy
elites. Proceeding at a musically fast clip and maintaining an urgent tone through-
out, “Jou malë” (“Day of the Shock”), the final track on the album Libète (Pran Pou
Pran’l, warns of fresh waves of oppression. “I’m standing here on the big road “(“Se
nan gran chimen mwen kanpe la”), the song begins.41 Like the “dangerous cross-
roads” of the group’s earlier song, the road is a foreboding and potentially threaten-
ing place. In the Delta blues tradition, similarly, the crossroads is a place where some
kind of showdown awaits. The highway offers escape, but also danger: “Ain’t goin’
down that big road all by myself.” In too many Latin American countries, the “big
road” is a place where torture and death at the hands of paramilitary thugs(like Du-
valierist Haiti’s tontons macoutes) may lurk.
Later in “Jou Malë,” the tone becomes even more strident, with an almost mili-
tary cadence. There is a new refrain: “Adje Bondye O.”42 “Adje” is an example of the
use of vodou deities as rallying cries, and “Bondye” (“Lord”) refers to the God im-
posed by the French.43 The very refrain is a reminder of the hybrid character of Cre-
ole culture. The song is a harbinger of things to come for Haiti; a wake-up call
warning that the forces of reaction may always reassert themselves. It is a musical
message urging vigilance.
Boukman Eksperyans has spearheaded the Haitian mizik rasin (“roots music”)
movement exemplified by the band Boukan Ginen, whose music delves even further
into African musical sources. The band’s name is based on vodou : “Boukan” means
“fire pit” (such as those commonly used in vodou practice), and “Ginen” means “a
righteous state of being”44 (to which a vodou practitioner might aspire). The group’s
1996 CD Rev an Nou (“Our Dream”) weds captivating rhythms to urgent lyrics that
warn of the long overdue settling of accounts by the dispossessed of the Caribbean.
And such songs as “Timoun Yo (“The Children”)” place hope in the new generation
of the region.
In “Timoun Yo,” Boukan Ginen borrows the lively mbaqanga beat of the Soweto
sound to structure a song about the desperate plight of the children of Haiti, a coun-
try with a shockingly high infant mortality rate. “Chak ane anpil mouri (Every year
many die),” sings the song’s composer Jimmy Jean-Félix, describing the toll of diseases
that afflict this culture of poverty. In a memorable Creole lyric—“Fūk pou moun ki
pou defann dwa yo” (“We need people to defend their rights”)—he urges his fellow
citizens to become politically active on behalf of the threatened children of Haiti.45
Popular music such as this places the question of cultural identity at the center of
current discussion of ethnic conflict and both economic and political aspirations of

traditionally oppressed peoples. Will Afro-Caribbean music or other forms of world

music play a decisive role in shaping a hybrid or multicultural society founded on a
genuine cultural politics of difference, or will such music serve only the interests of
selected pop music producers and consumers? Can “crossing borders” be more than
a symbolic gesture for a postcolonial cultural politics? This chapter, cutting between
Parisian and Caribbean cultural contexts, has mimed these crossings.
A 1997 issue of the magazine Rhythm Music profiles Paris as “City of Light/Cross-
roads of Culture/Capital of World Music.”46 As the music scene shows, Paris has the
necessary cultural diversity to make this claim. However, this comes at a time of po-
litical backlash and extreme ethnocentrism, manifest in the revision of immigration
laws and the imposition of regulations requiring the predominant use of the French
language for music broadcast on the radio. If the sacrosanct character of the French
language is at the center of a legislative and judicial agenda that seeks to render
France newly homogeneous in the ethnic sense—if such an agenda can really be ac-
complished—then France will miss the chance to become what we might want to call
a newly “Créole” culture. The recent cultural contributions of the Caribbean repre-
sentatives of the African diaspora have taught us to appreciate the full sense of what
that word “Créole” can mean for a richly hybrid, postcolonial world.
In a world where we take for granted that we will find ingredients for many dif-
ferent global cuisines in our local food stores, and where residents of large urban
centers take for granted that they will encounter representatives of dozens of ethnic
groups on a daily basis, our very lives have become “creolized.” The unique opportu-
nity to accompany Kassav’ to a concert June 28, 1997 some 140 kilometers from
Paris gave me a very vivid sense of what this means for contemporary France.
Kassav’ has descreased its touring in recent years, and I was fortunate to be in
France on this occasion and to receive Béroard’s generous invitation to accompany
the group on the trip. The band was scheduled to play before several thousand fans
at a large campground in Méry-sur-Seine. The departure point for the tour bus was
at a café located prominently on the Place de la Nation. Leaving Paris was compli-
cated by two incidents: first the bassist failed to show up. After portable phone calls,
the musician who regularly fills in for the band was located. Then the bus set off be-
latedly for the Place d’Italie, near the substitute bass player’s apartment, only to be
caught in a massive traffic jam caused by the annual Gay Pride parade.
Approximately two hours behind schedule, the band arrived at the campground,
hurriedly changed in the dressing rooms provided, and took to the stage as the
northern European summer sun set (quite late). Wasting no time, Kassav’ charged
through its string of hit records for the delighted throng. Jocelyne Béroard marveled
that the rural French audience knew all the (Creole) lyrics to their songs. From
where I viewed the group alongside the stage, I was struck by the enraptured faces
of the people as they sang along, huddled in the chilly evening air. The way the band
fed on the energy of the crowd reminded me that zouk, for all its recording studio
complexity, is best experienced in live concerts, where drummers and dancers can
interact and communicate through the powerful languages of rhythm. Jean-Philippe
Marthély, another of Kassav’s vocalists, exhorted the crowd to continue to sing with
the group—que tout le monde participe.
In light of contemporary France’s extremely negative reputation of as a country in-
tolerant of its own ethnic diversity, this was a salient tableau to witness. Voices argu-
ing for the exclusion of recent immigrants have rung loud and have enjoyed

substantial publicity. But the other side of France, epitomized historically by Paris, has
consistently welcomed foreigners. Artists in particular have found their way to France
from the far corners of the earth. And today’s Francophone musicians feel the same
pull—not just because they speak French and hail from societies with French-style in-
stitutions, but because they are eager to breathe the atmosphere of Paris, the same at-
mosphere that has sustained generation after generation of expatriate artists.
Americans often lapse into a kind of smug dismissal of what they see as French
ethnocentrism. Focusing on issues of language (such as the radio broadcast laws) can
give the impression that the French seek to rid themselves of all foreign influences.
But to do so is to ignore the equally French tendency to embrace seemingly alien cul-
tures; ultimately seeking to make them “French.” The happy throng of fans in the
field in eastern France provides an example. Not for a moment did they hesitate to
consider the members of Kassav’ French. For successful performers at least, such ac-
ceptance may make suspicious inspections by passport controllers more endurable,
but the two extremes define the boundaries of a cultural migration whose com-
pleteness is always in doubt.


1. The term used is l’En-ville. See Patrick Chamoiseau, Texaco (Paris: Gallimard, 1992): 41;
Texaco, trans. Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov (New York: Vintage Interna-
tional, 1998): 27.
2. Jocelyne Guilbault, “Créolité and the New Cultural Politics of Difference in Popu-
lar Music of the French West Indies,” Black Music Research Journal 14:2 (Fall, 1994):
3. James A. Winders, “African Musicians in Contemporary Paris: Postcolonial Culture
in Exile,” Contemporary French Civilization XX, 2 (Summer/Fall, 1996): 220–230.
4. Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (New
York: Routledge, 1995): 13.
5. Robert J. C. Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Rout-
ledge, 1995): 97.
6. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass.: Har-
vard University Press, 1993).
7. Henry A. Giroux, Border Crossings: Cultural Workers and the Politics of Education (New York:
Routledge, 1992), cited in Guilbault, “Créolité and the New Cultural Politics of Dif-
ference”: 162.
8. Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial The-
ory, ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia University Press,
1994): 402.
9. Young, Colonial Desire, 173.
10. Jacob Désvarieux, interview by the author, Saint-Ouen, France, June 25, 1997. Unless
otherwise noted, all information about Jacob Désvarieux is based on this interview.
All interviews cited in this chapter were conducted in French.
11. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York:
Grove Press, 1967): 35.
12. Ralph Boncy, “Haïti,” in Sans Visa: Le Guide des musiques de l’espace francophone et du monde
(Paris: Zone Franche, 1995): 311–312.
13. Hubert Devonish, Language and Liberation: Creole Language Politics in the Caribbean (London:
Karia Press, 1986): 21.

14. Michel Giraud, “Political Subordination and Society in the French Antilles,” in Society
and Politics in the Caribbean, ed. Colin Clarke (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991): 233.
15. Rex Nettleford, “Cultivating a Caribbean Sensibility: Media, Education and Culture,”
Caribbean Review XV, 3 (Winter, 1987): 4.
16. Philippe Conrath, Kassav’ (Paris: Seghers, 1987): 98–131.
17. Chris Stapleton and Chris May, African All Stars: The Pop Music of a Continent (London:
Paladin/Grafton Books, 1989): 246. Cf. Jocelyne Guilbault, Zouk: World Music in the West
Indies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993): xv.
18. Kris Dean, “Caribbean Music,” Crisis 98, 2 (February, 1991): 24.
19. Guilbault, “Créolité and the New Cultural Politics of Difference”: 162. The most
comprehensive musicological study of Zouk is Jocelyne Guilbault’s Zouk: World Music in
the West Indies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).
20. Stapleton and May, 252.
21. Ibid., 251–252; Jocelyne Béroard, interview by the author, Saint-Ouen, France, June
25, 1997. (unless otherwise noted, all information about Béroard is based on this in-
terview; Désvarieux interview.
22. Stapleton and May, African All Stars, 247.
23. Conrath, Kassav’, 96.
24. Jean-Michel Cabrimol, Ogashe Sainte-Lucie (Lusafrica/BMG, 1997).
25. Jean-Michel Cabrimol, interview by the author, Paris, July 10, 1997.
26. Sylvie Véran, “Vive le melting-pot: Bourges en effervescence,” Le Nouvel observateur
(17–19 avril, 1989): 56.
27. Winders, “African Musicians in Contemporary Paris,” 225.
28. Dick Hebdige, Cut ‘n’ Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music (London: Routledge,
29. Désvarieux interview.
30. Béroard interview.
31. Tiacoh Sadia, interview by the author, Paris, July 1, 1996. Unless otherwise noted, all
information about Sadia is based on this interview.
32. Xénia Caraïbe, interview by the author, Paris, July 1, 1996. Unless otherwise noted, all
information about Caraïbe is based on this interview.
33. Béroard interview. For more on the significance of Kassav’s use of Creole, see works
cited by Guilbault and also Simon Frith, “The Discourse of World Music,” in
Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh, eds., Western Music and Its Others: Difference,
Representation, and Appropriation in Music (Berkeley: University of California Press,
2000): 313.
34. Kassav’, “Pa ni pwoblèm,” difé (Sony Tropical, 1997).
35. Claude Vamur, interview by the author, en route from Paris to Méry-sur Seine,
France, June 28, 1998. Unless otherwise noted, all information about Vamur is based
on this interview.
36. Didier Lozahic, interview by the author, Saint-Ouen, France, July 14, 1998.
37. Kassav’, “Pa ni pwoblèm.”
38. Amy Wilentz, The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier (New York: Simon & Schuster,
1989): 75.
39. Boukman Eksperyans, Libète (Pran Pou Pran’l !)/Freedom (Let’s Take It !) (Mango, 1995).
40. George Lipsitz, Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism and the Poetics of Place
(London: Verso, 1994), 7–9.
41. Boukman Eksperyans, Libète (Mango, 1995).
42. Ibid.
43. Elizabeth McAlister, ed., Angels in the Mirror: Vodou Music of Haiti (Roslyn, New York: El-
lipsis Arts, 1997): 15.
44. McAlister, p. 58.

45. Boukan Ginen, Rèv an Nou (Xenophile/Green Linnet, 1996).

46. Rhythm Music VI, 1/2 (January/February, 1997).

Works Cited

Boncy, Ralph. 1995. Haïti in Sans Visa: Le Guide des musiques de l’espace Francophone et du monde. Paris:
Zone Franche: 311–312.
Chamoiseau, Patrick. 1992. Texaco. Paris: Gallimard.
———. 1998. Texaco, Trans. Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov. New York: Vintage In-
Conrath, Philippe. 1987. Kassav’. Paris: Seghers.
Dean, Kris. 1991. Caribbean Music, Crisis 98:2: 21–22, 24, 47.
Devonish, Hubert. 1986. Language and Liberation: Creole Language Politics in the Caribbean. London:
Karia Press.
Fanon, Frantz. 1967. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove
Frith, Simon. 2000. The Discourse of World Music in Western Music and Its Others: Difference,
Representation, And Appropriation in Music. Ed. Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh.
Berkeley: University of California Press: 305–322.
Giraud, Michel. 1991. Political Subordination and Society in the French Antilles in Society and
Politics in the Caribbean. Ed. Colin Clarke. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Mass.: Har-
vard University Press.
Guilbault, Jocelyne. 1994. Créolité and the New Cultural Politics of Difference in Popular
Music of the French West Indies. Black Music Research Journal 14, 2 (Fall): 162.
———. 1993. Zouk: World Music in the West Indies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hall, Stuart. 1994. Cultural Identity and Diaspora. In Colonial Discourse and Post Colonial Theory.
Ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia University Press:
Hebdige, Dick. 1987. Cut ‘n’ Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music. London: Routledge.
Lipsitz, George. 1994. Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism and the Poetics of Place. Lon-
don: Verso.
McAlister, Elizabeth, ed. 1997. Angels in the Mirror: Vodou Music of Haiti. Roslyn, New York: Ellip-
sis Arts.
McClintock, Anne. 1995. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Context. New
York: Routledge.
Nettleford, Rex. 1987. Cultivating a Caribbean Sensibility: Media, Education and Culture,
Caribbean Review XV, 3 (Winter): 4–8, 28.
Rhythm Music. 1997. VI, 1/2 (January/February): 30–37.
Stapleton, Chris and Chris May. 1989. African All Stars: The Pop Music of a Continent. London: Pal-
adin/Grafton Books.
Véran, Sylvie. 1989. Vive le melting-pot: Bourges en effervescence, Le Nouvel observateur (17–19
avril): 56.
Wilentz, Amy. 1989. The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Winders, James A. 1996. African Musicians in Contemporary Paris: Postcolonial Culture in
Exile, Contemporary French Civilization XX: 2: 220–230.
Young, Robert J.C. 1995. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge.

Popular Music and Culture

in Puerto Rico:
Jamaican and Rap Music
as Cross-Cultural Symbols

Jorge L. Giovannetti

here is no doubt that Puerto Rican music and musicians have had a defini-
tive worldwide impact in recent years. The global presence of many artists
says much about how the music industry works, yet little about other musi-
cal developments taking place at the national level in Puerto Rico. Local reggae
groups, rap music, and Latin rock are some of the “new” musics within contempo-
rary Puerto Rican society and its national media and entertainment industry. New
identities and a whole spectrum of lifestyles related to the development of these mu-
sical genres have emerged, especially among Puerto Rican youth. This chapter dis-
cusses the impact of Jamaican music (reggae and dancehall)1 and rap music in Puerto
Rico, and the development of two distinct, yet sometimes interconnected, identities
and lifestyles that are related to these musical influences.
Both Jamaican music and U.S. rap have come to Puerto Rico through the influ-
ence of the mass media and market (record and entertainment industry). In the
case of rap and hip-hop culture in particular, the constant migration between
Puerto Rico and the United States has also been a key element for cultural ex-
change.2 Such human contact and interaction does not exist between Jamaica and
Puerto Rico, and the impact of reggae has occurred mainly through the widespread
internationalization of the genre in the 1970s and 1980s and its subsequent mass-
commercialization. Direct Jamaican influence on the U.S. rap context has been
more direct however, mainly due to the Jamaican immigration to that country after
the 1960s.3 These mass media and migratory connections are the basis for a geo-
cultural space between the Caribbean and the United States that frames the tran-
sition and entrance of a number of cultural elements and symbols associated with
both Jamaican music and North American rap (for example, Rastafari and gansta-
rap culture) into the Puerto Rican context.

Geocultural Space and Migration of Cultural Symbols

Although it has been argued that the U.S. media represents a threat to contempo-
rary Caribbean cultural identity,4 it can also be argued that it has served to dissemi-
nate many of the region’s cultural symbols and elements throughout the world,
within the region itself, and to Caribbean diasporas elsewhere. New Caribbean
identities have emerged from that process, and Caribbean peoples have served as
carriers and receivers of cultural capital, but also as a central part in its signification
and resignification. I refer to this constant flow of cultural resources (for example,
music) by means of the media, the market and the people as the migration of cul-
tural symbols. This is a process whereby cultural elements and practices, such as
dance, music, ways of dressing, use of specific words, and particular uses of language,
travel from one spatial location to another.
Youngsters in Puerto Rico play rap music, hip-hop culture is introduced into the
Jamaican music repertoire, and U.S. and Puerto Rican surfers dance to reggae
rhythms. Yet, one cannot understand or relate any of these manifestations without
considering the larger historical, social, and cultural connections of which they are
part. The migration of cultural symbols and the eventual manifestations of cultural
practices in specific localities are associated to the population movement itself as
much as it is to the migrants and their social context of origin and arrival. It is not a
coincidence that Puerto Rican rap underground music emerged from the caserío
(housing projects), that U.S. rap has become the voice of African-American urban
underclasses, and that Jamaican dancehall music (as its predecessors, ska, rocksteady,
and reggae) has represented the culture of the Jamaican ghetto. The same goes for
reggae music and culture that, although in a different way, has become an alternative
source of identity for upper- and middle-class youngsters in the United States and
Puerto Rico that search for a cultural space of their own.5
The social and media connections are clear in many instances. Anthropologist
Kenneth Bilby underscores these aspects:

Indeed, the most obvious foreign influence on Jamaican music in recent years has been
from hip-hop. The latest series of exchanges between urban African-American and Ja-
maican musics arose spontaneously out of contacts between black American and Ja-
maican communities in New York and other U.S. cities during the 1980s. More
recently, following the success of cross-over artists such as Shabba Ranks, collabora-
tions between U.S. singers and Jamaican deejays have been promoted by record com-
panies in a calculated manner.6

In the case of Puerto Rico, leading rap artist Vico C has spoken of the beginnings of
his career in the United States, and how Spanish rap emerged in the island, specifically
in Puerta de Tierra, one of Puerto Rico’s historically marginalized urban sectors.7 An
interview with members of the U.S.-based rap group Latin Empire illustrates the in-
fluence of the mass media and migration between Puerto Rico and the United States:

[Puerto Rican rap artists are] cool people. Some of them were born here and went over
there. So they basically got exposed to rap here and then brought it with them. Rap,
they caught into it by videos and all of that, you know. They got motivated, plus with
us doing New York style in Spanish. That’s more or less where they get steps, dance
steps, fashion trends. That’s how they keep up to date. Instead of traveling back and

forth, because not all of them can be traveling back and forth, so they just watch TV
and catch on to the videos.8

Clearly, the movement of people and cultural heritages across the Caribbean and
North American geocultural space is part of the historical context of the musical in-
fluences that have arrived to Puerto Rico. Bilby has argued, “The constant flow of peo-
ple back and forth between the islands and the metropolitan immigrant communities
ensures that the latest musical developments on either side of the ocean are rapidly cir-
culated to all parts of the diaspora and added to the larger pool of musical resources.”9
Regarding the impact of reggae in Puerto Rico, both U.S. and local market and
media industries, which promote periodic reggae concerts and activities on the is-
land, have been responsible for the diffusion of reggae’s latest musical developments.
In contrast to the situation for rap, human migration has not been a significant fac-
tor in the construction of a Puerto Rican reggae culture. Reggae and Rasta have be-
come more like a fashion based on its appropriation by the market and the media in
their attempt to target the consumerism of specific social groups. What has hap-
pened with reggae music, and associated market articles such as clothes, “ethnic jew-
elry,” and Afro-Caribbean and Rasta crafts, can be compared with the process
described by Walter Benjamin: “In principle a work of art has always been repro-
ducible. Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men. Replicas were made
by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally,
by third parties in the pursuit of gain.”10
Rasta, which originated in Jamaica in the 1930s among marginalized black popu-
lations, was associated with the back-to-Africa movement and with black struggles
and racial pride. In the 1970s, reggae music became the principal tool for the diffu-
sion of these principles and ideology. But in Puerto Rico, through the process of ap-
propriation by the market and the media and the reception of consumers, the
meaning and history of Jamaican Rasta and reggae have been lost from sight, trans-
formed, misunderstood, changed, and resignified. The analogy with Benjamin’s
work is again useful: “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking
in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place
where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the his-
tory to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.”11
The contact of people, the empowerment of cultural symbols by the media and the
market, and the role of different communities—migrant or not—are all part of the
process of migration of cultural symbols of rap and reggae culture described here. The
interplay between the appropriations and reproductions of the media, the market and
the consumers is reflected in the way in which new meaning is attributed to these cul-
tural symbols. This exchange of cultural symbols contributed to the adoption by
Puerto Rican youth of many Afro-Caribbean and African American symbols. Con-
sequently, two distinct and somehow related types of identities and lifestyles have
evolved in Puerto Rico in connection with the influences of reggae and rap.

Reggae, Rastas, and the Blanquitos

It must have been the summer of 1990 when a group of middle- and upper-class
Puerto Rican youngsters were having a “reggae-surfing-party” in the country house
of the parents of one relatively notorious surfer from Ponce. I remember one thing

about that night: a group of white upper-class youngsters singing the dub chorus of
a reggae tune that spoke against the white race. Even with my limited knowledge of
the social origins of reggae music and of what was Rastafari at that time, I knew that
what I witnessed was somehow contradictory: rich, white Puerto Rican youngsters
singing a music identified with poor black Jamaicans. But it has been this group of
upper-class youth, disparagingly called blanquitos (whities), which has transformed
the music and ethnic symbols of one of the best-known social movements of the
Caribbean, into fashion. This group has developed a Rasta identity related to the
beach and surfing and other maritime sports, and its members are loyal fans at
Puerto Rican reggae concerts.
In the 1970s, a similar phenomenon took place in the United States: reggae music
gained acceptance among middle-class white rock fans. In California, white upper-
middle-class youth became aware of Rastafari through reggae music. These Califor-
nia youngsters, most of them surfers, developed their own Rasta identity, although
some do not feel that they are pure Rastas. “Their Bibles are nearly as important as
their surfboards, their rock music has been replaced by reggae and their spiritual
home is no longer California but the Caribbean island of Jamaica.”12
Reggae concerts in Puerto Rico are the perfect example of what a marketing
showcase must be. Sponsored by Budweiser or Coors Light and by other beverage,
media, and communications corporations, every concert features aggressive promo-
tion through fliers and signs. Youngsters parade the latest fashions from the surf
shops and show off their pagers and cellular phones. In the parking areas for these
activities (which fetch ticket prices from $25 to $35), there is typically a collection of
some of the most expensive and fashionable vehicles of the moment. One might ask
what kind of Rasta could own one of these cars or buy tickets for all the reggae con-
certs held in one summer. In Puerto Rico, the stores and businesses associated with
reggae are located in exclusive urban areas, such as Isla Verde, Condado, and Old
San Juan, near potential consumers of their products. One example is Cool Run-
nings, a Rasta/reggae shop formerly located on McCleary Street in Ocean Park and
now located on Punta las Marías in Isla Verde. Other places that existed during the
early 1990s include a Rasta store on Ashford Avenue and a pub called Reggae Irie
Café, which was located on Loíza Street. More recently, a store called Jah Rastafari
opened on San Francisco Street in Old San Juan.
The upper classes consume Rasta identity by frequenting concerts, listening to
reggae, and buying Rasta accessories. T-shirts, stickers, bags, and the Rasta-style
tams are just a few of the expensive merchandise in an exclusive market targeted to
the upper and middle classes of the society. As Iain Chambers noted, the construc-
tion of our public selves is related to the consumption of social signs and “borrowed
ready-mades lifted from the catalogue of urban life.”13 The lifestyle expressed in
these reggae concerts is contradictory to the traditional Rasta lifestyle in Jamaica.
Rastas—although they are part of a heterogeneous movement that has undergone
changes throughout its existence—are mostly black from the lower social classes, and
their philosophy is contrary to the possession of luxuries and great material wealth.
Furthermore, in racial terms, dogmatic Rastas reject the ways of the “white man.”14
The fact that upper-class whites or blanquitos are the main consumers of this Rasta
lifestyle in Puerto Rico is one of the paradoxes of contemporary Caribbean life. The
process by which the capitalist market and the mass media appropriate reggae and
Rastafari effectively roots out most of its original values and commitments. Once es-
tablished as a commodity in the market, and exposed by wealthy artists, reggae cul-

ture and Rasta fashion and lifestyle lose many of the qualities that characterized its
origins as a social movement in Jamaica.15
In the early 1990s, the reggae music scene was limited to the concerts of leading
foreign reggae groups (such as Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers and Black
Uhuru) and locally based groups composed of eastern Caribbean islanders (such as
Zioneers and Regal Roots). Although Rasta and reggae were typically associated with
social and political critique, there was no link on the island between the social dis-
course of Rasta and reggae and the social problems of Puerto Rico. In fact, widespread
ignorance about what reggae and Rasta really are prevails on the island. Most blanquitos
have no knowledge of the social context—the Jamaican ghetto—from which reggae
emerged, or no concept, for example, of the vindication of its lyrics. In an August 1996
reggae concert in Puerto Rico, some attendees were asked who Bob Marley was, and
one answered that he “was an African, one of the best singers of [reggae].” When asked
about Rasta philosophy, one answered, “I don’t know, I feel it that way and I like it,”
and another answered that Rasta is “that . . . one has the heart like an island, that is like
a tropical island. That is tropical music . . . comes from the Antilles, from those islands
down there.”16 These blanquitos do not know that, although Bob Marley’s reggae had
some “African philosophy,” he was a Jamaican and that reggae did not originate “down
there” in the Lesser Antilles but to the west (from Puerto Rico) on the island of Ja-
maica. Interestingly, by saying “down there,” this Puerto Rican blanquito locates himself
in a place “over” the Caribbean, perhaps the United States, the place through which
the influences and fashions that he portrays arrive to the island. Also, in some sense,
the expression alienates Puerto Rico—which could also be labeled “down there”—
from the Caribbean region. The resignification of the blanquitos does not express any-
thing about their urban/social class condition besides, perhaps, a rebellious attitude
toward their family and/or their own social position.
But the Rasta boom that started in the late 1980s and early 1990s and its associ-
ated way of life have undergone some changes in recent years with regard to their re-
signification and appropriation by Puerto Rican youngsters. The emergence of local
reggae groups, notably Millo Torres y el Tercer Planeta and Cultura Profética that
have included social and political content in their lyrics has made some impact among
young people. Although the ecological and social messages and the political state-
ments made by local groups during concerts have sometimes fallen on deaf ears, they
seemed to find a fertile ground in the effervescent political scene and cultural na-
tionalism of turn of the century Puerto Rico. (The opposition to the U.S. military
presence on the municipal island of Vieques and the liberation of Puerto Rican po-
litical prisoners from U.S. federal penitentiary are two examples.) Social and political
critiques and national symbols prevail in the work of these reggae groups in their at-
tempt to foster conscience about Puerto Rican cultural identity, the violence prevail-
ing in the society and the urban depredation of the rural areas in the name of progress
and consumption.17 However, the impact of this message on the predominantly apa-
thetic young consumers in Puerto Rico and the level at which the state and its poli-
cymakers understand and hear the message as a political statement remain to be seen.

Rappers and the Underground

Interestingly, in another sector of Puerto Rican youth, a distinct type of identity and
lifestyle has evolved in association with the Rasta and reggae culture. The identity

expressed in the culture of rap underground is complex and far-reaching. The mu-
sical genres of rap, reggae, and dancehall have spawned a way of life that expresses
different cultural elements of the gansta-rap culture of the United States and the
reggae and dancehall cultures of Jamaica. Because this identity is a hybrid of these
influences, many observers and even many Puerto Rican youngsters label it with the
indistinct and arbitrary terms “reggae,” “rap,” and “underground music.” Rappers are
characterized by their dress and hairstyles, which in many cases is similar to those of
U.S. rap icons, such as Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. or local rap underground
stars such as Brewly M.C., D.J. Negro, and Ivy Queen. The stereotypical image of the
1990s male rapper consisted of an adolescent who dressed in the Rasta colors (red,
yellow, and green) and who wore oversized jeans below the waist level (exposing the
underwear), with the long end of a belt hanging down, and oversized jackets or T-
shirts. In time, this way of dressing, which imitated rap fashions in the United States,
was adopted outside the rappers’ circle, breaking the social frontiers that separated
the rappers (usually lower-class youngsters) from middle-class and even upper-class
youngsters. In his 1993 song “Xplosión,” rapper Vico C alluded to the fact that rap
music consumption was not the exclusive domain of the lower classes: “Y yo no soy
de alta posición social, pero su hijo mi cassette se lo quiere comprar.” (“And I am not
from a high social class, but your son wants to buy my tape”).18
During the past decade or so, the lyrics of rap underground have been framed
within the lifestyle and daily experiences of contemporary marginalized urban
youth. Most of the emphasis has been on urban and gang violence, drugs, explicit
sexuality and sexual relations, social and political crisis and corruption, the celebra-
tion of rap itself, and the conflicts among the different groups or corillos (the tiraera,
which is the open challenge of or attack against the performances of other rappers).
The representation of women as sexual icons through movement of the hip and
other suggestive dance moves has been one of the most remarkable and controver-
sial features of rap underground culture. It has been argued that the image of women
is utilized because it is “fashionable” or because it is “the rule in terms of promo-
tion.”19 In the male-dominated space of rap underground culture, some of the
lyrics—and singers as well—are strikingly misogynist and homophobic. In most
cases, the performance of the women (dancers or models) is peripheral or subordi-
nated to that of the men (rappers or DJs). Nonetheless, some female rappers have
managed to make inroads into the genre, such as Sharon and her song “Llegó la Hora
de la Mujer” (“It’s the Time for the Women”), Lisa M with her 1999 comeback, and
Ivy Queen.20 Ostentation and material wealth, as portrayed in U.S. gangsta-rap cul-
ture, is also characteristic of the local rap artists, who use expensive cars and motor-
cycles in their music videos. And, indeed, many of these young rappers have acquired
the economic position they portray and have managed to escape the constrained
economic situation of the caserío through the earnings from the rap underground
business. Social and political critique is also common in the lyrics of many Puerto
Rican rappers, such as Mexicano and the now classic Vico C, who explicitly and
sometimes crudely represent the social crisis of Puerto Rican society.
Because of its association with lower-class youngsters from housing projects,
since its early years, Puerto Rican rap has been the target of much bias. As national
rap emerged from the underground, the state began to implement calculated poli-
cies to work against rappers and their musical productions. In February 1995, the
Vice Control Division of the Puerto Rican police unsuccessfully took action against

businesses selling underground music, based on allegations that the explicit sexual
content of the music’s lyrics was “obscene” and the music fomented violent behav-
ior and drug consumption.21 In that same month, the Department of Education pro-
hibited the use of “obscene” rap music in the public schools of the island. And in
1998, it established a dress code for students that disallowed use of the already
stereotyped jeans worn under the waist level.22 In 1995, public debate centered on
the alleged obscenity and explicit violence in many of the lyrics and performances of
the rap underground singers.23 Later, rap underground music was defined as a re-
sponse to the “mano dura,” the repressive policy of Governor Pedro Rosselló and the
New Progressive Party (PNP) against crime that targeted the housing projects.24 By
imposing curfews and intensive surveillance on nightclubs and pubs in Old San Juan
and other cities around the island, this authoritarian state policy eroded the young
population’s public nightlife and leisure time activities. In Jamaica, similar contro-
versies have arisen around dancehall music and culture, which has been described as
“less-attractive aspects” of Jamaican culture.25 The Jamaican government has taken
steps to control the loud music emanating from the nightclubs and dancehalls.26
By 1999, Puerto Rican rap was no longer underground. Its preeminence on the
Puerto Rican social scene after 1997 brought national rap music aboveground. De-
spite the widespread prejudices and discriminatory policies against the music, its
manner, style, vocabulary, and physical rhetoric are virtually everywhere. In contrast
to the limited number of Puerto Rican reggae groups, there are dozens of youngsters
devoted to the rap underground business.27 Today rappers enjoy great exposure in
the local media; television programs and radio stations (such as radio station Cos-
mos 94, Channel 18 [Musicavisión], and Channel 7 [Club Seven, formerly Zonamusical],
and the rap television program “In Your Face”) present their musical productions.
Local entertainment programs have included segments devoted to rap music (such
as Channel 2’s lunchtime program “Música sin Control”), comedians have incorpo-
rated rap characters (such as Rubén Arrieta’s DJ Pipi), and many rappers have been
interviewed on and regularly promote their music productions on the leading tele-
vision programs.28 Still they are forced to tolerate interviewers who comment, “But
you are normally dressed” or who observe that they look like “clean” rappers.29
The truth is that rap underground has established itself as another musical genre
in Puerto Rico, and, what’s more, it has transcended its boundaries by crossing over
to other genres. Crossover songs include “Amor Mío,” by Eddie D and local reggae
group Cultura Profética; “He Chocado con la Vida,” by rapper Big Boy and salsa
singer Tito Rojas; and “Se Necesita un Milagro,” by Domingo Quiñonez and Ivy
Queen. Ivy Queen also recorded the pop song “Jerigonsa” with the former Miss
Universe and now singer Dayanara Torres. More recently, and in the context of the
political tensions in Puerto Rico’s commercial and political metropolis, the rap
group El Sindicato and the renowned national rock group Fiel a la Vega have per-
formed a new song, “O Luchamos o Nos Entregamos” (“Either We Fight or We Give
In”), with an explicit political statement. Even the religious group Amor al Rescate
included a rap cut in the song “Somos Hermanos” (“We Are Brothers”) performed
by members of the rap group J-Squad. The impact of rap underground has been im-
pressive. Examples include the musical production entitled “Reggae School,” pro-
duced to teach mathematical operations to children; the use of rap music in
advertisements for the Alianza para un Puerto Rico sin Drogas (Alliance for a Drug-
Free Puerto Rico) and at least one private medical insurance company; and recent

presentations by Vico C in religious activities.30 More recently, the dominant trend

in the productions of rap artists has been that of explicit sexuality and material os-
tentation. Sociologist Raquel Z. Rivera has best described the development, evolu-
tion, and transformations of rap underground, which are as complex as the
phenomenon itself, as “neither monolithic nor homogenous. This genre is in con-
stant struggle, dialogue, movement and change.”31 Part of this movement and change
has been toward the mainstream media and formal commercialization, and, in that
respect, two questions remain to be considered: how many concessions will be
made—or have been already made—by rap as a cultural and musical movement? And
to what extent will Puerto Rican rap continue to be an outlet for the rappers’ way of
life and an instrument of social and political commentary?

Some Thoughts on Reception,

Boundaries, and Cultural Mixture and Creation

In many ways, the two groups described here can be separated from each other.
Whereas the reggae culture has been targeted to upper- and middle-class youth, rap
culture has been predominantly directed to and identified with lower-class young-
sters. Similar musical dichotomies have existed in other moments of Puerto Rican
cultural history. Anthropologist Jorge Duany illustrated the antagonism between
Puerto Rican rockeros and cocolos32 in the 1980s, in terms of urban/class identity,
lifestyles and musical preferences:

Cocolos sport monstrous radios or cassette players wherever they go and listen to an
all-salsa station like Zeta 93. They live in Nemesio Canales or another of the public
housing projects in San Juan. The cocolo’s antithesis is the rockero: a teenager dressed
in tight jeans, Playero T-shirts, sandals, the latest in American fashion, and long, tou-
sled hair. Rockeros can be seen windsurfing at Isla Verde beach or listening to a radio
station like Alpha Rock in their cars. They probably live in Garden Hills or one of the
more exclusive urbanizaciones.33

Those who remember Puerto Rico’s 1980s cultural scene and the almost restricted
social boundaries between cocolos and rockeros remember having to choose one of the
two groups, whether it was at social gatherings or in school. Today we might make
an analogy between the dichotomies “cocolos versus rockeros” and “blanquitos versus rap-
eros” but in many ways the panorama is much more complicated than that. To begin
with, the cocolo represented salsa music, a genre firmly attached to Puerto Rican cul-
ture, whereas the rockero represented foreign rock music, clearly linked to the United
States. Reggae and rap are foreign genres in Puerto Rico, even though Nuyoricans
took part in rap’s development in the United States. The media and market, the cul-
tural resources carried by Caribbean migrants to and from the United States, or both
of these influences introduced reggae and rap to the island. The questions are these:
what has been lost, constructed, or resignified in the process of the migration of cul-
tural symbols of which reggae and rap music and culture have been a part? How have
the different misconceptions and prejudices caused in this process been manifested
in Puerto Rican society in general? How have social actors considered or overlooked
these misconceptions and prejudices in the cultural creation of a Puerto Rican reg-

gae and a Puerto Rican rap that is both linked to and detached from its original ref-
erents? And finally, how have the particular social context and environment of the
receivers of these cultural symbols and the general state of affairs in the country af-
fected the way these genres have been resignified and appropriated, and how has this
been manifested? I have, at least implicitly, answered some of these questions in my
previous discussion, but I add to these remarks here as I attempt to illustrate how
the boundaries between reggae and rap culture are simultaneously kept and ignored.
At a May 1998 reggae concert given by the group Steel Pulse, two announcers
came onstage: one of them an English-speaking man with dreadlocks, presumably
part of Steel Pulse’s staff, and the other a Spanish speaker, surely one of the Puerto
Rican local organizers. At one point the English-speaking announcer shouted
“Rastafari,” and the Spanish speaker clearly replied, “Rasta-fire.”34 Whether this was
mispronunciation or ignorance I cannot say, but it illustrates (rather graphically)
how the meaning of something can change from one place to another. As it has been
described here, reggae music and, with it, Jamaican and Rasta culture have lost most
of their historical referents. Although some changes may have taken place during the
past decade or so, as reggae music has earned a space within Puerto Rican popular
culture, most reggae fans remain ignorant of the origins of the music, its develop-
ment and what it represented to Jamaica during the 1970s. Most blanquitos are un-
aware of the fact that many of the lyrics in the reggae music they listen to are
historical accounts of the political events in and around Jamaica in the 1970s and the
general history of the struggles of Jamaican people since the days of slavery.35 Beyond
the obvious association of reggae and Rasta, most of the Puerto Rican audience pays
little attention to the ideological message in the reggae songs they listen to and do
not know the basic elements of Rastafari. Néstor García Canclini once commented
that, as a result of the existing cultural exchange through arts, film, and music, the
“cultures [have] lost their exclusive relation with their territory, but acquire commu-
nication and recognition.”36 In the case of reggae in Puerto Rico, it remained only as
a fashion, without any link to Jamaican racial and social struggles, thereby losing the
association with the territory of its origins. It has only been since the emergence of
local reggae groups in the second half of the 1990s, during which the music began to
be used to promote Puerto Rican social, ecological, and historical awareness, that a
level of recognition such as the one mentioned by García Canclini has taken place.
However, this recognition of the Jamaican reggae music and culture, or rather of its
social and political attributes, has developed in a process that involves its mixture
with elements traditionally viewed as part of the Puerto Rican culture and society.
In contrast with the slow and somehow subtle recognition of reggae as an ex-
pression of cultural and social resistance, Puerto Rican rap emerged as a form of cul-
tural and social protest within the Puerto Rican context. The particular social
environment and position of the individuals receiving the cultural symbols associ-
ated with rap music as well as the way they have received them have been important
elements in the way in which rap culture has been appropriated and resignified in
Puerto Rico. Instead of originating under the sponsorship of big multinational cor-
porations, Puerto Rican rap emerged from the marginalized youngsters of the de-
pressed urban areas and housing projects and thereby became a statement of
presence and an expression of social discontent for this sector of society. Puerto
Rican rap became their voice, much as dancehall and rap music are for their Ja-
maican and lower-class U.S. youth counterparts. Therefore, it is not coincidental

that race records in the United States (jazz and R & B), the popular music of the Ja-
maican ghettos and of the sound systems (ska, rocksteady, reggae, and dancehall),
North American rap, and the Puerto Rican rap underground share similar urban and
social origins. All of these musics started among and were mostly listened to by the
socially oppressed peoples in their societies. From dancehall to underground, we
find similar recurrent social themes with reference to the particular social context of
the performers and the audience, whether it is West Kingston since the 1950s, the
south Bronx in the 1980s, or Puerto Rico in the 1990s. In Puerto Rican and U.S. rap
and in Jamaican dancehall, youngsters found a definitive space for the manifestation
of their social, racial, ethnic, and gender identities.37
The term “reggae” has been the subject of misconceptions as a result of the gen-
eral ignorance of the origins of the genre and of Jamaican culture and society. This
ignorance has led to a number of distortions that have, with time, become part of
what has been constructed as “reggae” in Puerto Rico. For many people on the island,
most notably the parents of adolescents who listen to rap music but for many rap
artists as well, “reggae” has served as the term that identifies rap underground music.
I remember that when I was writing my book on reggae music in Jamaica, many peo-
ple thought that I was studying Puerto Rican rap music. In a 1994 workshop that I
offered to high-school students, I asked them to choose an audiocassette of a reggae
tune to play, and they came up with a local rap song instead. For them, that was reg-
gae. In a television interview with rap group No Mel Syndicate, reggae was defined
as a “type of Jamaican dancehall, Nuyorkino, with cultural elements of Puerto Rico.”38
In Puerto Rico, if you are looking for reggae music, U.S. rap, and local rap under-
ground in the record stores, the displays might confuse you. Local rap underground
is sometimes displayed under “reggae” and Jamaican roots reggae is sometimes dis-
played under “rap.” Or “rap” may refer only to U.S. rap, and local reggae groups may
be displayed under “rock music in Spanish.” And indeed, many rap artists have used
the term “reggae,” and more recently “ragga,” in the titles of their productions or their
songs. They have even coined a new term: “reggaeton.” At the same time, however,
Millo Torres, lead singer and producer of a Puerto Rican reggae group, prefers to de-
fine his music as “a Caribbean rhythm full of national expressions, spattered with
foreign elements and decorated with the world vision of some Puerto Ricans.”39
In other instances, the boundaries between the people who listen to reggae music
and fit into what I have defined here as a blanquito lifestyle and those who consider
themselves rappers and live the rap underground culture has been clearly marked. Un-
like most record shops, the exclusive reggae store Cool Runnings does not include
local rap music in its inventory. A clerk in Saravá, a record store in Old San Juan de-
voted mostly to intellectuals, tourists, and young urban professionals, once com-
plained to me, “‘Do you have The Noise’? [the kids ask.] . . . The kids come here
searching for that [rap underground]. . . . That is sold in La Gran Discoteca [another
record store]. . . . No, we [Saravá] promote music with culture. . . . That is not music.
That is a noise. You can hear it everywhere.”40
Although on most local charts, reggae and rap constitute a musical category—
dominated more by rap than by what can be considered reggae—during the 1999
“Tu Música” awards, rap was a category of its own and local reggae groups competed
with local groups under the “rock in Spanish” category.41 And finally, the reggae con-
certs promoted by major corporations, such as Budweiser and Coors Light in the
amphitheater of the Luis Muñoz Marín Park, are still the domain of upper- and

middle-class audiences. Even though these audiences might not know what the ori-
gins of reggae and its related culture are, they are more or less clear on what it is not:
local rap music.
What has been constituted in Puerto Rico as reggae and rap cultures is then, at
the same time, crossing and establishing boundaries and differences on the public
social scene. Although a process of rejection and recognition occurs between the
cultures of reggae and rap, and the groups exposing them, these cultures are also in
dialogue and interaction with Puerto Rican society and culture, from its national
symbols and music to its contemporary urban life. In an attempt to conceive
something that Puerto Rican people can identify with, and to relate their foreign
genres to the values and reality of the island, those producing rap and reggae music
have entered into a process of musical and cultural creation. In a discussion of mu-
sical borrowing, Peter Manuel has noted how foreign music styles are introduced
into a host musical genre of a specific country that keeps its coherence and conti-
nuity.42 In the case of Puerto Rico a somehow different and complex process takes
place in which the local projection of the foreign genre (rap and reggae in this
case) incorporates musical features and symbols from the “host” society.43 Some
examples are the use of the Puerto Rican folkloric bomba drums in some rap pro-
ductions, such as Tha Production by Harry Entertainment and La Unión de los Mejores
by the Dream Team.44 Local reggae groups, such as Millo Torres y el Tercer Plan-
eta in their 1997 production Soñando Realidad, have also incorporated bomba drum-
ming into the song “Rumba pa’ Temblar” as well as traditional Puerto Rican songs into
the reggae/rock versions of Rafael Hernández’s “Lamento Borincano” and “El
Cumbanchero.” Beyond the musical compositions, the symbols used by Torres in
the leaflet that accompanies his productions so far are eminently nationalistic. In
Soñando Realidad, this includes a drawing of a traditional, rural Puerto Rican house
in front of a mountain turned into a Cemí (a religious symbol that was sculpted by
the indigenous people of Puerto Rico before and during the early colonial period).
In his second production, Caminando, the leaflet portrays a jíbaro (typical Puerto
Rican peasant) walking inside a map of Puerto Rico that contains several pho-
tographs and images of the island in the nineteenth century. Torres’s latest pro-
duction, Mundo de Locura, includes references to the struggle against U.S. Marines in
Vieques. Another example of cultural borrowing is the use of the Puerto Rican na-
tional hymn in the solo guitar segment of the song “Pasiones, Guerrillas y
Muertes,” by Cultura Profética, followed by the lyrics of the revolutionary version
of the hymn. More recently, the local reggae group Soul Rebels used a cuatro45 solo
with the melody of the song “Preciosa” (also by Hernández) at the beginning of
the song “Puerto Rico.”46 The dynamic by which this musical borrowing process
goes hand in hand with the search of some sort of identification or link with the
host or receiving society has taken place in relation to other Caribbean musics. Be-
yond the explorations that have linked hip-hop and rap with African-derived mu-
sics such as bomba and plena, in Jamaica some relationships have been established
between contemporary dancehall and Jamaican folk songs, mento, revival music,
and other Afro-Jamaican musical forms.47 These parallel tendencies of roots
recognition and searching are related, in part, to the need to affiliate the global
musical trends received with the local setting where the music is performed and to
the inevitable and constant process by which Caribbean cultures and societies
search for, establish, and negotiate identity. As noted once by Stuart Hall,

Caribbean “identities for the twenty-first century do not lie in taking old identi-
ties literally, but in using the enormously rich and complex cultural heritages to
which history has made them heir, as the different musics out of which a
Caribbean sound might one day be produced.”48

Unfinished Remarks

Raymond Williams has remarked that the dominant cultures incorporate “emer-
gent” cultures (such as, perhaps, Puerto Rican rap and reggae), which are not de-
fined parts of it and are not under its complete sphere of control and influence.49 It
is uncertain whether the access of reggae culture, but mostly Puerto Rican rap, to the
dominant urban and media culture was part of an unconscious process of appropri-
ation of an emergent culture responding to the open and explicit critique of the
dominant system. Following Williams’s line of thought, we should question whether
the previously mentioned state policy against rap culture was a crusade against ob-
scenity or against the crude and explicit lyrical portrayal and condemnation of the
country’s state of affairs. On the other hand, some would argue that the recent in-
clusion of rap and reggae in Raices, the documentary special on bomba and plena by the
Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, could be part of an effort from the dominant culture
to incorporate the emergent ones. But the undeniable fact is that, at a very local
level, Puerto Rican rap and reggae are in the forefront of the local cultural and mu-
sical scene, opening a space for the articulation and exposition of the concerns, val-
ues, and ideas of Puerto Rican youngsters (blanquitos and raperos). These two genres
have demonstrated their potential to communicate social critique either through co-
herent and articulated lyrics, implicit language and hidden metaphors, or through
the crude images of the life of lower-class youth. But side by side with the genre’s so-
cial critique function is their entertainment function, established by the very system
in which they found a space and to which they are attached. The fact is that Puerto
Rican reggae and rap are inserted in a mainstream urban and media culture domi-
nated by social individualism and indifference, whose audience is more interested in
enjoyment and distraction than in any political statement made in a reggae concert
or musical production. Puerto Rican rap protests coexist with and are very often
downplayed by predominant interconnected topics—such as power, sexuality, gang-
sterism, and a celebration of rap culture—that are far from being a social critique in
the traditional political sense. The social role of these musical cultures is not a sta-
ble and monolithic one; they emerge from the center of dominant media culture and
at the same time from the margins. They sustain some social boundaries and roles
(such as class and gender) while attacking others (such as race) and, in one way or
another, challenge the dominant structures of which they are part. Because Puerto
Rican rap and reggae can be considered oppositional, then, they are either ap-
proached or attacked,50 in this case by the media and market or by the state. They
can be cultures of opposition that at the same time “challenge and confirm the dom-
inant order” and that can “lead into, but also often militate against, the possibility of
actual resistance.”51 Time will tell which of these variable, ambivalent, and coexisting
features and roles will prevail in the context of an effervescent cultural nationalism
and in the uncertain and vulnerable political panorama involving Puerto Rico’s
northern colonial neighbor. The rhetorical question is: Who will be listening now?


This chapter has been shaped and reshaped in an attempt to address the changes in and com-
plexities of the issues it discusses. For their assistance during that process, I thank the editors
and reviewers of this volume. Carlos Altagracia, Juan J. Baldrich, Kenneth Bilby, Juan C.
Canals, Jorge Duany, Humberto García, Rocío López, David Muir, Carlos Ramos, Lanny
Thompson, and Arturo Torrecilla provided assistance, comments, relevant literature, and
productive discussions on multiple versions of the chapter. Of course, I remain responsible
for the final product. Part of the research was funded by a grant from the Salvador Vassallo
Foundation in Puerto Rico.


1. Although this essay refers to the impact of only two Jamaican music genres and
styles—reggae and dancehall/ragga—I recognize that ska music has also had some in-
fluence on the island.
2. On Puerto Rican migration trends to the United States see José L. Vázquez Calzada,
“Demographic Aspects of Migration,” in Labor Migration under Capitalism: The Puerto Rican
Experience, ed. History Task Force, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (New York:
Monthly Review Press; 1979), Carlos E. Santiago and Francisco Rivera-Batiz, “La mi-
gración de los puertorriqueños durante la década de 1980,” Revista de Ciencias So-
ciales/Nueva Epoca 1 (June 1996): 192–97.
3. See Bonham C. Richardson, “Caribbean Migrations, 1838–1885,” in The Modern
Caribbean, eds. Franklin W. Knight and Colin A. Palmer (Chapel Hill: The University
of North Carolina Press, 1989).
4. See Rex Nettleford, Inward Stretch, Outward Reach: A Voice from the Caribbean (London:
Macmillan, 1993), 120–123; Helen I. Safa, “Popular Culture, National Identity and
Race in the Caribbean,” New West Indian Guide 61, nos. 3–4 (1987): 124.
5. See Nikki Finke, “Bibles, Blond Locks: The New Rastafarians,” Los Angeles Times (15
March 1987), sec. 6, p. 9; Jorge L. Giovannetti, “Rasta y reggae: del campo de batalla
al salón de baile,” Revista Universidad de América 7, 1 (May 1995): 26–33.
6. Kenneth Bilby, “Jamaica,” in Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, by
Peter Manuel, with Kenneth Bilby and Michael Largey (Philadelphia: Temple Uni-
versity Press, 1995), 179.
7. Idem Osorio, “Vico C—Una Xplosión de crítica social,” Diálogo (November 1993, 2.
8. Juan Flores, “Interview: Latin Empire: Puerto Rap,” Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños Bul-
letin 3, 2 (Spring 1991): 78.
9. Kenneth Bilby, “The Caribbean as a Musical Region,” in Caribbean Contours, eds. Sid-
ney W. Mintz and Sally Price (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 208.
10. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Il-
luminations (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1955), 220.
11. Ibid., 222. For a more detailed analysis of how Rasta and reggae are commercialized
in Puerto Rico, see Giovannetti, “Rasta y reggae.”
12. Finke, “Bibles, Blond Locks,” 1, 9. Ironically, the spiritual home of Rastas in Jamaica is
13. Iain Chambers, Popular Culture: The Metropolitan Experience (London: Methuen, 1986),
14. M. G. Smith, Roy Augier, and Rex Nettleford, The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica
(Kingston: Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1960), 24.
15. See Giovannetti, “Rasta y reggae.”

16. Mario Roche, Las Noticias Xtra, interviews, Channel 11, August 16, 1996, San Juan,
Puerto Rico.
17. Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, “Megatiendas destruyen economía y ecología,” Claridad, Oc-
tober 8—14, 1999, p. 6. See the musical productions of Millo Torres y el Tercer Plan-
eta, Soñando Realidad (Millo Torres/Trival Vibes Music, 1997) and Caminando (Millo
Torres/WEA Latina Inc., 1999); Cultura Profética, Canción de alerta (CDT Records,
1998); and the religious reggae group Obedience, My Generation (Jorge L. Baez/D’-
Gospel, 1999).
18. Vico C, Greatest Hits (Prime Entertainment, 1994).
19. Public statements made by rap promoters at a workshop on rap held at the University
of Puerto Rico, Faculty of Social Sciences, Río Piedras, September 4, 1997. “Septem-
ber 4, 1997,” journal notes.
20. The issue of gender in Puerto Rican rap music and culture, which is beyond the scope
of this chapter, is an area that deserves careful research, especially with respect to (1)
sexual/gender representation and constructions and (2) the dynamics of domination
and subordination. A comparison to U.S. rap, as well as to the Jamaican dancehall cul-
ture and what has been called “undomesticated female sexuality” might be explored.
See Carolyn Cooper, Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender and the “Vulgar” Body in Jamaican Pop-
ular Culture (London: Macmillan, 1993), 136—73.
21. “Citan 6 comerciantes venden discos obscenos,” El Vocero, 3 February 1995, pp. 2, 55;
“Se caen casos policía contra ‘rap’ obsceno,” El Vocero, 17 February 1995, p. 8; “‘Tocan’
a favor de la música ‘underground,’” Nuevo Día, 17 February 1995, p. 23.
22. “Prohiben en los planteles música ‘underground,’” El Vocero, 23 February 1995, p. 30;
Noticentro 4 On-Line, news report, 6 August 1998, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
23. On the different positions taken during this 1995 debate, see, Raquel Z. Rivera, “Del
underground a la superficie,” Claridad, 10–16 February 1995, p. 29; Lilliana García Ar-
royo, “‘Rap underground’: ¿Nueva alternativa o pornografía? Claridad, 24–30 March
1995, p. 36; Carmen Luisa Oquendo and Raquel Z. Rivera, “¿Rap, censura o repres-
sion?” Diálogo (February 1995): 14; Yolanda Molina, “Un llamado contra el rap,” Diál-
ogo (March 1995): 2; Carmen Luisa Oquendo and Lilliana Ramos, “Censura docta,
censura pastoral,” Diálogo (April 1995): 18; Karen Entrialgo, “Underground” Poder Estu-
diantil (February 1995): 11. In those days, television talk shows, such as “Al Grano con
Zervigón” and “Ojeda sin Límite” were also devoted to discussions about rap under-
ground. A significant part of the debate took place in the media and academic circles,
but national and regional newspapers received letters from the public as well.
24. Wilkins Román Samot, “Rap Underground: Un fruto de la ‘mano dura,’” Diálogo (Jan-
uary 1996): 6–7. See also Raquel Z. Rivera, “Rapping Two Versions of the Same Re-
quiem,” in Puerto Rican Jam: Rethinking Colonialism and Nationalism, eds. Frances
Negrón-Muntaner and Ramón Grosfoguel (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1997), 248–249.
25. Anthony J. Payne, Politics in Jamaica, rev. ed. (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers,
1994), 7.
26. Calvin Bowen, “Silencing the Sound-Systems,” The Gleaner, 29 January 1997, p. A4. For
some critiques of U.S. rap, see Ronin Ro, Gangsta: Merchandising the Rhymes of Violence
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 1–24.
27. Elizabeth Román, “Las caras del rap: Entrevista exclusiva,” Muévete 1, 6 (August 1997):
28. Journal notes, May 12, 1998, to June 2, 1998, and from November 12, 1998, to De-
cember 9, 1998, Puerto Rico.
29. Journal notes, May 17, 1998, Puerto Rico.
30. After his experience with drugs and eventually with rehabilitation, Vico C made an
impressive comeback to the rap scene. With his positive lyrics, he has combined his

participation in mainstream local media, presentations outside the island, and local
performances in religious activities around the island. These activities include the
Ponce Summer Fest, organized by the Iglesia Bautista Piedra Viva Jerusalén and Seed-
times Ministries de Puerto Rico, on May 22, 1999, and in the concert Echando la Red
hacia el 2000, organized by the Iglesia Bautista Bethel del Sur, on October 2, 1999.
31. Rivera, “Rapping Two Versions,” 255, n. 1.
32. For those who are not familiar with the term, cocolo is used in Puerto Rico to denote
those who listen to and are fans of salsa music. It must be noted that in the Domini-
can Republic, the term cocolo has been used to denote those who migrated to the Do-
minican Republic from the eastern Caribbean islands in the early twentieth century.
33. Jorge Duany, “Popular Music in Puerto Rico: Toward an Anthropology of Salsa,” Latin
American Music Review 5, 2 (Fall-Winter 1984): 200.
34. Journal notes, May 12, 1998, Puerto Rico.
35. See Jorge L. Giovannetti, Sonidos de condena: Sociabilidad, historia, y política en la música reggae
de Jamaica (México City: Siglo XXI Editores, 2001), 101–115.
36. Néstor García Canclini, Culturas híbridas: Estrategias para entrar y salir de la modernidad (Mex-
ico City: Grijalbo, 1990), 326 (my translation).
37. In the case of Puerto Rico, however, a careful approach is necessary in the establish-
ment of a straight and exclusive relationship between underground rap and black
identity. The particular patterns of race relations and color discrimination in Puerto
Rico, in contrast with those of the United States and Jamaica, must be considered. Al-
though some Puerto Rican rap lyrics explicitly condemn racism, others do not, merely
fashioning African American or Afro-Caribbean symbols instead. “Commodification
of blackness” through media appropriation and its public exposure is one thing; so-
ciopolitical racial identification with blackness—which has not been systematically
researched through interviews and other methods—is another. On this issue see a
short essay by David Lippman, “White Kids on Rap,” ms. [1996] (provided by Ken-
neth Bilby). Or in a broader context, see Paul Gilroy’s criticism of the hip-hop’s black
exclusivism and “trans-racial” alliances (Paul Gilroy, “‘After the Love Have Gone’:
Bio-politics and Etho-poetics in the Black Public Sphere,” Third Text: Third World Per-
spectives on Contemporary Art and Culture 28–29 [Autumn/Winter 1994]: 27).
38. Journal notes, May 12, 1998, Puerto Rico.
39. Lissy de la Rosa, “Millo Torres y el Tercer Planeta . . . ,” Teve Guía, 29 August 1999 to
4 September 1999, p. 88 (my translation).
40. Journal notes, April 30, 1997, Puerto Rico.
41. It must be said that—in contrast to the considerable number of rap underground pro-
ductions—of the few national reggae groups, those that have achieved the most suc-
cess in terms of their own musical recordings are Millo Torres y el Tercer Planeta and
Cultura Profética, and religious groups Obedience and León de Judá. Other groups
such as Los Fulanos, Jahovians, and Allagguna, although they have made public ap-
pearances, have not made their own musical recordings. See, however, a recent pro-
duction by various groups: Various Artists, Vibraciones Positivas: Antología de Reggae (A.J.
Records, 1999).
42. Peter Manuel, “Music as Symbol, Music as Simulacrum: Postmodern, Pre-modern,
and Modern Aesthetics in Subcultural Popular Musics,” Popular Music 14, 2 (May
1995): 232.
43. Here the process of musical borrowing is a rather odd one, more a self-borrowing
where the people from the host society (local rappers and reggae groups) perform a
foreign genre and borrow from the musical resources available in their own society
and culture.
44. See Harry Entertainment, Tha Production (BMG U.S. Latin, 1999); Dream Team, La
Unión de los Mejores (A.J. Records, 1999). For previous explorations of the relationships

between African-derived Puerto Rican musics, such as bomba and hip-hop culture, see
Juan Flores, “De la bomba al hip-hop: Una tertulia en el Centro,” Diálogo (February
1995): 52.
45. The cuatro, a typical Puerto Rican instrument, is similar to the guitar except that it has
five double strings. It is used mostly in traditional peasant music performed by the jíbaro.
46. “Pasiones, Guerrillas y Muertes” is on the album Canción de Alerta, and “Puerto Rico” is
on the album Vibraciones Positivas.
47. Bilby, “Jamaica,” 175–77; Cooper, Noises in the Blood, 136–37. For similar processes of
musical and cultural borrowing from foreign and local folkloric genres and traditions
in other Caribbean societies, see Kenneth Bilby, “‘Roots Explosion’: Indigenization
and Cosmopolitanism in Contemporary Surinamese Popular Music,” Ethnomusicology
43, 2 (Spring-Summer 1999): 264–72; Jocelyn Guilbault, “On Interpreting Popular
Music: Zouk in the West Indies,” in Caribbean Popular Culture, ed. John A. Lent (Bowl-
ing Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1990), 81, 84–89. In
the case of rap music in Cuba there are also tendencies to incorporate classics from
Cuban music (for example, Beny Moré) and to “Cubanize” the local rap and reggae;
journal notes, February 5, 1999, and February 8, 1999, Havana, Cuba. On Cuban rap
see Ariel Fernández Díaz, “Rap cubano: Anatomía de un movimiento urbano,” Caimán
Barbudo 31, 288 (1999): 31.
48. Stuart Hall, “Negotiating Caribbean Identities,” New Left Review 209 (January-Feb-
ruary 1995): 14.
49. Raymond Williams, Problems in Materialism and Culture (London: Verso, 1980), 41. The
process described by Williams applies to both residual and emergent cultures in dif-
ferent ways. By “residual cultures,” he means expressions from previous social forma-
tions that cannot be practiced within the dominant culture, and by “emergent
cultures” he means completely new practices that are created within the dominant
culture, but are not necessarily a defined part of it (40–41).
50. Ibid., 43.
51. Here I am applying Richard D. E. Burton’s elaboration of Michel de Certeau’s use of
opposition, with reference to the non-Hispanic Caribbean. Richard D. E. Burton,
Afro-Creole: Power, Opposition and Play in the Caribbean (Ithaca, New York: Cornell Univer-
sity Press, 1997), 8 (emphasis in the original).

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Mambo Kings to West African Textiles

A Synesthetic Approach
to Black Atlantic Aesthetics

Paul Austerlitz

ttracting scholars from a wide array of academic disciplines, popular music
studies are burgeoning today. The excellence of the musical scholarship that
is produced by anthropologists and literary critics demonstrates that the
ability to read music and conduct musical analysis is by no means requisite for think-
ing about music. Coming from a performance background myself, however, I am
often struck by the absence of attention to style and aesthetics in much academic
writing about Latin and Caribbean music. This lack of attention, of course, issues at
least partly from the fact that the techniques of music analysis and notation, allied
with the study of Western art music, may seem irrelevant to the political, economic,
and gender questions that dominate today’s humanistic discourse. Although in 1958,
Charles Seeger warned against the assumption that a visual medium can represent
aural experience, he did not advocate the dismissal of musical notation and analysis.
Instead, he made the now-classic distinction between “prescriptive notation,” a sys-
tem that facilitates musical performance, and “descriptive notation,” an analytical
tool that translates sound into a visual medium (1977: 168–81).
Even written texts about music represent a type of descriptive notation: they de-
scribe music in a visual medium. Although Seeger cautioned that musical knowledge
is not the same as language-based knowledge, he noted that there is no way out of
this “linguo-centric predicament” except to acknowledge that it is inherent to the
“musicological juncture” (1977: 46–47). He also observed that the purpose of de-
scriptive notation is not to depict every aspect of musical sound; to do so would only
overload the reader with information (1977: 170). The objective of descriptive no-
tation is rather to describe particular aspects of sounds. To this end, I use new sys-
tems of musical notation as synesthetic hermeneutical tools, as clues to
Afro-Caribbean aesthetics.
I was introduced to Caribbean music by joining merengue and salsa bands as a sax-
ophone player. And I have often been struck by the extent to which the aesthetic mode
that I learned in this capacity coincides with West African aesthetics as expressed by

my Ghanaian teachers—Freeman Donkor, Abraham Adzinyah, and Kwaku Kwaakye

Obeng—and as discussed in the literature. Looking at diasporic links necessitates a
certain amount of generalizing. Therefore, in this chapter, statements about “African
music” refer to sub-Saharan music in general and to West African music in particular.
Without implying that all sub-Saharan music is identical, then, I follow J. H. Kwabena
Nketia’s observation that African musics “form a network of distinct yet related tradi-
tions which overlap in certain aspects of style . . . and share common features. . . .
These related musical traditions constitute a family” (1974: 4; see also Agawu 1995: 1).
Similarly, my generalizations about diasporic aesthetics do not imply a monolithic view
of black Atlantic cultures; on the contrary, as I have argued in other works, these cul-
tures form a variegated constellation, not a uniform soundscape (Austerlitz 1998; see
also Gilroy 1993: 79–80). Nevertheless, there is a great deal of aesthetic unity in the
African diaspora.
In European terms, musical time is organized according to numerically patterned
systems of beats, or “meters.” Although they are not identical to Western meters,
Middle Eastern and South Asian notions of musical time also assign numbers to reg-
ularly occurring rhythmic patterns. Rural African and Caribbean musicians, in con-
trast, do not attach numerical values to music. The aural and kinesthetic interest
engendered by a timeline, or bell pattern, common to many West African and
Caribbean musics (for example, Ewe agbekor, rada-style Haitian vodou, and Latin-jazz
“Afro”) is forged by shifting patterns of aural attention to component rhythms. Be-
cause these can be analyzed as several simultaneously occurring meters, Westerners
often call African and Afro-Caribbean rhythms “polymetric.” However, Igbo ethno-
musicologist and composer Meki Nzewi argues that the notions of “polymetricity
and polyrhythmicity are aberrations of African musical thought,” which “do not
apply to the feeling, motion, and relational organization implicit in African ensem-
ble music relationships and structuring. Pursuing them results in shadow casting and
impairment of perception” (1997: 41). The validity of applying Western meter and
musical notation to African musics has been hotly debated. Kofi V. Agawu points
out that Western music notation is a useful tool because it “facilitate[s] entry into
the world of African musical art” (1995: 187; see also Jones 1959; Locke 1987, 1990;
Arom 1991; Amira and Cornelius 1992; Wilcken 1992; Yih 1995, Anku n.d.). But
Agawu also agrees that “suggestive” writing such as John Miller Chernoff’s (and, I
would add, Robert Farris Thompson’s) has been most successful at conveying the
“feel” of African arts (1995: 185; see also Chernoff 1979; Thompson 1983). This
chapter combines new visual tools with verbal description in synesthetic discourse
aimed at conveying this “feel.”
Philip Harland and James Koetting developed the Time Unit Box System of no-
tation (TUBS) for African music. Representing an underlying regular pulse at the
level of precision heard by a trained observer, TUBS indicates each sound and si-
lence as it occurs, without reference to Western meter (Koetting 1970). The nota-
tion is depicted in rows of boxes, with each box representing a pulse. Empty boxes
are silent, and boxes filled with dots or other symbols represent various sounds.
“Textiling notation” is my adaptation of one of Koetting’s former versions of TUBS,
which fills in the squares instead of placing dots in them (1980: 179). Whereas
Koetting used a uniform color, textiling notation uses different shades of gray to
represent different sounds. The result bears an uncanny similarity to West African
narrow strip textiles. Thompson relates the visual patterning of West African nar-

row strip textiles to diasporic musics, calling them “rhythmized . . . designs virtually
to be scanned metrically, in visual resonance with the famed offbeat phrasing of
melodic accents of African and Afro-American music” (Thompson 1983: 207). Of
Mande origin but pervasive throughout West Africa since at least the twelfth cen-
tury, these textiles, which are made on men’s horizontal looms, consist of variegated
rectangular weft blocks. The strips are sewn together in designs that stagger the
blocks to form juxtaposing patterns. Thompson argues that these juxtapositions are
visual equivalents of African and African-American musical rhythms: “As multiple
meter distinguishes the traditional music of black Africa, emphatic multi-strip com-
position distinguishes the cloth of West Africa” (1983: 208). Compare the visual
rhythms of the Asante cloth at figure 6.1 to the textiling notation of Afro-Caribbean
rhythms at figures 6.2 to 6.5; visual representation of the music reveals an underly-
ing aesthetic unity of black Atlantic visual and aural arts.
Westerners often focus on rhythm in African and Caribbean music, but sound
quality and pitch are equally paramount. Koetting—who uses the term “sonority” to
refer to the aggregate of pitch, loudness, tone quality, and carrying power of drums,
notes the importance of sonority to West African drumming (1970: 120). The fact
that the Ewe master drum atsimewu uses nine different sonorities and the fact that
Latin jazz musician Giovanni Hidalgo is said to produce 15 sounds from a single
conga head underscore the importance of sonority in black Atlantic drumming
(Jones 1959: 67, 68). The pervasive links between African speech and drumming un-
derline the forced nature of separating these realms (see, for example, Agawu 1995:
2). Charging that the Western “notion of rhythm as [a] statistical computation
which can have independent structure . . . does not . . . belong to African philosophy
and practice of music,” Nzewi argues that African “drum playing is a process of de-
riving a rhythmic essence melodically, that is, as melo-rhythm” (1997: 32–33, 34, my
emphasis; see also Nzewi 1974). Even in Western terms, the bifurcation of melody
and rhythm is contradictory, since all melodies have duration as well as pitch. My
own experience with Caribbean music performance focuses on rhythms performed

Figure 6.1 Nineteenth-Century Asante Narrow Strip Textiles


on fixed-pitch (or “melodic”) instruments: saxophone riffs, or jaleos, afford Domini-

can merengue a colorful confluence of melody, timbre, and rhythm that many con-
sider the heart of the music’s vibrancy (Austerlitz 1986: 3). For all the beauty of their
drumming, popular musics such as salsa, merengue, and soukous foreground the fixed-
pitch sounds of human voices, trumpet, saxophone, piano, and guitar. The tone-
shades of textiling notation are intended to match up synesthetically with these
sounds, underscoring the essentially melodic color of rhythm.
Responsorial structures underlie black Atlantic musics; call-and-response singing
is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of this. Arguing that even the complex
polyrhythms of African drumming are responsorial at their core, Chernoff notes
that, although Western students of African drumming usually find it easier to play a
rhythmic pattern isolated from its ensemble context, the very idea of playing one
part alone is foreign to the African sensibility: “We can think of this difference in
sensibilities as the difference between conceiving a rhythm as something to ‘get with’
or as something to ‘respond to . . .’ [Chernoff’s drumming teacher] Ibrahim felt that
isolated beating was meaningless without a second rhythm . . . There was no conver-
sation.” (1979: 55, emphasis in original)
In parallel fashion, Nzewi argues that the idea of cross-rhythm, often used to ex-
plain African music, is “antithetical to African social, and therefore, ensemble phi-
losophy” because “a community/family/team does not work together at cross
purposes.” (1997: 39) This does not imply that there is no tension in these rhythms,
merely that the tension is rooted in interdependence:

Figure 6.2 Hocket Rhythms in Trumpets. Perico lo tiene recorded by Luis “Perico” Ortiz

Motive as well as emotive suspense is generated when two entities tending to bounce
into each other veer off. A bounce-off effect is generated. When anticipations that de-
velop in motive or emotive relationships are not resolved or neutralized by actual con-
tact there is energy tension, a suspension. But a merger, subsumption, or submersion
of independence is avoided. In some African societies the bride price is never settled
in full; in love there is more emotional intensity when resolution is not attained
through marriage or physical consummation. (39, my emphasis).

Nzewi, whose work weds visual and aural aesthetics, expounds on bounce-off melo-
rhythms in Igbo upa visual art in relationship to music (36–39).
Melodies whose constituent notes are distributed between more than one fixed-
pitch instrument or singer are called “hockets.” Hockets permeate BaAka (and other
“Pygmy”) singing, and much West African flute music, and are basic to rara, the one
note trumpet and percussion processional music performed during Lent in Haiti
(rara is also endemic to the Dominican Republic, where it is called gagá) (see Nketia
1962). As clear examples of bounce-off melo-rhythms, hockets are an appropriate
place to begin to look at textiling notation. Salsa arrangements occasionally use
trumpet hockets in a technique called the campana, or “bell,” (the name most likely
refers to the fact that this technique is basic to Western bell playing). Figure 6.2
shows textiling notation of two hocketing trumpets in a mambo (or instrumental in-
terlude) in salsero Perico Ortiz’s recording “Perico lo tiene” (on the album Perico) As
the figures’ legends show, specific shades of gray in textiling notation express specific
pitches or sonorities; in figure 6.2, each shade indicates a particular note played by a
trumpet. The lighter the shade, the higher the pitch, so the ability to read Western
notation is not necessary for a passive reading of this visual correlate to the sound.

Figure 6.3 12/8 Rhythm


The upper trumpet part repeats a note, leaving spaces that the lower trumpet part
fills in. The resulting two-note melo-rhythms forge a different effect than the same
pitches would create if produced on a single instrument: group coordination makes
a crucial difference. As Chernoff puts it, “The notion of participation as a significant
gesture of active effort” is a “contribution which gives life and meaning” (1979: 164).
This interactivity is not limited to the aural sphere; dance is associated with most
(though not all) black Atlantic musics. In the Twi language, there is no equivalent to
the English word “music.” Maxwell Amoh suggests that the closest term is ag>r>, an
aggregate of drumming, singing, and dance translatable as “dance theater” (personal
communication). Similarly, Caribbean genres such as salsa and merengue are dances
as much as they are musical forms. Aural rhythms are thus best understood in the
context of related body movement. Fanti master drummer Abraham Adzinyah talks
about a “hidden rhythm” expressed in the bottom line of the textiling notation shown
in figure 6.3, which he keeps in the back of his mind while he improvises to the time-
line, played on a bell, at the top line of this figure (Chernoff 1979: 50). Because it is
also often expressed in dance movement, Koetting (1970: 134) calls it the “dancers’
motorbeat”(sometimes it is performed aurally, in which case it can be called a “guid-
ing pulse sense” [Nzewi p.c.]). Figure 6.3 combines the dancers’ motorbeat, the time-
line, and a common drum rhythm (the kagan in agbekor, the bula in vodou). Representing
the motorbeat and the drum, the two lower lines express the bounce-off aesthetic:
the motor activity can be seen bouncing off the aural stimulation, as dancers are lifted
up by the drum rhythm and implanted in its wake. As Ewe master drummer and

Figure 6.4 Merengue Jaleo I


dancer Freeman Donkor used to tell his students, drummers are “cheerleaders” for
the dancers, encouraging them, spurring them on (p.c.). Figure 6.3 also shows where
the timeline meets and veers off the other rhythms: it coincides with the motorbeat
at the first and last occurrence of the motorbeat, and it coincides with both strokes of
the drum only at one point, the fifth and sixth squares. The rest of the time, it veers
around the drum. Using a visual metaphor that resonates with Thompson’s, Nzewi’s,
and my own visual connections, Ruth Stone argues that this timeline is best under-
stood as a “mosaic” (1985: 140, 142, my emphasis).
In a typically African-inspired aesthetic, the patterns played by the double-
headed tambora drum and saxophone and the movement of dancers’ feet in Do-
minican merengue form dovetailing melo-rhythms. The most prominent
percussive sound in merengue is a roll in open tones of the tambora, shown in the
middle line of figure 6.4 as dark-gray squares. Note that the roll consists of four
strokes, although it can give the impression of having five, since the ear easily
misinterprets as an open tone the bass slap preceding the roll. This roll interacts
with the dancers’ motorbeat (shown in the bottom line of figure 6.4), bouncing
off one motorbeat pulse and landing on the next; it thus gives the dancers a lift,
and then implants them. Usually articulated by electric bass as well as by tambora,

Figure 6.5 Chorus from Mambo, Arcaño y sus Maravillas


the implanting beat is strong. Typical saxophone parts, however, often omit the
implanting beat, entering immediately after it and echoing the tambora roll with a
similar rhythm (see the top line of figure 6.4). In this way, saxophones propel
dancers in the wake of the implanting tambora roll (Austerlitz 1997: 57–58). (Of
24 saxophone jaleos transcribed for a previous study, 17 follow this pattern
[Austerlitz 1986: 163, 165]).
The classic song “Mambo,” which was recorded by the Afro-Cuban band Arcaño
y Sus Maravillas and composed by Orestes López and Israel “Cachao” López, com-
bines elements of hocket and the mosaic effects. The vocal chorus of this arrange-
ment, expressed in textiling notation in figure 6.5, features two interacting choruses.
The rhythm sung by the low voices, shown in the bottom line, is often used in piano
montunos (or ostinatos), and the higher part, shown in the top line, is a common horn
rhythm. The top part dominates, but the bottom peeks through, especially when the
bottom is silent, most notably at squares four and five. The hocketing mosaic creates
an equivocal melo-rhythm that is difficult for the ear to grasp (see Kubik 1962,1979:
224–25). Cachao’s recent recording of this classic, in fact, dispenses with the two
vocal choruses and conflates the two parts in a unilinear aggregate (Cachao 1994,
1995: 25).
Visual art is static in time (even if it engages the eye in temporal play). Music, in
contrast, moves through time by definition. But time is hard to fathom; as St. Au-
gustine put it, “Si nemo me quareat, scio, si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio”
(“When no one asks, I know what it is, but when I wish to explain it to someone who
does ask, I don’t know”) (Husserl 1964: 21). Musicologists often study musical time
as a statistical calculation, but generally shy from confronting it as lived experience.
Suzanne Langer (1953: 19,104) and Basil de Selincourt (1958: 152–60) contrast the
“sequence of actual happenings” (or “clock time”) with nondurational “virtual time,”
maintaining that music evokes the latter. According to de Selincourt, “Music sus-
pends ordinary time and offers itself as an ideal substitute and equivalent. Nothing
is more metaphorical or more forced in music than a suggestion that time is passing
while we listen to it” (287).
The phenomenologist Alfred Schutz contrasts “outer time” with “inner time,” ar-
guing that music is the “arrangement of tones in inner time” (1970: 170; quoted in
Merriam 1982: 373). Clock time and Western musical meter are quantitative per-
ceptions, whereas inner time is a qualitative condition: “Having a good time” is ir-
relevant to knowing “what time it is.” As Schutz notes, the fact that two recordings
of popular songs last about three minutes each is important to a radio DJ but “en-
tirely immaterial to the listener” (1976: 37). Similarly, even if slow and fast move-
ments of a symphony take an equal length of time, their lengths may seem to be
different. We experience overlapping qualitative and quantitative perceptions of
time when we experience return trips as faster than departing trips, and when we ex-
perience time as moving faster as we grow older.
Arguing that “time exists primarily within us” as “a relationship between people
and the events they perceive,” music theorist Jonathan D. Kramer notes that “events,
not time, are in flux. And music is a series of events, events that not only contain
time but shape it.” Asserting that music has “the power to distort or even destroy
time,” Kramer writes about linear and nonlinear time, maintaining that both exist in
music. He identifies linear time with left-brain thinking (defining it as “the deter-
mination of some characteristic[s] of music in accordance with principles that arise

from earlier events”) and nonlinearity with right-brain thinking, (defining it as “the
determination of some characteristic[s] of music in accordance with principles gov-
erning an entire piece or section”) (1988: xiii, 5, 20). Kramer draws an analogy be-
tween the architectural structures of Western classical music (such as sonata form)
and Western linear time as expressed in Christian doctrine (such as the Last Com-
ing) or the nineteenth-century novel (plot with climax). McClary makes similar
connections, while he relates Western goal orientation to masculinity and nontele-
ological modes to femininity (1991: 119, 146–47, 155; see also Östör 1993).
Many observers have suggested that African and Caribbean musics are especially
allied with virtual time (Blacking 1971: 37; Merriam 1982; Stone 1982: 72, 1985;
Averill 1989: 20; Austerlitz 1997: 96). Kramer argues that increased Western con-

Figure 6.6 12/8 Rhythm

Same Legend as Figure 6.3

Inner circle: dancers’ motorbeat

Middle circle: supporting drum
Outer circle: timeline (bell)

tact with non-Western cultures has brought about an ascendance of nonlinear time
in twentieth-century Western art music (1988: 387).
In accord with the fact that Africans do not attach numerical values to musical
time, John S. Mbiti (1970) shows that “numerical calendars . . . do not exist in tra-
ditional African societies” (24) and that “the linear concept of time . . . is practically
foreign to African thinking”(21; quoted in Merriam 1982: 456). Nzewi adds that,
unlike “Western statistical thought . . . the African concept of time, including musi-
cal time, deriving from nature . . . is cyclic.” (1997: 33).
The fact that most musical notation is displayed horizontally is at odds with this
cyclical nature. Seeger wrote that the “chain or stream” of linear music notation dis-
torts even the reality of Western music, since sonic links are fused in the musical ex-
perience (1977: 169). Circular notation, such as that used by Meki Nzewi (1997:

Figure 6.7 Merengue Jaleo I

Same Legend as Figure 6.4

Inner circle: dancers’ motorbeat

Middle circle: tambora
Outer circle: saxophone

46–48), Judith Becker (1979), and David Paul Nelson (1991) for West African, Ja-
vanese, and South Indian musics, respectively, circumvent this erroneous impres-
sion. Figures 6.6 to 6.8 translate the linear textiling notation of figures 6.2 to 6.5 into
cyclic textiling notation. Here, the twelve o’clock position corresponds to the linear
grids’ beginnings at the far left. Circular visual scanning creates a response conso-
nant with hypnotic virtual time, because it places less emphasis on beginnings and
Schutz notes that humans experience many “provinces of meaning” or “levels of
reality,” which range from “the world of daily life” to theoretical contemplation,
dreams, and various types of fantasy. He notes that Western classical music turns our
attention away from the mundane world, suspending practical everyday concerns,
and he calls the transitions from one reality to another a “leap” or “shock.” We “leap”

Figure 6.8 Merengue Jaleo II

Same Legend as Figure 6.4

Inner circle: dancers’ motorbeat

Middle circle: supporting drum
Outer circle: timeline (bell)

from one state to another, for example, from not listening to music to listening, from
dreaming to waking, or from playing with a child to watching a television news pro-
gram about the latest war (1970: 104; see also 1962: 230; and Skarda 1989: 50, 57).
Bounce-off melo-rhythms can be analyzed in Western terms, according to time
measurement, but their aesthetic function is to create particular kinds of time. Shifts
of these aural universes within a single performance of black Atlantic music resem-
ble Schutz’s “leaps,” except that they occur within a single musical experience instead
of marking the transition from nonmusical to musical experience. Stone uses
Schutz’s phenomenology to elaborate on what she calls “moment time” among the
Kpelle of Liberia. She writes that the Kpelle recognize, but do not emphasize, dura-
tional time: they are “cognizant of people growing old and time passing in the sense
of ‘outer’ time [but] this dimension of time is simply not emphasized; rather, the
Kpelle elaborate the present” (1982: 72). Nondurational “moment time” resembles
Langer’s “virtual time” and Schutz’s “inner time.” Stone writes that to the Kpelle,
“life consists of a series of presents more distinguishable from one another through
qualitative than quantitative differences” and that Kpelle music creates different
qualities of the present: “Kpelle time is like a bubble in that while it is variably ex-
pandable, at some point it must cease to expand. At the point the bubble bursts, in
a similar way the participants move to another present in time through a leap or a
shock” (72).
Chernoff argues that James Brown is a master of this type of musical timing
(1979: 115). In this case, the transformation is kinesthetic as well as aural; Brown
brings his band to “the bridge” (the second section of an arrangement) exactly when
the dancing public aches for the change—the shock is a delicious gift. Charles Keil
notes a similar aesthetic in jazz (1966: 347; quoted in Chernoff 1979: 113). I had an
opportunity to participate in such activity myself when I performed with Victor
Waill’s merengue band. Waill gradually raised the momentum, bringing the dancers
into a pulsating communal groove and keeping them there until they ached for a re-
lease. Then he suddenly introduced a new rhythm or harmony, changing the feeling
in the entire hall and giving the public an incredible lift: the bubble burst, and the
participants leapt into a new “now” (Austerlitz 1997: 96–97).
Such shifts can be sudden, as in James Brown’s music; in his composition “Sex
Machine” (1991) Brown even teases the audience, asking bandmates, “Should I take
them to the bridge?” before actually bestowing this gift. But cycles of leaps and
shocks can also be constant, ever-changing. Contemporary accordion-based (típico,
or “typical,” “authentic”) merengue is a case in point: Here, accordion and saxo-
phone riffs interact with percussion and dance rhythms to create variegated quali-
ties of aural, kinesthetic, and psychic experience. Witness the cyclic textiling
notation in figure 6.7. The saxophone and tambora sounds create a psychic space for
dancers that engages them kinesthetically and aurally: saxophone melo-rhythms
bounce off the tambora roll, seducing body motion into complicity with the four-beat
cycle. Without warning, musicians leap into the representation in figure 6.8.
Dancers are seduced by the new saxophone pattern, which is similar to the first one,
except that it articulates shorter patterns that bounce off every two, instead of every
four, motorbeats. The dancers respond by intensifying their steps. Nzewi writes that
participation in kaleidoscopically changing bounce-off melo-rhythms, which can be
“bent, interrupted, and resumed . . . with different impressions,” engenders what is
essentially a “psychedelic” experience (1997: 33, my emphasis). Textiling notation pro-

vides a visual correlate to this life wave, but because its static nature cannot express
music’s ever-changing quality, we reach the end of this musicological juncture.


I am supremely indebted to Robert Farris Thompson, Meki Nzewi, Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng,
Rebecca Miller, Harris Berger, Akos Östör, and my students, for their invaluable contribu-
tions to my thinking about music, textiles, and time. I also owe thanks to Phillip Madanire,
Howard Fredrics, and Kenji Takeuchi for their help with the graphics.

Works Cited

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Cachao (Israel López). 1995. Master Sessions. Vol. 1. Miami, Florida: Warner Brothers Publica-
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3: 337–51.
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Kramer, Jonathan D. 1988. The Time of Music. New York: Schirmer.

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White Cliffs Media.
———. 1990. Drum Damba: Talking Drum Lessons. Tempe, Arizona: White Cliffs Media.
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McClary, Susan. 1991. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press.
Merriam, Alan P. 1982. African Music in Perspective. New York: Garland Publishing.
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Diss., Wesleyan University.
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———. 1974. The Music of Africa. New York: W. W. Norton.
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Perspective in Music 2, 1: 23—38.
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Yale University Press.
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California Press.
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sical Experience. Ed. F. Joseph Smith. New York: Gordon and Breach.
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Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
———. 1985. In Search of Time in African Music. Music Theory Spectrum. 7: 139–48.
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1983. Flash of the Spirit. New York: Vintage Books.
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gional Repertoires. Ph.D. Diss., Wesleyan University.

Selected Discography

Arcaño y Sus Maravillas. 1993. Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, 1946–51: Danzón Mambo. Tumbao Cuban
Classics, CD TCD-029.
“Cachao” (Israel López). 1994. Master Sessions. Vol. 1. CineSon/Epic, CD DIDP 082439.
Brown, James. 1991. Star Time. Polygram, CD 849 108–2 to 849 112–2.
Ortiz, Luis. n.d. Perico. New Generation Records, LP NG 725.
Titon, Jeff Todd, ed. 1996. CD accompanying the book Worlds of Music, 3rd ed. New York:
Schirmir Books.

Various artists. 1991. Caribbean Revels: Haitian Rara and Dominican Gaga. Smithsonian/Folkways,
CD 2–4531.
Various artists. 1997a. Angels in the Mirror: Vodou Music of Haiti. Ellipsis Arts, CD 4120.
Various artists. 1997b. Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Rounder, CD1130.

Cultural Hybridity in the Americas


Musical Frontiers in Martín Fierro

Bridget M. Morgan

J osé Hernández’s El gaucho Martín Fierro (1872) and its sequel, La vuelta de Martín
Fierro (1879) (Hernández 1967 ed.), is poetry that tells a tale of frontiers—
frontiers that include not only the unsettled Argentine pampas but also the un-
known expanses that lay beyond the pale of shifting artistic, social, and scientific
boundaries. In the nineteenth century, Latin American works of frontier fiction
dealt in a variety of ways with space, newness, and the contiguity and conflict be-
tween groups, but Martín Fierro is remarkable because it frames the struggle of fron-
tiers in terms of musical contact. Fictional music makers and listeners explore
geographical and conceptual terrain, and struggle to lay rightful claim to them. It is
a struggle that is part and parcel of the constitution of national culture, an under-
taking that posed a particular set of problems to countries that had long been con-
sidered “‘backward peripheries,’ a mixture of ‘promised land’ . . . and irreducible
‘barbarism.’” (Perus 1994: 48)
Society’s opinion of the gaucho changed dramatically during the late eighteenth
century when “patriotic heroism tinged the despised cattle rustler with romance,
and transformed him into a national hero.” (Tinker 1947: 10) A superb guerrilla cav-
alryman, the gaucho fought Portuguese and British invaders, adherents to the Span-
ish Crown and, during the civil wars, other gauchos. The gaucho later repelled the
armies of neighboring countries and ended the threat posed by hostile indigenous
tribes. After decades, the image of the gaucho as soldier/patriot led to, as Josefina
Ludmer calls it, a literary “demarginalization (desmarginación)” (Ludmer 1991: 262).
The notion of “demarginalization” can also be extended to the folk music of the
pampas that exerted “a profound influence on composers with nationalistic tenden-
cies” (Béhague 1991: 289). In light opera and music theater, lyrics were sprinkled
with colorful gaucho jargon, and folk and popular rhythms and melodies made their
way into the flourishing salon music.
This represented demarginalization only, however, not integration. The pres-
ence of a rural accent in symphonic, choral, chamber, and stage music in Buenos
Aires could not overcome the predominantly European musical values that held
sway. The rural/urban dichotomy determined many aspects of nineteenth-century
society including the organizations and institutions that supported musical life. Al-
though there was an urban market for the piano music of local composers, musical
production in the cities overwhelmingly reflected European practices and tastes.

The participation of the gaucho cantor in defining the essence of Argentine nation-
alism (argentinidad) would have to take place in geographical and musical frontiers.
In Martín Fierro, the rural/urban spatial displacement (through which the evocation
of “barbarism and civilization” takes form in Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s 1845
foundational text Facundo) (Sarmiento 1845; 1977 ed.: 11–12) becomes a frontier in
which two spheres of musical culture, the “civilized” and the “autochthonous,” come
into contact. The setting of Martín Fierro, the pulpería (rural tavern), would suggest that
Fierro’s audience is a group of his peers. However, Hernández constructs a heteroge-
neous mixture of fictional listeners: The gaucho cantor, clearly concerned with the lis-
teners who are not inhabitants of the pampas, repeatedly remarks upon the musical
expectations of these listeners. The first part of the poem begins with Fierro declaring
“I’m no educated singer” (7), thus acknowledging the importance of musical training
and his lack thereof. In the opening lines of La vuelta de Martín Fierro the gaucho cantor
asks that the “rich” (urban) listeners keep an open mind as they listen to his song:

Poor men as well as rich

will grant I’m in the right;
and if they get to listen
to what I’m saying in my own way,
I tell you they won’t all be laughing—
some of them will cry.
(181, 183)

The gaucho cantor’s defense of his music then becomes emphatic, and he presents the
most direct response to the educated listener concerning valorizations of his musi-
cal production:

A city man sings . . . and he’s a poet!

a gaucho sings . . . and good Lord!
They stare at him as if he were an ostrich—
his ignorance amazes them . . .
But shadows are always useful
to show how much light there is.

The country’s for the ignorant

and the town for the educated;
I was born out on the plain
and, I tell you, my songs are
for some people—just sounds
and for other people—sense.

Clearly, “they” who stare are nongaucho listeners who have come into contact with
the rural music maker. There have been enough of “them” for Fierro to make gener-
alizations about their responses to gaucho song. Music, not physical distance, is the
defining boundary that separates the pampas and the city—the frontier is cultural,
not geographical.
The image of the gaucho’s song as a “shadow” that is created by the “light” of the
music produced in Buenos Aires posits a musical continuum that is more temporal

than spatial. The physical distance between a light source and the object that casts a
shadow is unimportant; the crucial relationship is that the light source—Argentine
music, symbolizing Argentine culture—has not yet reached its zenith. Left unsaid
was the fact that the apex of musical development was, of course, the Western Eu-
ropean model. However, if the gaucho’s song is a shadow, the indigenous chants are
utter darkness. Fierro establishes what can be called the frontier of the frontier with
regard to music: He is unable to understand the music making of those people who
are “savages through and through” (225). He sees the indigenous people as animals
and their songs are sheer noise, more the howl of wild beasts than music:

The song they sing is just one word

and they never vary that.
ioká—ioká—they all repeat,
taking up the rhythm. . . .
It’s as if I could see them now,
uglier than Satan.

Loping round inside the ring,

sweating, starving, and raging wild,
tattered and bedraggled,
on from one sunrise to the next,
in thunder or rain, they go on dancing,
chanting the same sound.

These stanzas echo earlier studies such as Eduard Hanslick’s Vom Musikalisch-
Schönen (1854) in which “he contrasts European art music . . . with the ‘incompre-
hensible howl’ of so-called savages.” (Schneider 1993: 79) 1 The musical
comparison between the native, the gaucho, and the city dweller is based upon the
assumptions of nineteenth-century anthropology that all human cultures devel-
oped along the evolutionary stages of savagery, barbarism, and civilization (always
with Western culture representing the pinnacle of evolutionary achievement).
Music had a special place in cultural evolutionary theory because, through musi-
cology, art and science had been synthesized. Musicology was able to analyze “ob-
jective” data (the musical score) through which a society’s cultural evolutionary
status was assessed, and literacy came to distinguish the musical from the nonmu-
sical. In Martín Fierro, the lack of indigenous musical development, the orality of
the gaucho cantor, and the “poet” of the city (suggesting a literate composer) ex-
emplify Argentina’s cultural progress.
In spite of his illiteracy, the gaucho cantor was celebrated for functioning within
his community as a musician/historian. Sarmiento felt that his songs should be
preserved as texts to be interpreted and evaluated—that is, unless “another cul-
tured society” provided better documentation of the same events: “The singer is
candidly accomplishing the same work on chronicles, customs, stories, and biogra-
phy, as the bard in the Middle Ages, and his verses will be collected later as the
documents and data that the future historian will have to use as a base, unless sur-
rounded by another cultured society with a knowledge of events that is superior to
that which the unfortunate man demonstrates in his ingenuous rhapsodies” (46;
my translation).

Both Sarmiento’s statement and Hernández’s poem demonstrate an interest in

documenting but not preserving the culture of the gaucho. Their views find their
scientific parallel in nineteenth-century ethnography, whose aim was not primar-
ily to preserve tribal or folk materials in an unaltered state but rather to make the
materials comprehensible and valuable to a Western audience. Ethnography
sought to collect data and determine a “native” or “insider’s” view for the purpose
of discursively reworking the findings (organizing ethnographic data was a prob-
lem that British anthropologists finally tackled in the late 1860s). Researchers did
not entertain the idea of turning back the clock, of returning the land to the na-
tive peoples and restoring their cultures to a romanticized former glory. In North
America, ethnological field research was encouraged by the U.S. government be-
cause it was necessary to find out more about the native peoples with whom the
country was at war. Thus, “the same ethnologists who rushed to record Native
American culture before it disappeared helped to formulate policies accelerating
acculturation.” (Lee 1993: 20)
The process of documenting non-Western musical production was also shaped
by the new academic pursuit of folksong, or ballad, study. Folksong study began as an
aspect of antiquarian literary scholarship (the “ballad was seen as an antique literary
text surviving in oral tradition, in which was captured the essence of a people”)
(Myers 1993: 36) and analyses were conducted by linguists, philologists, and folk-
lorists. The release of a folksong collection tended to stir literary, not musical, con-
troversy. However, in the Americas the approach of tracing a folksong back to its
literary or art-music origins was undertaken with difficulty when it was not ignored.
That was due to the inclination of American collectors to accept newly composed
popular folksongs, which did not exactly correspond with earlier tunes, texts, and
formulas. As popular tunes, they were written and notated after they were per-
formed. The originary process of the folksong accepted in Europe—first text, then
oral tradition—is effectively reversed in the Americas.
However, this pattern is not quite fully reversed. Popular song lyrics are certainly
not comparable to antique literary texts. Collecting and publishing folksongs could
not transform them into counterparts of European and British poetry. But could a
mirror-image of the European model be produced and a poetic text based on folk-
song be created? Could the autochthonous musical production of the periphery be
constructed as different but equal?
It is impossible to determine the effect, if any, that such questions had on
Hernández’s creative process. Furthermore, it would seem that since the poem’s
references to the gaucho cantor’s repertoire are clearly not attempts at transcrip-
tion, many of the analytical tools brought to bear on the study of folksong texts
would be inappropriate in a discussion of Martín Fierro. But this poetry has contin-
ually prompted a blurring of the critical boundaries between the literary and the
musical. Literary scholars inform the reader-as-listener that Fierro’s historical
model has long been ascribed with a poor sense of balladry. The gaucho is basically
a rhythmic and melodic bumpkin. Sarmiento noted the heavy, monotonous, and
irregular verses that constituted the recitations (not the songs) of the gaucho can-
tor. (45) Linguists tell us that any concerns about references to music in Martín
Fierro are quickly put to rest by some insight into the gaucho’s dialect. Studies point
out that, to a gaucho, the verb “to sing” meant to relate in verse or recite, and “ac-
companiment” meant a rhythmic sound that would distinguish the presentation

from a chat or conversation. “The ‘accompaniment’ is not and never was a musical
composition” (de Onís 1986: 118). It is even suggested that the reader concerned
with forming an accurate mental image of the gaucho’s performance should re-
place the word cantar (to sing) with contar (to recount) each time it appears in the
poem (Rojas 1986: 91).
Generally overlooked in discussions of the musicality of Martín Fierro is the way in
which Hernández’s loose borrowing of lyrics reflects contemporaneous theories of
folksong creation. The defenders of communalism (who maintained that folksong
was composed collectively) were giving way to the challenges mounted by propo-
nents of individual creation and re-creation. Supporters of individual creation and
re-creation asserted that “folk music is composed by individuals, but that subsequent
to the original act of composition, many persons may make changes, thus in effect
re-creating a song. This process, called ‘communal re-creation,’ is one of the things
that distinguishes folk music from other kinds” (Nettl 1965: 5).
Borrowing and changing musical elements is neither arbitrary nor capricious.
Each singer who performs a song can offer only a version that is built from possibil-
ities present in the musical repertoire. As formulaic, imitative, or constrained as the
song may seem on the surface, the folksong not only allows for, but also prizes, de-
viation from its model. Through this process, musical originality is prized but, at the
same time, the song remains “the property of the group rather than of any one indi-
vidual” (Merriam 1964: 179).
The process of communal re-creation is predicated on the existence of a musical
community. Hernández presented a heterogeneous group of fictional listeners that
included city dwellers who had come into contact with the music of the pampas. But
this represents only the penetration, not the settlement, of the frontier. The gau-
cho’s music, like the pampas, must come under the control of orderly citizens and
their civilizing influence. Hernández pioneers and settles the musical frontier by
producing a text that both the illiterate gaucho and the educated reader can lay claim
to as their own. Instead of literarily bringing the gaucho to the city (as in the poems
of Esteban Echeverría and Rafael Obligado, in which frontier adventures were re-
counted in impeccable Castilian) (Echeverría 1837; Obligado 1885), Hernández
makes the city dweller comfortable, poetically speaking, in the pampas. The gaucho’s
song, with seemingly minimal alteration, is accessible to the urban reader, just as the
hardships of frontier life described in the poem are formidable but ultimately will be
overcome. Those residing in the country who heard the poem read out loud had the
familiar experience of listening to a gaucho’s song—except that it was a literary work
that dealt with the disappearance of the gaucho’s way of life and the transformation
of the frontier. Fierro finally made “sense” to all his listeners.
By describing some of the musical subgroups within the gaucho community,
Hernández demonstrates that a musical community is a contingent relationship be-
tween listeners. The gaucho population in the poem is racially diverse. Sometimes
musical mutuality can overcome these differences; in other moments, a shared cul-
tural production can be used to underscore interracial conflict.
The gaucho’s musical repertoire has been shaped by the reality of racial differ-
ence. Fierro recalls a “catchy little rhyme” that sums up his view of racial hierarchy:

“Pretty black girl,” said I,

“you’d make me a nice . . . mattress,”

and I started humming

this catchy little rhyme:

“God made the white men,

Saint Peter made the brown,
and the Devil made the black ones for coal
to keep the hell-fires goin’.” (89)

Unsurprisingly, the “little rhyme” provokes a black man’s passionate response; in this
case, a knife fight ensues in which the woman’s male companion is killed.
Race, musical mutuality, and contingent musical communities come together in
the scene of the payada. Instead of presenting a payada between singers who are very
much alike, Hernández makes Fierro’s musical challenger a black man.

But by coincidence—
the kind that’s never far off—
among all the white folk there
happened also to be a black man,
one who boasted of being a singer
and thought a lot of himself.
He was full of fine airs, that Negro—
and so as to leave no doubts about anything,
he started clearing his throat.

It was not odd that the black man was a member of the audience, but to dare to
presume himself a singer reveals a “complete arrogance” and “insolent manner”
(441). Unlike Fierro, who began his song by emphasizing his rural origins and
apologizing for his lack of education, the black payador begins by attempting to
convince the nonblack listeners that they should not immediately dismiss him be-
cause of his race:

Your Honors—I am nothing more

than a poor man with a guitar;
but I give thanks to heaven
that when the opportunity comes
I’m able to face a singer
who’ll give this Negro a trial.
I’ve got some white about me too
because my teeth are white.
I know how to live among other folk
so that they don’t look down on me—
a person who goes about in strange parts
needs to be cautious and quiet.

The black payador continues by asserting that being black gives him a unique per-
spective denied to much of his audience: “things that white men haven’t heard of /
this poor Negro knows” (449).

Fierro directed his verses to the nongaucho members of his audience, insisting
that an uneducated, rural singer can make sense; the black payador argues the same
point, but appeals specifically to the nonblack listener:

There’s always some profit to be got

from what a singer has to say,
and he ought to be given a hearing
even if it’s a black man who sings—
if people are ignorant, they can learn,
and if they’re wise, learn more.

Beneath even the blackest forehead

there are thoughts and there is life;
listen quietly to me, people,
don’t reproach me for anything—
the night is black, also,
and it has stars that shine.

Fierro begins to gain respect for the black payador’s talent and knowledge—a re-
spect, perhaps, that models the reaction the gaucho cantor would wish to receive from
the nongaucho audience. Fierro remarks:

Negro, by these replies of yours

I’m sizing you up already,
because you’ve a talent for singing
and you’re learned on top of that—
when you’re giving an explanation
even shadows don’t pass you by.

Later Fierro adds:

You’re a smart one, darky,

and I like what you’ve just explained.
I’m beginning to respect you
though I laughed at you at first.

Finally, Fierro openly recognizes that race is no barrier to musical skill:

Negro, I’ll tell you once again

I’ve sized you up.
And so now I’ll tell you—
because it’s my duty to do it,
and it’s doing truth an honor
to give way before what’s true—
you’ve got darkness on the outside
but inside you’ve got light.

However, mutual respect during the payada provides only a temporary reconcilia-
tion between black and white: It is revealed that the black payador is the younger
brother of the black man who was killed by Fierro. The payada ends. Outside the mu-
sical arena, when the protagonists are no longer participants in the contingent com-
munity created by the payada, the musical dialogue changes to verbal attacks:

I’ve never been able to get along

with any low colored man
they generally turn vicious
when they get their temper up—
they start to act like spiders,
always ready to bite.(458)

The gaucho community is also ethnically diverse. Generally, the “gringos” (speak-
ers of broken Spanish) are not threatening and occasionally they are even amusing.
The first mention of a gringo in Martín Fierro is presented in this musical image:

There was a gringo with a barrel-organ

and a monkey that danced
who was making us laugh there (25)

As Fierro goes on to explain, the gringos arrive at the frontier in large numbers but
are not fit to conquer and settle the pampas. Not only are they inept as cavalrymen
and cowboys, they are also thieves and cowards. Fierro’s son comments that when a
gringo “murders, he pretends he’s mad” in order to avoid punishment (295).
Cruz, Fierro’s comrade-in-arms, hates the gringos for another reason. He over-
heard a conversation between two wealthy men:

They were talking about getting rich

with lands on the frontier,
and moving the frontier further out
to where there was unclaimed land,
and taking men from all over the province
to go and defend it for them.

They turn everything into schemes

for railways and settlements,
and chucking money away
in thousands, on hiring gringos.

Just as the gringo played the barrel-organ for his monkey, the rich will play the tune
and the gringos will dance. But instead of sending capable men to the frontier, those
planning outward expansion are sending incompetent “monkeys.”
The barrel-organ playing is the only music making by a gringo in the poem. The
gringo’s lack of natural musical propensities marks him as different, not only from
the gauchos but from all “real” Argentines. In the same chapter that Sarmiento de-
scribes the gaucho’s song as heavy, monotonous, and irregular, he also exalts the Ar-
gentine’s natural musical abilities by asserting that:

Our people are musicians. This is a national predisposition that all our neighbors rec-
ognize. When in Chile one learns that there is an Argentine present, he is invited to
the piano on the spot, or they pass him a vihuela, and if he excuses himself saying that
he doesn’t know how to play it, they think it strange and don’t believe him, because
“since he’s an Argentine,” they say, “he must be a musician.” (Sarmiento 41)

Sarmiento’s remarks remind us that during this period, discussions of folk music’s
regional origins had become discussions of national origins. In anthropology, music
gained new importance in the notion of national character. Incipient ethnomusicol-
ogy in Europe and the United States was gathering and interpreting evidence of na-
tional character based on musical difference, as all the while it constructed the
culture under study as continuing untouched, unaware of the researcher’s presence
and findings. Of course, Latin American culture, as a non-Western culture, was an
object of study.
It seemed that determining the musical borders of argentinidad was beyond the
control of the Argentines. Hernández’s poem responds to this attack of the musical
border by producing a text that mimics ethnomusicological evidence in which the
gaucho cantor is keenly aware of his role as informant. Keeping in mind that a tradi-
tion of ethnomusicological discursive practice had yet to be created, Martín Fierro is
noteworthy as an early attempt to “write back” at the West.
Fierro recognizes not only the presence of nongaucho listeners, but also the im-
portance of their appreciation of his music. During this time, the musical Other was
constructed as incapable of explaining his or her music in Western terms. Conse-
quently, the duty of ethnomusicology to preserve or make record of a musical culture
that may soon be lost became linked with an approach

that is probably the most widespread in the discipline, and it is one that is common in
anthropology as well. This is the point of view, basically protective in nature, that the
music of other peoples of the world is much abused and maligned; that such music is,
in fact, fine and worthy, both of study and appreciation; that most Westerners do not
give it its due; and that therefore it is up to the ethnomusicologist to protect it from the
scorn of others and to explain and champion it wherever possible. (Merriam 8)

Fierro’s explanations of his music reveal that he is conscious of a cross-cultural con-

tact in which his is the subordinate culture.
In order to foster cross-cultural appreciation, the discursive construction of gau-
cho music had to be expressed according to the Western understanding of “the aims
and purposes of art, as well as the attitudes taken toward it”(259); in other words, in
accordance with aesthetic concepts. Early ethnomusicology was first faced with a
problem of definition: the “distinction, implied or real, made between music on the
one hand, and noise, or non-music, on the other” (63). Thus, it is not surprising that
Hernández presented a lengthy description of the howls of the indigenous popula-
tion as a blatant example of nonmusic. Even if gaucho song does not meet the stan-
dards of art music, after such a description it certainly cannot be deemed nonmusic.
Fierro can clearly distinguish between music and nonmusic sound. Further-
more, recognizing that composing music is a conscious act that requires skill and
practice, he apologizes beforehand if his verses are clumsy and remarks on the dif-
ficulty of making his rhymes. The gaucho cantor’s remarks respond to ethnomusi-
cological discourse “avant la lettre”: In the first few decades of the twentieth

century, by compiling songs about son making, ethnomusicologists would support

their assertion that “less-advanced” cultures recognized the distinction between
music and nonmusic sound. This research would also reveal that non-Western
composers of song recognized that “language used in connection with music dif-
fers from that of ordinary discourse” (187).
Not only does the gaucho cantor acknowledge that literacy marks a more “ad-
vanced” stage of musical evolution, he also gives his opinion on the teleological ren-
dering of music history that reflected Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s view that
cultural progress would lead to freedom, a conceptualization that resulted in predic-
tions that music was destined to achieve total emancipation from social constraints.
Fierro acknowledges that his verses lack artistic disinterestedness. The idea that we
can stand away from “art” music, that we can take it out of “context and treat it ob-
jectively or subjectively as something that exists for itself” (262) is not unknown to
Fierro. Music without purpose is pleasurable and amusing, and Fierro does not sug-
gest that one musical form is more difficult than another. The gaucho cantor implies
that he is capable of creating music for music’s sake, but he simply does not choose
to do so:

I have known singers

it was a pleasure to listen to,
they amuse themselves singing
and don’t care to give opinions;
but I sing giving opinions
and that’s my kind of song. (185)

In the mid-nineteenth century, European, British, and American folksong collectors

became increasingly interested in accumulating songs from living singers. The col-
lector provided an introduction to the songs—explaining that the tunes were sung
during Christmas or were American Negro spirituals—in addition to determining
the organization of the songs within the anthology and making any alterations to the
lyrics that he or she saw fit. Martín Fierro is, in a sense, a folksong collection gathered
from a variety of living singers—Fierro and Cruz and their sons, and the black
payador. Indeed, the gaucho’s reportoire is well-represented in Hernández’s poem:
Verses based on popular tunes, the payada, the canto autobiográfico, and the topical song
of insult are evident.
Hernández’s organization of the songs is a radical departure from contempora-
neous anthologies. The various song types are woven into a narrative and the un-
named narrator (a collector or an anthropologist?) who observes Fierro offers no
clarification of the form and content of the lyrics. This observer poses an ambiguity.
On one hand, if the narrator is an outsider whose role it is to provide further infor-
mation to the nongaucho audience, the individual does not provide any evidence of
an etic perspective. As a result, the narrator does not maintain the distance that dis-
tinguishes observer and observed, the distance that qualifies the individual to orga-
nize, write, and analyze findings in a cross-cultural perspective. On the other hand,
if the anonymous voice is one of Fierro’s peers who is singing a song within a song
(as suggested by a verse in the last stanza of the poem), the individual could not have
written the text. There is an unexplained gap between orality and writing, listening
and reading, and presence and representation.

Defending Argentina’s musical frontier by portraying the gaucho as an au-

tochthonous source of music created an originary dilemma. If Fierro’s musical in-
spiration were a European model, the gaucho could not be an unblemished symbol
of lo argentino. Furthermore, his music would simply be a degenerated form of art-
music. But if the gaucho cantor turned to the indigenous peoples of the pampas or a
supernatural source for his musical ideas, his song would be deemed savage and unfit
to consider as music. Hernández cleverly resolves this dilemma by making the bot-
tle Fierro’s muse:

When I get tight

the verses come out from inside of me
like water from a waterfall.

Hernández’s solution to Fierro’s source of inspiration suggests a possible inter-

pretation for the ambiguity surrounding the narrator. Instead of situating a Self to
the gaucho’s Other, Hernández’s narrator is an Other to the gaucho’s Other Within.
This Other exists in a musical continuum with the gaucho and belongs to the con-
tingent communities created through cultural mutualities. Furthermore, if the nar-
rator is an Other, then Fierro’s song has escaped construction of hegemonic
discourse by the Self. Thus, an aspect of Argentina’s musical frontier has yet to be
conquered and colonized, and therefore still holds the promise of something new, of
an improvisation, of a Latin American canto autobiográfico that has yet to be written.
To conclude this discussion of musical frontiers, we must consider more closely a
site of struggle that has long impacted readers of Hernández’s poem: critical at-
tempts to cultivate an appreciation of Martín Fierro and simultaneously discourage an
overvalorization of gaucho song. As we have seen, a lot of energy has been invested
in providing information that ultimately seeks to convince the reader about the poor
quality of gaucho music. As a result, the reader is instructed to take one aesthetic
stance toward the text-as-literature (as a “masterwork”) and quite a different one
toward the text-as-music. For most contemporary readers, the choice of aesthetic
stance is made based on a discursive construction of gaucho music. Commentary
embedded in literary scholarship regarding the form, content, execution, and inter-
pretation of milongas or vidalitas are directed to a reader who does not have personal
experience with these musical forms, but who is nonetheless impelled to embrace or
resist Western musical hierarchization. The aesthetic stance chosen reveals little
about our experience and knowledge of gaucho music but everything about our own
Therefore, we must evaluate our musical taste as we read Martín Fierro: We cannot
express approval or disapproval of the musical capabilities of the gaucho cantor with-
out revealing an interpretative position in relation to them. In this way, we are drawn
into the negotiations for cultural hegemony. Hegemony cannot be mandated; for
hegemony to be achieved, the dominant group has to engage in negotiations with
opposing groups and these negotiations must result in some genuine accommoda-
tion. Each reader, therefore, must come to some decision about her or his position
in relation to the hegemonic discourse of music—that is, each one needs to classify
her or his musical “tastes.” And, as Pierre Bourdieu points out, “Taste classifies, and
it classifies the classifier” (1984: 46).

Apparently, a better understanding of Hernández’s poem requires the reader to

consciously assume a listener identity. The person who wishes to prove her or his
cultural knowledge and, consequently, reader competence will necessarily take an in-
terpretive stance toward the hegemonic discourse of music and, by extension, to-
ward the Western construction of the history of music (which, like all history, is not
a set of immovable past achievements but a discourse open to reinterpretation). In
short, the reader is impelled to acknowledge a musical center and its periphery—her
or his musical frontier—and then assume the role of the musical Self.
The consequence of a reader who assumes the role of the musical Self is that rep-
resentatives of the external borders (the non-Argentine), the civilizing movement
that is pioneering the frontier (the narrator), and the musical frontier that is being
tamed (the gaucho) all become present at the reading. The musical Self is pivotal in
a complete enactment of Martín Fierro because the tale recounted in Martín Fierro is
one of relentless escape within one’s own land; not only an escape from the gaze that
constructs the Other, but also a neverending flight toward the yet unwritten canto au-
tobiográfico of Latin America.


1. See also Eduard Hanslick, Vom Musicalisch-Schonen (1854).

Works Cited

Béhague, Gerard. 1991. Latin America: Independence and Nationalism. In Music and Society:
The Early Romantic Era between Revolutions: 1789 and 1848. Ed. Alexander Ringer, 280–292.
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction. A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
de Onís, Federico. 1986. El Martín Fierro y la poesía tradicional. In Martín Fierro: Cien años de
crítica. Ed. José Isaacson, 118–121. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Plus Ultra.
Echeverría, Esteban. 1837 [1986]. La cautiva. Reprint, Madrid, Spain: Cátedra.
Hanslick, Eduard. 1986. Von Musikalisch-Schönen: ein Beitrag zur Revision der Asthetik der Tonkunst.
Trans. Geoffrey Payzant. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett.
Hernández, José. 1967. The gaucho Martin Fierro. Trans. C. E. Ward. New York: State University
of New York Press.
———. 1967. La vuelta de Martín Fierro. Trans. C. E. Ward. New York: State University of New
York Press.
Lee, Dorothy Sara. 1993. History to World War II: Native American. In Ethnomusicology: His-
torical and Regional Studies. Ed. Helen Myers. London: Macmillan.
Ludmer, Josefina. 1991. La lengua como arma: Fundamentos del género gauchesco. Historia y
crítica de la literatura hispanoamericana: Del romanticismo al modernismo. Ed. Cedomil Goic. Vol. 2.
Barcelona, Spain: Editorial Crítica.
Merriam, Alan P. 1964. The Anthropology of Music. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University
Myers, Helen. 1993. History to World War II: British-Americans. In Ethnomusicology: Historical
and Regional Studies. Ed. Helen Myers. London: Macmillan.
Nettl, Bruno. 1965. Folk and Traditional Music of the Western Continents. Upper Saddle River, New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Obligado, Rafael. 1885 [1965]. Santos Vega. Reprint, Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ediciones Cul-
Perus, François. 1994. Modernity, postmodernity, and the Novelistic Form. In Latin American
Identity and Constructions of Difference. Ed. Amaryll Chanady. Minneapolis: University of Min-
nesota Press.
Rojas, Ricardo. 1986. José Hernández, último payador. In Martín Fierro: Cien años de crítica. Ed.
José Isaacson, 90–94. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Plus Ultra.
Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino. 1845 [1977]. Facundo. Reprint, Caracas, Venezuela: Biblioteca
Ayacucho, Schneider, Albrecht. 1993. Northern and Western Europe: Germany and Aus-
tria. In Ethnomusicology: Historical and Regional Studies. Ed. Helen Myers. London: Macmillan.
Tinker, Edward Larocque. 1947. The Cult of the Gaucho and the Creation of a Literature. Worcester,
Mass: American Antiquarian Society.

José María Arguedas’s

Representation of la danza de las tijeras:
A Contribution to the Formation
of Andean Culture

Juan Zevallos-Aguilar,
translated by María Elena Cepeda

a danza de las tijeras (the scissors/shears dance, or danzaks in Quechua) is a dance
that two male dancers, accompanied by the violin and the harp, perform in
successive turns. When each dancer’s turn arrives, he must not only repeat his
competitor’s steps; he must also create more complex gestures and steps to be im-
proved upon during the turn that follows. To further complicate the performance,
the dancers must manipulate a pair of loose shears in one free hand as they dance.
The uninterrupted clashing of the shears produces a sound similar to that of a small
bell. The dance has been performed for hundreds of years in the rural Andean zones
of Peru’s central region. During the 1950s, in a sociocultural process known in Peru-
vian society as indigenización (indigenization), the Andean migrants of the Apurímac,
Ayacucho, Huancavelica, and portions of Arequipa introduced the dance to Peru’s
urban coastal centers, in particular to Lima. La danza de las tijeras was initially limited
to programs aimed at Andean migrants and festivals in honor of patron saints. Later
la danza de las tijeras underwent a process of commercialization, and numerous folkloric
spectaculars were established for the consumption of the urban coastal public and
foreign tourists.1 It was inevitable that the dancers’ showy clothing, and their acro-
batic, pain-defying movements would easily captivate this new public.
Because of the clear connection between the dance and indigenous cults, civil au-
thorities prohibited the dance in Andean rural areas until the beginning of the
twentieth century. The authorities saw the dance as related to diabolic cults and in-
digenous trickery that “conflict with present-day civilization and good customs.”2
But by the end of the 1960s, the dance was considered an “artistic symbol” and “Pe-
ruvian cultural patrimony.” The dance achieved its greatest prestige and consecra-
tion during the populist government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado
(1968–1974). Velasco’s government engineered a local cultural manifestation into

one of the most significant expressions of Andean culture and an integral part of
Peru’s heterogeneous culture.3 This was the obvious result of a cultural politics that
aided the dance’s diffusion by financing its performance—along with the perfor-
mance of other dances representative of Peru’s various cultural regions—not only in
Peruvian towns and cities but also in major world cities.4 Beginning in the 1980s, the
dance, as performed by contemporary dancers, began to be viewed in academic cir-
cles as a practice that established continuity with indigenous expressions of cultural
resistance dating back to the sixteenth century.5 Part of the responsibility for the
recognition and valorization of la danza de las tijeras has rested in the hands of artists
and indigenista intellectuals, whose contributions are found in the fields of journalism
and literature, as well as in ethnographies, and audiovisual media.
A reading of the documentation regarding la danza reveals José María Arguedas
(Andahuaylas, 1911–Lima, 1969) as the Peruvian writer who, in his dual position as
a man of letters and an anthropologist, contributed the most to existing knowledge
about la danza and its role as one of the most expressive elements of Andean culture.6
His contribution to our knowledge regarding la danza is based on two facts: on one
hand, Arguedas was convinced that “the indigenous dances of Peru . . . are symbols and
constitute an entirely popular language.”7 On the other hand, a consensus exists within the
scholarship on Arguedas with respect to the transparent nature of the relationship
between his life and his work (both literary and anthropological.)8 In this sense, we
note again that, before becoming a professional ethnographer in 1946, Arguedas was
already writing his first literary works about his personal experiences within the in-
digenous cultural universe. Later he decided to pursue a doctorate in ethnology from
the University of San Marcos, with the intention of utilizing the prestige and au-
thority of the field to support his personal experience and ideals regarding the de-
fense and spread of indigenous culture.9 In effect, it is apparent that Arguedas’s
familiarity with the indigenous cultural codes acquired in his childhood in the cen-
tral sierra and south of Peru, as well as the particular means by which he gathered
ethnographic data made possible his reliable representation of those who perform la
danza de las tijeras.10 In addition, Arguedas had a personal interest (affective, anthro-
pological/literary, as well as political) in the dissemination of the dance.11 In his clas-
sification of popular art in Peruvian cultural areas, “Arguedas considers the
characteristics that mark the Pokra-Chanka area to be, in addition to Quechua, mu-
sical folklore, popular Hispanic acclimated architecture, and la danza de las tijeras.”12
Abundant references to la danza de las tijeras also appear in the story “La agonía de
Rasu-Ñiti” (1962) and in the novels Yawar Fiesta (1941), Los ríos profundos (1958), and
El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (published posthumously in 1971).13 Other examples
of his interest may be perceived in the dynamic role that he fulfilled in disseminat-
ing la danza via mass media outlets.14 Finally, so great was his predilection for this
dance that “he asked in a letter that at his own funeral [his friend] violinist Máximo
Damián [Huamaní] play the agony accompanied by harpist Luciano Chiara, with
Gerardo and Zacarías Chiara as dancers.”15
Because the references to la danza de las tijeras in Arguedas’s work constitute an in-
dispensable source of information, they are frequently cited in recent anthropolog-
ical studies.16 Their indispensability is rooted in the fact that both Arguedas and his
readers, sharing a realist literary perspective, have maintained first that, with the ex-
ception of El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo, his literary works reflected la danza that Ar-
guedas had witnessed in the 1920s as a child living among indigenous peoples in

various towns in Peru’s central sierra.17 Second, Arguedas’s observations constitute

the only authorized description of the dance in a rural context, in contrast to recent
ethnographic scholarship that describes its execution in an urban context. Within
this group of references, Arguedas dedicates the entire story of “La agonía de Rasu-
Ñiti” (“Rasu-Ñiti’s Agony”) to the dance of the shears and in detailed fashion re-
lates the practice of the death ritual associated with yet another ritual of initiation.
The story’s writing is located in a well-defined stage of Arguedas’s intellectual
and artistic trajectory. Arguedas was witness to the indigenous movement to reclaim
the right to land ownership at the beginning of the 1960s,18 and he took a definitive
position concerning these events. According to his perspective, “The novelist and
the poet are the only ones who can express this time of social upheaval.”19 It was in
this way, during a period of urgency that swept through the indigenous population,
that Arguedas became interested in demonstrating the existence of a dynamic in-
digenous culture that resisted any sudden attacks leveled by the process of capitalist
modernization. With this purpose, he decided to publish both “La agonía de Rasu-
Ñiti” (Arguedas noted, “The story was maturing for about eight years and I wrote it
in two days,”)20 and his unedited Quechuan poetry, and to write “Tupac Amaru.”
The decision to publish this last poem, which clearly expresses his position regard-
ing the indigenous struggles, did not fail to arouse Arguedas’s apprehension.21 In a
November 12, 1962, letter to Murra, he wrote:

I wrote the poem “Tupac Amaru” during the dark days, when the government was
killing peasants. I have not yet decided to publish it. I beg you, if possible, to drop me
a line giving me your opinion as to whether or not this poem could be interpreted as a
call to rebellion. . . . I don’t want to be considered a “stinking communist” in my home-
land. I am a free man; I have strong disagreements with the communists, and on the
other hand, I’m on the United States Embassy’s blacklist.22

In this chapter, I will explore how Arguedas’s story “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti” em-
ploys a ritual associated with la danza de las tijeras in order to reframe its specificity and
to foreground the strength of Quechuan culture. Without a doubt, Arguedas con-
siders these dancers a “living symbol of a people and a culture that cannot die.”23 My
exploration emphasizes the use of a group of discursive mechanisms from the fields
of indigenista literature and anthropology. Although in his written work, Arguedas re-
peatedly insisted that no pure indigenous culture exists, in this story he essentialized
an aspect of Quechuan culture for the purpose of defending it in the face of adverse
political and social conditions.24 My investigation develops a line of inquiry pro-
posed by William Rowe. As Rowe observed, “I learned that the scissors dancers in-
clude several Christian elements; however, in the short story ‘La agonía de
Rasu-Ñiti’ these elements do not appear; Arguedas excludes them. Thus, it seems
that in this story Arguedas is constructing the possibility of an autonomous Andean
culture, non-dependent; maybe a sort of utopian culture.”25
This construction of Andean culture is so coherent and persuasive that, within
the same year that it was published, 1962, Peruvian readers widely accepted the story.
In a July 3, 1962 letter that Arguedas wrote to his psychiatrist, Lola Hoffman, he
stated, “The publication of ‘La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti’ has generated great enthusiasm
among the young and the critics.”26 At the same time, the critics recognized the story
as both a masterpiece and an authentic document that detailed the cultural practices

that only Arguedas could have observed and understood.27 Twenty-three years after
the story’s first publication (1962), a version entitled La Agonía de Rasu-Ñiti, Un Cuento
de José María Arguedas was recorded on videotape. The purpose of the video was to
demonstrate to a foreign public the specificity and ongoing existence of an indige-
nous culture during the 1980s.28 The most important criterion determining whether
this video would be released outside of Peru was its quality as a piece of “authentic
television material.” Despite the fact that the video’s subtitle suggests that it is an au-
diovisual version of an Arguedas story, however, the brief comparison that I under-
take in the final portion of this chapter demonstrates that the video constitutes a
different vision of Quechuan culture and ritual.
In “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti” (a Quechuan name that means “he who crushes the
snow”), Arguedas chronicles Rasu-Ñiti’s performance of la danza de la tijeras to the
death inside his own home. Upon Rasu-Ñiti’s death, his disciple Atok’sayku (whose
name means “he who wearies the fox”), takes up his teacher’s scissors and continues
the dance.29 It is difficult to prove whether the death ritual through which this
process of teaching and apprenticeship unfolds is fiction or reality. Arguedas was the
only witness to leave behind a written testimony to Quechuan culture during the
first half of the twentieth century. The lack of corroborating examples regarding the
ongoing existence of this ritual that ends in the death of its teacher leaves Arguedas’s
story as the only evidence of a now-defunct cultural practice, recorded by the last
survivor of his ethnic group.30
For Arguedas, the description of the death ritual serves to demonstrate to his
urban readers the ongoing, vital existence of an autonomous indigenous culture with
its own forms of sociocultural reproduction and value system that determines social
and economic status in rural areas.31 Along these lines, Arguedas explicitly under-
lines that his story is one about the indigenous people. In the first paragraph of the
story, the narrator indicates to the reader that Rasu-Ñiti’s dwelling belongs to a
prosperous member of the indigenous population: “The house was wide for the
dwelling of an Indian.”32 Later, another reference that indicates the dancer’s status
in the indigenous population points to the very name of Rasu-Ñiti: “In the shade of
the hut that was the home of the Indian Pedro Huancayre flashed the great danzak
As a professional ethnographer, Arguedas was aware that, in order to lend author-
ity to his story, he would have to imbue it with a sense of objectivity by using the
ethnographic present and by trying to avoid making value judgments. Using the
ethnographic present meant employing a third-person narrative to present the events
as though the story were a piece of fieldwork. The dance steps marked by the music,34
the character’s beliefs, the dialogue registers, and the action are all described by this
narrator. In the same way, Arguedas translates indigenous cultural elements, using as
points of reference analogous elements from the more European-influenced urban
culture and including footnotes in order to explain the Quechuan vocabulary used.35
Intercalated within the story is a first-person voice that allows Arguedas to com-
plement the information offered by the third-person narrator. This first-person
voice intervenes, relating its experiences with respect to la danza de las tijeras, and
making observations from a bicultural position in order to lend authority to the
“participant observer” who narrates in the third-person. In this way, the first-person
narrator who witnesses the dance recalls an important autobiographical moment,
but also, at the level of rhetorical persuasion, affirms the veracity of a lived experi-

ence. Thus, the designation of the truth and the construction of an indigenous cul-
ture are united in the affirmation of firsthand observation. The uniqueness of
Quechuan culture is confirmed as real because the narrator has witnessed it. For ex-
ample, in the following passage, without a transition, Arguedas passes from the third
person to the first person in order to persuade the reader:

[The scissors] are loose sheets of steel. The danzak hooks them with his eyes, in his fin-
gers, and he makes them clink. Each dancer can produce a light music in his hands with
this instrument, as from trickling water to fire: it depends on the rhythm, on the or-
chestra, and on the “spirit” that protects the danzak. They dance alone or in competi-
tion. The feats that they accomplish and the boiling of their blood during the notes of
the dance depend on who is seated in [the dancer’s] head and his heart, as he dances or
rises or throws sticks with teeth, pierces flesh with awls, or walks in the air along a thin
cord stretched from the top of a tree to the tower of the village. I saw [my emphasis]
the great father “Untu,” dressed in black and red, covered with mirrors, dancing on a
shaky rope in the sky, clinking his scissors. The steel song could be heard louder than
the voice of the violin and the harp that were being played by my side, next to me [my
emphasis]. It was in the early hours of the morning. The father “Untu” appeared black
under the uncertain and tender light; his figure rocked against the shadow of the great
mountain. The voice of the scissors exhausted us [my emphasis], went from the sky to the
world, to the eyes, and to beat of the thousands of Indians and mestizos who we saw
advancing from the immense eucalyptus at the tower.36

The presence of the narrator in the first person leads Martín Lienhard to point out
that “‘La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti’ is put together like a popular Quechuan story,” since
“the narrator would represent, then, all the Indians and/or mestizos in a village, the
members of a community who think of the cosmos in terms of animism” and “about
half of the text is directly based on the succession of musical rhythms of the ritual of
the dancers to achieve its own narrative rhythms.”37 The presence of two narrators
who have already been identified by Antonio Cornejo Polar38 leads Lienhard to the
following conclusion about the possible readings of the text:

“La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti,” because of its focus and writing, is an indigenous story. . . .
Its editing in Spanish presupposes, to begin with, a reader who is not indigenous. This
method of ambiguous production—between indigenous and indigenist—makes possi-
ble two divergent readings. For the “indigenist” reader (that is, not indigenous), it’s a
“magical” story that tells of imaginary occurrences, real only for the protagonists in the
story. For a Quechuan reader literate in Spanish, however, “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti” is
an expression of a world that is absolutely real, probable, and known as well.39

Mary Louise Pratt40 has noted with regard to Guaman Poma de Ayala that, in this
story in particular and in Arguedas’s literary work in general, he achieves an au-
toethnography in the following senses: (1) He writes in Spanish about the present,
employing anthropological written forms and European cultural referents. (2) He
communicates the firsthand knowledge of indigenous culture that he acquired while
he lived in that environment during the first fifteen years of his life.41

For Arguedas, after having established the existence of a vital indigenous culture
in the story, the next step was to outline the specific and unique elements of the

culture; these elements would permit him to conceive of an indigenous culture

with its own intrinsic character, differing from other cultures. At the same time,
these beliefs and customs that were identified as belonging to Quechuan culture
were incorporated into the ritual with the purpose of demonstrating the culture’s
great complexity and sophistication. For this reason, Arguedas chose to narrate a
ritual in which multiple aspects of indigenous culture simultaneously interpene-
trate one another, enabling him to employ his bicultural position as one knowl-
edgeable in the specifics of indigenous culture. Julián Ayuque Cusipuma locates
the following indigenous cultural beliefs that Arguedas incorporates into the
story to be understood by bicultural readers as signs that mark Rasu-Ñiti’s in-
evitable death: when Rasu-Ñiti orders his wife to lower the ears of corn, as they
will later be served as an offering on the site of the final dance, it is understood
that the protagonist is requesting a sacred food that will accompany him on his
voyage to heaven.42 In addition, the chiririnka (blue fly) or the whistle of the male
guinea pig will announce the death.43 According to Ayuque, Rasu-Ñiti “had to
outdo the fly so that during the ritual dance his protector deity, the Wamani, would
be transferred to the body of his disciple.”44 Finally, when Rasu-Ñiti’s daughter
injures her toe,45 Arguedas alludes to another Quechuan belief: “For the rural
peoples, to fall down and injure an extremity means that a close family member
will soon die.”46
Similarly, in addition to the description and explanation of these specifics, Ar-
guedas’s other task was to demonstrate that the indigenous culture possesses its own
means of registering past experiences, confronting the present, and moving toward
the future. In the story, Arguedas undertakes this project by conceding to the death
ritual properties that define and make possible indigenous social and cultural repro-
duction. The discussion that follows analyzes how Arguedas develops his confidence
in an indigenous cultural future as he grants the culture specific characteristics (such
as communal/social organization) that unfold in the belief in the Wamani. Arguedas,
along with other indigenista writers, recovered and overemphasized the communal as-
pects of the indigenous populations in order to present them as an organizational
model for the Peruvian nation.
For Arguedas, one of the essential elements of the indigenous culture is the be-
lief in the Wamani. Once more, he employs two narrative strategies in order to erase
any doubts in the readers’ minds as to the Wamani’s existence. First, he provides an
ethnographic definition of the Wamani in a footnote: “Mountain god presented in
the figure of the condor.”47 Several paragraphs after this definition, Arguedas indi-
cates that the dancers are not common people; they are people who have been pos-
sessed by nonhuman entities and, as such, they are intermediaries between humans
and nature. Thus, the determination of the dancer’s skill level or style depends
largely on who possesses the danzak’ first:

The genious of a danzak’ depends on who lives in him:—the “spirit” of a mountain

(Wamani); from a precipice whose silence is transparent; from a cave from which
emerge golden bulls and “the condemned” in dances of fire? Or the cascade of a river
that begins at the very top of a mountain chain; perhaps only a bird, or a flying insect
that knows the meaning of abysses, trees, ants and the secret of the nocturnal; one of
those “damned” or “strange” birds, the hakakllo, the chusek or the San Jorge, a black in-
sect with red wings that devours tarantulas. (206)

In the case of Rasu-Ñiti, he has been possessed by a Wamani that, having already
occupied the body of a danzak’, decides the date of death of the recipient in order to
leave his body and overtake that of another dancer: “‘Rasu-Ñiti’ was the son of a
great mountain Wamani with eternal snow. At that time, it had already sent him its
‘spirit’: a gray condor whose white back was vibrating” (206).
Second, Arguedas employs the characters in order to illustrate that the belief in
the Wamani dictates the behavior. When the adult protagonists hear the sound of be-
havior of the indigenous people, Rasu-Ñiti begins his death ritual dressing in the
danzak’ disguise and clinking the scissor because he has received the message of the
Wamani to die: “My heart is ready. The world advises. I am hearing the cascade of
Saño. I am ready!—said the danzak’ Rasu-Ñiti” (203.) Or “Wamani is speaking!—he
said.—You can’t hear him. He is speaking directly to my heart” (204). When the
adult protagonists, who have all been awaiting the opportune moment to celebrate
the ritual, hear the sound of Rasu-Ñiti’s scissors, they are well aware of the death rit-
ual’s commencement;48 Rasu-Ñiti’s two young daughters, in contrast, do not under-
stand the ritual. One detail clearly illustrates the differing levels of knowledge
possessed by the generations. At the beginning of the story, the daughters are unable
to see the Wamani that—according to the adults—is spinning in the air above their
father’s head. However, as the ritual continues the daughters receive further expla-
nations from the adults about the Wamani. In this way, they learn about the identity
of the Wamani and its powers, including the power to possess Rasu-Ñiti. The mother
explains to her daughter, “Do you hear, daughter? The scissors are not controlled by
your father’s fingers. The Wamani makes them clink. Your father is only obeying.”
(205) In this same sense, the story ends with the scene in which the harpist Lurucha
says to Rasu-Ñiti’s eldest daughter, “The condor needs the dove! The dove, then,
needs the condor! Danzak’ no death!” (209) with the idea that everything has a
place and is related in the indigenous cosmogony and life keeps flowing.
So that the lessons that underlie the reality of the Wamani are rendered even more
effective, the Wamani’s existence is related to the life experience of the oldest daugh-
ter. According to Rasu-Ñiti, the powerful Wamani is aware of all that happens to its
believers, and the abuses that they suffer, including the assault that Rasu-Ñiti’s
daughter suffered at the hands of her father’s boss. Rasu-Ñiti also indicates that the
Wamani is hearing Inkarri’s rearticulation. According to an indigenous myth, when
the separate parts of his body become one, Inkarri will seek revenge for the injustices
and exploitation that the indigenous people have suffered. When these parts are
joined, the economic, political, and social orders currently reigning in the Andes will
be inverted. The indigenous people will no longer be poor; they will be rich, and they
will enjoy prestige instead of humiliation.49 Thus, the possibility of vindication for
Rasu-Ñiti’s eldest daughter is left open.
In addition, a process of apprenticeship occurs with Rasu-Ñiti’s young disciple,
Atok’sayku, who, at the beginning of the ritual, fails to see the Wamani. As the ritual
progresses, he begins to see the Wamani more clearly and feels himself becoming pos-
sessed: “The Wamani here! In my head! In my heart, fluttering!—said the new dan-
zak’.”50 Finally, when Rasu-Ñiti dies the young people (Rasu-Ñiti’s daughters and
Atok’sayku) look at the Wamani. Seeing and comprehending who the Wamani is dri-
ves the younger daughter to exclaim that the Wamani does not die but has left her fa-
ther’s body and moved on to another: “[Rasu-Ñiti] not dead. Ajajaylls!—exclaimed
the youngest daughter.—Not dead. He himself! Dancing!” (209).

Observing the Wamani in this fashion during the ritual is a metaphor that desig-
nates the indigenous cultural reproduction as the passing forth of knowledge from
one generation to the next, thus ensuring the culture’s future. The new generation,
represented by Rasu-Ñiti’s daughters and Atok’sayku, will not only continue to be-
lieve in the Wamani but will also maintain indigenous cultural practices as well. From
this perspective, Rasu-Ñiti’s death ritual is also a ritual of initiation for the new dan-
zante de tijeras, Atok’sayku, who will continue to perform a dance that dates back hun-
dreds of years.
The other unique element of indigenous culture that Arguedas seeks to reframe
is its communal character. Rasu-Ñiti’s death ritual is a catalyst that reinforces com-
munity ties. Rasu-Ñiti enjoys fame and prestige not only within his village but
throughout the region. The story indicates that the presence of Rasu-Ñiti “was ex-
pected, almost feared, and was the light of the celebrations of hundreds of towns”
(204). Therefore his death is a public act that cannot be circumscribed to the pri-
vate family sphere. His wife, his two daughters, his disciple Atok’sayku, the musi-
cians Lurucha and Pascual, and a group of people referred to on occasion as “a small
group” (204) and on two occasions as “a small public” (207) participate in the rit-
ual as observers. It is implicitly understood that the group of individuals who wit-
ness the ritual are learning the keys to the Quechuan culture (in the case of the
young) or reinforcing their existing knowledge (in the case of the adults).
In 1986 the video based on Arguedas’s story was first distributed outside of Peru.
The Project for International Communication Studies (PICS) of the University of
Iowa, with financing from the Annenberg Corporation of Public Broadcasting Pro-
ject (CPB), oversaw the distribution of the video produced in Peru by a team of Pe-
ruvian videographers. The video included professional actors as well as actual
danzantes de tijeras. In order to ensure the authenticity of the audiovisual representa-
tion, three noted Andean anthropologists were consulted. The PICS handled the
distribution of the video because it constituted “authentic foreign language and in-
ternational studies television material.”51 Undoubtedly, aspects of the audiovisual
medium, such as the soundtrack, were better able than the written version to reg-
ister and facilitate the representation of the nonverbal features of the ritual. How-
ever, further comparison of the video and the written story reveals that the video
representation alters some of the story’s essential elements and fails to represent
the features of the Quechuan culture that Arguedas sought to foreground. The
third-person narrative description that Arguedas undertakes in the story is re-
placed with objective camera takes that register the spaces, landscapes, and animals.
The Wamani is physically represented on the screen as the small shadow of a condor
spinning above Rasu-Ñiti’s head. Incredibly, no off-camera voice is employed as a
replacement for the story’s first-person narrative that provides detailed informa-
tion about indigenous culture; in the video, Rasu-Ñiti communicates this informa-
tion. Some of the phrases attributed to Atok’-sayku in the story are uttered by a
newly invented character. The words of the youngest daughter in the story version
are spoken by the oldest daughter in the audiovisual rendering, and the scarcely
perceptible presence of the youngest daughter reduces the important role that chil-
dren play in Quechuan culture in the enactment of various family and community
The alterations undertaken in the video undermine the story and ultimately alter
its course. First, the notion that a ritual of cultural reproduction is taking place be-

tween two generations of indigenous peoples is weakened. The video’s plot is re-
duced to that of a nuclear family whose father, accompanied by a small number of
adult characters, participates in an exotic death ritual. Thus, the idea that the young
are learning and inheriting via the adult ritual suffers. Moreover, at various points in
the story, Arguedas notes that a number of villagers participate in the ritual as ob-
servers. But in the video the use of secondary characters is reduced. Aside from the
nuclear family and Atok-sayku, only two musicians and one other invented adult
participate in the ritual. This modification is significant because Arguedas was in-
terested in highlighting the communal features of the indigenous culture. For this
reason, on at least three occasions in the story, he notes that a group has come to wit-
ness Rasu-Ñiti’s death ritual. The video, in contrast, in an effort to emphasize the
familial tragedy by means of camera shots of the pained facial expressions of the wife
and the eldest daughter, suggests a concept of the nuclear family that is foreign to
the Quechuan rural population.
These changes express a vision and occupy a position with regard to indigenous
culture that are distinct from those of Arguedas. The communal character of the in-
digenous culture fails to be represented, and differing indigenous religious beliefs
are emphasized in an exoticized fashion. Considering that the video was produced
with the advice of noted Andean anthropologists, these alterations are surprising.
Alejandro Ortiz Rescaniere, Juan Ossio, and Josafat Roel are all recognized in the
video’s credit as expert advisors. The question that remains is just who permitted the
video falsifications of Arguedas’s text. The team of videographers could have em-
ployed the existing audiovisual technology in order to more thoroughly explore the
nonverbal features of the dance ritual. But they failed to do so. Were they perhaps
recognizing that Quechuan culture had changed since 1961, the year in which Ar-
guedas wrote the story? Had the field of Andean anthropology gained new knowl-
edge regarding Quechuan culture during the previous 30 years?
The fact that the video was created in the absence of Arguedas, who died in 1969,
answers these questions in part. Neither the videographers nor the anthropologists
who participated in the video’s production were bicultural, as was Arguedas. They
possessed sufficient knowledge of Quechua in order to conduct their anthropologi-
cal work; however, never having lived among the people for a significant amount of
time, they had not acquired profound knowledge of the indigenous culture. Fur-
thermore, the Quechuan culture confronted more difficult challenges during the
1980s, and there were obstacles to gaining firsthand knowledge of the culture in a
rural context. Arguedas saw a vigorous culture that was “indigenizing” Peruvian so-
ciety during the 1960s, and he had the freedom to travel to the region where the
dance was performed. During the years of the video’s production, however, the
Quechuan culture transplanted to the cities had changed and it was nearly impossi-
ble to conduct fieldwork in the rural zones where the dance was performed.52 The
indigenous population found itself caught between the gunfire of the Peruvian army
and the Shining Path guerrillas who fought on the central sierra from 1980–1992.
The spiral of violence reached such level that any individual unknown in the region
was at risk of execution by the army or Shining Path. The confirmation of this per-
ception of indigenous culture and the impossibility of realizing fieldwork in situ are
evidenced in Lucy Núñez Rebaza’s book Los dansaq.53 The text is an ethnographic
monograph of urban anthropology that explores how the dance is practiced in Lima.
Núñez Rebaza’s book proves that the dance has suffered changes and the dancers’

statements complement Arguedas’s data with respect to dance steps, musical chords,
and information about the dancers as diabolic representatives (such as appears in
the novel Los ríos profundos). However, none of the dancers corroborates the existence
of the death ritual executed by Rasu-Ñiti. Nevertheless, what remains clear is that
Arguedas utilized a dance of indigenous origin known to Peruvian readers in order
to construct an Andean culture, and optimistically expound on its strength and its
promising future as an integral part of the heterogeneous Peruvian culture. In much
the same way, the number of constructions of Andean culture reflects the number of
individuals who undertake its representation. This is evident in the previous analy-
sis of the audio-visual renderings and the anthropological approximations to the
story. Whether or not the means of representation (whether they are literary, ethno-
graphic, or audiovisual) are sophisticated or appropriate is not of interest. What
matter are the concepts of indigenous culture that are held in order to employ the
methods and modes of representation, the intended audience, and the historical-
social juncture in which these representations are carried out.


I am grateful for ethnomusicologist Laura Larco’s suggestions and comments on the first draft
of this chapter. The translator thanks Juan Zevallos-Aguilar for his assistance in translating
Arguedas’s writing for the English version.


1. The dance has been presented in closed arenas and in public squares for enormous
audiences; in luxury hotels, such as the Hotel Sheraton and the Hotel Crillón; and in
the private homes of artists and intellectuals who support Andean culture. In addi-
tion, since the early 1980s, the Federation of Shears Dancers, along with Lima’s Met-
ropolitan Municipality, has organized public presentations of danzaks known as
2. Quoted in Rodrigo Montoya, prologue to Los dansaq by Lucy Núñez Rebaza (Lima:
Museo Nacional de la Cultura Peruana, 1991), ii.
3. The dance’s practice is highly localized in the Chanka region, as indicated by its
Quechua terminology. For example, the term Wamani (deity) is used only in the
Chanka region. In southern Quechuan dialects the equivalent is Apu.
4. During the government of Velasco Alvarado, the Ministry of Education and the Na-
tional Institute of Culture sponsored dance troupes and organized folkloric contin-
gencies that represented the nation’s various cultural regions. As part of a cultural
policy that recognized the multicultural nature of Peruvian society, these organiza-
tions supported dances native to the Peruvian sierra, as well as central coastal dances
of African origin and the northern coastal marinera. A brief look at the multicultural
politics of the government of Velasco Alvarado can be found in Jorge Cornejo Polar,
El estado peruano y la cuestión del pluralismo cultural (Lima, Peru: Universidad de Lima, 1991).
5. Martín Lienhard, Cultura popular andina y forma novelesca. Zorros y danzantes en la última novela de
Arguedas (Lima: Latinoamericana Editores y Tarea, 1981) 132; Sara Castro-Klarén, “Dis-
curso y transformación de los dioses en los Andes,” in El retorno de las huacas: Estudios y docu-
mentos sobre el Taki Onqoy Siglo XVI, ed. Luis Millones (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos
y Sociedad Peruana de Psicoanálisis, 1990) 420; Núñez Rebaza, Los dansaq, 34–35.

6. It is necessary to clarify that la danza de las tijeras was not the only dance represented by
Arguedas. Arguedas also wrote various journalistic articles on festivities and dances
that were compiled in the book Indios, mestizos y señores (Lima, Peru: Editorial Hori-
zonte, 1987). Curiously, he did not write about la danza de las tijeras from a journalistic
or anthropological perspective. Similarly, his work is full of references to and the in-
corporation of Quechuan oral culture forms. His work registers not only the
Quechuan oral culture universe but also the structures of this universe that modify
writing. There exists an immense bibliography with respect to this theme, with the
most important contributions found in Ángel Rama, “Los ríos profundos, ópera de
los pobres,” Revista Iberoamericana 122 (1983): 11–41; Lienhard, “La función del dan-
zante de tijeras,” and Lienhard, Cultura popular andina y forma novelesca: Zorros y danzantes en
la última novela de Arguedas (Lima, Peru: Latinoamericana Editores y Tarea, 1981).
7. Arguedas, Indios, mestizos y señores, 88 (my emphasis). In effect, Arguedas considers the
dance a very important expression of Quechuan oral culture, as the Quechuas sing
and dance to maintain their culture. In Arguedas’s literary work in general and in the
novel Los ríos profundos (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Losada, 1958) in particular,
the illiterate characters sing and dance, in contrast to literate characters, who write
and observe.
8. Ignacio Díaz Ruiz, Literatura y biografía en José María Arguedas (Mexico City: Universidad
Nacional Autónoma de México, 1991).
9. John V. Murra, “José María Arguedas: dos imágenes,” Revista Iberoamericana 122 (1983):
43–54; Carmen María Pinilla, Arguedas: Conocimiento y vida (Lima: Pontificia Universi-
dad Católica del Perú Fondo Editorial, 1994).
10. José María Arguedas established a horizontal relationship with his informants in
order to obtain ethnographic information. Consider the following testimonies of
Máximo Damián Huamaní, “Con lágrimas, no con sufrimiento,” in Recopilación de textos
sobre José María Arguedas, ed. Juan Larco (Havana, Cuba: Casa de las Américas, 1976]):
“Don José María came to have lunch at my house, in my alley in Pueblo Libre, he just
entered, in spite of the trash, flies, poverty. He ate a lot” (341). “One time he was very
happy, when he was a karguyoc at a celebration; he drank chicha [corn liquor], without
differentiating, toasting you, another, the dancers, those who said hello, Dr. Arguedas;
he played the harp; he made sweet sounds come out of the harp; my friend Guzmán
López laughed about his gentlemanly acts, this good man, this fellow countryman. . . .
I waited for him with my violin; he wanted to ask me about Quechua; I taught him a
lot of things he didn’t know; he wanted to know about the village that had only
women, the parinacochano village” (342).
11. In studying Arguedas’s work it is rather difficult to separate all of these dimensions.
In this same vein, Peruvian anthropologist Rodrigo Montoya notes, “I am not very
sure if Arguedas’s contribution to anthropology derives from his professional condi-
tion as an anthropologist or from the life that he had among the Indians and for the
Indians. I am inclined to think that anthropology was a support system, because he
felt the weight of the richness of his knowledge of the Quechuan world and its lan-
guage” (Rodrigo Montoya, ed., José María Arguedas, veinte años después: Huellas y horizontes
(1969–1989)(Lima: Universidad Mayor de San Marcos y IKONO, 1991).
12. Raúl Romero, “Música, cultura y folklore,” in ibid. (my emphasis).
13. José María Arguedas, “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti,” in Obras completas, vol. 2 (Lima, Peru: Ed-
itorial Horizonte, 1983); Yawar Fiesta (Lima, Peru: Compañía de Impresiones y Publica-
ciones, 1941); El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Losada,
1971). Martín Lienhard studies the functions of the dancer in Arguedas’s literary works,
with the exception of Los ríos profundos, for the purpose of uncovering “the ways in which
these texts situate themselves in the face of Quechuan culture in its entirety” (“La fun-
ción del danzante,” 149). In this way, Lienhard recognizes that the actions and behaviors

of various characters in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo are analogous to the actions real-
ized by the participants of la danza de las tijeras. “Having discovered an analogy between the
dialogue of the mythical foxes and the danced dialogue of the danzaq allows the novelist
to recover the temporal rupture between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, and
demonstrate the continuity—which does not imply historical insensitivity—of Andean
popular culture”(“La función del danzante,” 132).
14. In reference to Arguedas’s efforts as promoter of the dance, Huamaní, the most fa-
mous violinist who specialized in playing different chords of the dance, declares, “I
arrived in Lima from my town, San Diego de Ishua, and I went to him before I went
to the museum. I wanted to be on television, he saw the dancers and heard my violin.
He put us on the public broadcasting station” (“Con lágrimas,” 341).
15. Núñez Rebaza, Los dansaq, 13.
16. See ibid.; and Michelle Bigenho, “El baile de los negritos y la danza de las tijeras: Un
manejo de contradicciones,” in Música, danzas y máscaras en los andes, ed. Raúl R. Romero
(Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú Fondo editorial, 1993).
17. In the revealing letters that Arguedas sent to John V. Murra he writes, “Rasu-Ñiti was
a legendary dancer from Puquio” (Murra and López-Baralt, Las cartas de Arguedas, 66).
18. These mobilizations were considered the “beginnings of a revolution,” but they ended
in massacres and in the widespread arrest of the indigenous people and their leaders
(Wilfredo Kapsoli, Los movimientos campesinos en el Perú, 3rd ed. (Lima, Peru: Ediciones
Atusparia, 1987), 101–24.
19. Quoted in Pinilla, Arguedas, 118.
20. Quoted in Murra and López-Baralt, Las cartas de Arguedas, 66.
21. The poem was finally published in a bilingual edition under the title Tupac Amaru
Kamaq taytan-chisman: Haylli-taki/A nuestro Padre Creador Tupac Amaru: Himno-canción (Lima,
Peru: Ediciones Salqantay, 1962).
22. Quoted in Murra and López-Baralt, Las cartas de Arguedas, 84.
23. Roland Forgues, José María Arguedas. Del pensamiento dialéctico al pensamiento trágico: Historia de
una utopía (Lima, Perú: Editorial Horizonte, 1989), 372.
24. Throughout his anthropological essays compiled in Formación de una cultura nacional in-
doamericana (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1977) and Indios, mestizos y señores,
Arguedas maintains that the indigenous culture is engaged in constant change, assim-
ilating and transforming elements of other cultures dating back to the sixteenth cen-
tury in an indigenous matrix.
25. William Rowe, et al., Vigencia y universalidad de José María Arguedas (Lima, Peru: Editorial
Horizonte, 1984), 25.
26. Quoted in Murra and López-Baralt, Las cartas de Arguedas, 79.
27. It is important to remember that, at the point at which he published this story, Ar-
guedas was already renowned as a writer, and that urban readers considered him the
authentic spokesperson for the indigenous cultures. Augusto Tamayo Vargas has de-
scribed the story as “a ballet scene” (quoted in Antonio Cornejo Polar, Los universos nar-
rativos de José María Arguedas [Buenos Aires: Editorial Losada, 1973], 181), and Tomás
Escajadillo maintains that “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti” is a key text that “belongs to the
school of neoindigenismo (neoindigenism)” (La narrativa indigenista peruana [Lima, Peru:
Amaru Editores, 1994], 55). I might add that literary critics such as Antonio Cornejo
Polar, Roland Forgues, Martín Lienhard, and Gladys C. Marín have analyzed diverse
portions of the story.
28. La Agonía de Rasu-Ñiti: Un Cuento de José María Arguedas, dir. Augusto Tamayo San Román
(CETUC [Center for Teleducation of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru],
1985), videocassette.
29. As Antonio Cornejo Polar observes, “Despite its simplicity and familiarity, the story
offers a very rich representative gamut and a wide plurality of perspectives” (Los uni-

versos narrativos, 181). In this chapter, I focus on the literary representation that Ar-
guedas utilizes as an anthropologist. Once again, in this story he achieves a masterful
blend of literary fiction and anthropological essay.
Overly modest, Arguedas attempted to deny his abilities as an anthropologist. Never-
theless, as various critics have pointed out, Arguedas’s anthropological work was enviable
in its time (John V. Murra, “José María Arguedas: Dos imágenes,” Revista Iberoamericana
122: 43–54). During a ten-year literary silence, Arguedas dedicated all of his time to an-
thropology. However, his anthropological knowledge encouraged him to reengage him-
self in a literary career and to write in a style highly praised by postmodern anthropology.
30. The works of Núñez Rebaza (Los dansaq)and Bigenho (“El baile de los negritos”) are
limited to just the public aspects of the dance. The information that Núñez Rebaza
recovers regarding contemporary dancers verifies Arguedas’s descriptions of public
executions of the dance, though not its death or initiation rituals.
31. Arguedas was very preoccupied with the cultural processes that were developing in
Peru. According to Arguedas, the principal phenomenon occurring in Peruvian cul-
ture was a cultural mixing. He based this thesis on the recognition of the dynamic of
cultural interchange and borrowing. The cultural dynamic, as he perceived it, took
place among three perfectly differentiable cultures: that of the indigenous population,
the mestizos, and the elite who could live in harmony. Among other scholars, Gon-
zalo Portocarrero has noted that Arguedas wrote about mestizos in his anthropolog-
ical work. In contrast, in his literary work, Arguedas focused his efforts on an
exploration of the indigenous culture. See Gonzalo Portocarrero, Racismo y mestizaje
(Lima, Peru: Sur Casa de Estudios del Socialismo, 1993, 262–63.
32. Arguedas, “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti,” 203.
33. Ibid., 204.
34. “Lurucha played the jaykuy [prelude] and changed quickly to the sisi nina [ant fire], an-
other dance step” (ibid., 207). “Why did he make an effort to continue the slow
rhythm, like the rushing of a muddy river, of the yawar mayu played by Lurucha and
Don Pascual? Lurucha slowed down the diabolic rhythm of the dance step. It was the
yawar mayu, but very slow, very deep” (208). “The harpist changed the rhythm, played
the illapa illon [the lightning’s edge]. Lurucha played the lucero kanchi [starlight] of the
wallpa waka’y [the rooster’s crow] with which the musicians started the danzaks compe-
tition at midnight” (209).
35. These notes provide the Spanish equivalents for Rasu-Ñiti, Atok’sayku, chiririnka, and
36. Arguedas, “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti,” 206.
37. Lienhard, “La función del danzante de tijeras,” 154.
38. A. Cornejo Polar, Los universos narrativos, 181.
39. Lienhard, “La función del danzante de tijeras,” 154.
40. Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge,
1992), 7–8.
41. Arguedas believed that his mission as a writer was to function as a sort of intermedi-
ary between the indigenous and European cultures, and he was very conscious that his
bicultural position would help him to realize this intermediation.
42. Rasu-Ñiti orders, “I am going to say farewell. Go bring the tipis [corn] from the hall!
Go! His woman obeyed. In the hall, there were bunches of Indian corn hanging from
the rafters. Neither the snow, nor the white soil on the paths, nor the river’s sand, nor
the happy flight of the harvest doves, nor the heart of a playing calf, had the appear-
ance, the brightness, the glory of those bunches. His woman brought them down,
quickly but ceremoniously” (Arguedas, “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti,” 2040. “The
dancer’s older daughter exited the hall slowly. She carried in her arms large bunches
of Indian corn. She put it on the floor” (208).

43. “The chiririnka [blue fly] (ibid., 3) . . . will take her time, which comes a little before the
death” (204). “A guinea pig dared to leave its hole. It was a male, with curly hair; with
his very red eyes he spied the men for a moment and then jumped to another hole.
He whistled before entering” (208).
44. Julián Ayuque Cusipuma, “El Wamani en la Agonía de Rasu-Ñiti,” in Recopilación de tex-
tos, 202. Gladys C. Marín has also investigated the “theme of the blue fly as the har-
binger of death in Arguedas’s work” (La experiencia americana de José María Arguedas
[Buenos Aires: García Cambeiro, 1973], see also 132–43).
45. “The two girls arrived. One tripped over the rocky ground and blood poured out of
her toe. They straightened up the hall. Afterwards, they went to see their father” (Ar-
guedas, “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti,” 205).
46. Ayuque Cusipuma, “El Wamani,” 204.
47. Arguedas, “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti,” 204.
48. When she understands that the death ritual has already begun, Rasu-Ñiti’s wife re-
marks to him, “Husband! Are you saying farewell?” (ibid., 204). Later, the under-
standing between husband and wife is confirmed when Rasu-Ñiti says to his wife,
“Yes. Wamani is speaking! You can’t hear him. He is speaking directly to my heart.
Hold my body. I am going to put on my pants. Where’s the sun? It must have already
set. It has passed. It is coming here. There it is!” (204). “Do you see the Wamani over
my head?—the dancer asked his wife. She lifted her head.—It is there—she said.—It
is calm.—What color is it?—Gray. The white patch on its back is burning” (204).
49. Literary criticism has interpreted these aspects of the Wamani as the myth of Inkarri (A.
Cornejo Polar, Los universos narrativos, 183).
50. Arguedas, “La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti,” 209.
51. In the video’s introduction, the PICS outlines its objectives: “The PICS (The Pro-
ject for International Communication Studies) was inaugurated in 1982 at the Uni-
versity of Iowa. The purpose of the project is to foster the use of authentic foreign
television materials in foreign languages in international studies via videotape and
videodisc. Under a two-year grant from the U.S Department of Education
(1983–1985), the University of Iowa faculty began to engage in the acquisition and
curricular use of foreign television materials” (Sue Otto, Peruvian Fiction and Drama:
Transcripts for: Hilacha, Gregorio, Cómo matar al lobo y la agonía de Rasu-Ñiti. Spanish Series Ed-
itor. Iowa City: PICS, 1990.
52. In a 1997 journalistic account, Montoya talks about the recording of la danza de las tijeras
in Huacaña: “The four people on the team of TV Cultura who filmed the perfor-
mance of la danza de las tijeras during the five-day festival and the anthropologist who
wrote these lines, we were among the few strangers who dared to venture here fol-
lowing the occupation by Shining Path and the army. The memories and the wounds
are still fresh: three dead at the hands of Shining Path and five at the hands of the
army, in addition to dozens of people displaced, and the front of city hall destroyed by
a Shining Path bomb” (“En el reino de los dioses andinos,” La República, 17 August
1997, pp. 46–48).
53. Nuñez Rebaza, Los dansaq, 14.

Works Cited

La Agonía de Rasu-Ñiti. Un Cuento de José María Arguedas. Dir. Augusto Tamayo San Román. Lima:
CETUC (Center for Teleducation of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru), 1985.
Arguedas, José María. 1983. La agonía de Rasu-Ñiti. In Obras completas by José María Arguedas.
Volume 2. Lima, Peru: Editorial Horizonte.

———. 1977. Formación de una cultura nacional indoamericana. Selecction and prologue by Angel
Rama. Mexico City: Siglo XXI Editores.
———. 1987. Indios, mestizos y señores. Lima: Editorial Horizonte.
———. 1958. Los ríos profundos. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Losada.
———. 1962. Tupac Amaru Kamaq taytan-chisman: Haylli-taki/A nuestro Padre Creador Tupac Amaru:
Himno-canción. Lima, Peru: Ediciones Salqantay.
———. 1941. Yawar Fiesta. Lima, Peru: Compañía de Impresiones y Publicidad.
———. 1971. El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Losada.
Ayuque Cusipuma, Julián. 1976. El Wamani en la Agonía de Rasu-Ñiti. In Recopilación de textos
sobre José María Arguedas. Ed. Juan Larco. Havana, Cuba: Casa de las Américas.
Bigenho, Michelle. 1993. El baile de los negritos y la danza de las tijeras: Un manejo de con-
tradicciones. In Música, danzas y máscaras en los andes. Ed. Raúl R. Romero. Lima: Pontificia
Universidad Católica del Perú.
Castro-Klarén, Sara. 1990. Discurso y transformación de los dioses en los Andes. In El retorno
de las huacas: Estudios y documentos sobre el Taki Onqoy Siglo XVI. Ed. Luis Millones. Lima: Instituto
de Estudios Peruanos y Sociedad Peruana de Psicoanálisis.
Cornejo Polar, Antonio. 1973. Los universos narrativos de José María Arguedas. Buenos Aires: Editor-
ial Losada.
Cornejo Polar, Jorge. 1991. El estado peruano y la cuestión del pluralismo cultural. Lima, Perú: Univer-
sidad de Lima.
Díaz Ruiz, Ignacio. 1991. Literatura y biografía en José María Arguedas. Mexico City: Universidad
Nacional Autónoma de México.
Escajadillo, Tomás. 1994. La narrativa indigenista peruana. Lima, Peru: Amaru Editores.
Forgues, Roland. 1989. José María Arguedas: Del pensamiento dialéctico al pensamiento trágico: Historia de
una utopía. Lima, Peru: Editorial Horizonte.
Huamaní, Máximo Damián. 1976. Con lágrimas, no con sufrimiento. In Recopilación de textos
sobre José María Arguedas. Ed. Juan Larco. Havana: Casa de las Américas.
Kapsoli, Wilfredo. 1987. Los movimientos campesinos en el Perú. 3rd ed. Lima, Peru: Ediciones Atus-
Lienhard, Martín. 1981. Cultura popular andina y forma novelesca. Zorros y danzantes en la última novela de
Arguedas. Lima: Latinoamericana Editores y Tarea.
———. La función del danzante de tijeras en tres textos de José María Arguedas. 1983 Revista
Iberoamericana 122: 149–57.
Marín, Gladys C. 1973. La experiencia americana de José María Arguedas. Buenos Aires: Fernando
García Cambeiro.
Montoya, Rodrigo ed. 1991. José María Arguedas, veinte años después: Huellas y horizontes (1969–1989).
Lima, Peru: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and IKONO.
———. 1991. Prologue to Los dansaq, by Lucy Núñez Rebaza. Lima, Peru: Museo Nacional de
la Cultura Peruana.
———. En el reino de los dioses andinos. Diario La República 17 August: 46–48
Murra, John V. 1983. José María Arguedas: dos imágenes. Revista Iberoamericana 122: 43–54.
Murra, John V. and Mercedes López-Baralt, eds. 1996. Las cartas de Arguedas. Lima: Pontificia
Núñez Rebaza, Lucy. [1991] 1996. Los dansaq. Lima, Peru ad Católica del Perú Fondo Editorial:
Museo Nacional de la Cultura Peruana.
Otto, Sue. 1990. Peruvian Fiction and Drama. Transcripts for: Hilacha, Gregorio, Cómo matar al lobo y la
agonía de Rasu-Ñiti. Spanish Series Editor. Iowa City: PICS.
Pinilla, Carmen María. 1994. Arguedas: Conocimiento y vida. Lima, Peru: Pontificia Universidad
Católica del Perú Fondo Editorial.
Portocarrero, Gonzalo. 1993. Racismo y mestizaje. Lima, Peru: Sur Casa de Estudios del Social-
Pratt, Mary Louise. 1992. Imperial Eyes. Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge.

Rama, Ángel. 1983. Los ríos profundos, ópera de los pobres. Revista Iberoamericana 122: 11–41.
Romero, Raúl. 1991. Música, cultura y folklore. In José María Arguedas, veinte años después: Huellas y
horizontes (1969–1989). Ed. Rodrigo Montoya. Lima, Peru: Universidad Nacional Mayor de
San Marcos and IKONO.
Rowe, William, Alberto Escobar, Martín Lienhard, Antonio Cornejo Polar. 1984. Vigencia y
universalidad de José María Arguedas. Lima: Editorial Horizonte.

Tradition and Modernity in

Trinidadian Steelband Performance
Shannon Dudley

magine, if you have never heard it, a group of 100 steel pan beaters playing
a ten-minute theme-and-variation arrangement of a popular calypso that
features baroque counterpoint, African-style call-and-response structures, a
driving percussion groove, orchestral dynamics, chromatic scale patterns, rehar-
monizations, sudden breaks during which the crowd roars with excitement, and a
Beethovenesque cadence to finish it off. This is the music of Trinidad and
Tobago’s Panorama steelband competition, held annually just before carnival. Its
complex synthesis of forms and styles, composed by one arranger and played pre-
cisely by rote from start to finish, is a far cry from what most people associate
with “Caribbean music.” And yet it is generated by historical and cultural forces
that are quintessentially Caribbean: cultural deracination and juxtaposition,
colonialism and nation-building, the oppressive hierarchy of plantation society,
and the emancipatory power of festive performance. In this context of conflict
and change, the people of the Caribbean had one of the first and most intense ex-
periences of what we now call modernity—an experience that Panorama perfor-
mances reflect in a particularly dramatic way.
The steel pan itself, a musical instrument crafted from discarded industrial con-
tainers, is a striking artifact of modernity, and some might question the logic of at-
tributing tradition to a musical form that didn’t even exist before World War II.
Scholarship has made it clear, however, that many “traditions” do not have a long
history, even though they may be portrayed as timeless (e.g., Handler and Linnekin
1984, Hobsbawm and Ranger 1992). People can become attached very quickly to
events and practices that give them an experience of community and well-being, and
the repetition of such events and practices acquires the persuasive power of tradi-
tion in a relatively short time. Furthermore, even as people adopt new cultural
forms, they often cling to an old way of doing things that guides their use of those
forms. The invention of the steel pan, for example, did not put an end to the kinds
of neighborhood rivalry and community participation that had characterized earlier
carnival music.
Recognizing such historical continuities, as well as the ideological construction of
tradition in the present, I seek in this chapter to reclaim a working view of tradition

as something that is not opposed to modernization, but rather guides the incorpo-
ration of modern forms and procedures. My arguments are based on a distinction
between process and form that is particularly important for discussing tradition in
musical practices (and participatory performances generally) that are impacted by
colonialism, globalization and other such acculturative forces. This distinction has
been advocated occasionally by ethnomusicologists (e.g., Kauffman 1972; Barber
and Waterman 1995; Turino 2000), and has been especially important to African
Americanists, as exemplified by Albert Murray’s exposition of blues aesthetics
(1976) or Olly Wilson’s influential notion of “African conceptual approaches” that
inform black music (1992). Distinctions between process and form are also useful
for describing the Panorama competition, a showcase for the “national instrument”
that was founded at the time of Trinidad and Tobago’s independence in 1962. Al-
though Panorama is in some ways a good example of an “invented tradition” that
serves modern political purposes, certain expressive processes also connect
Panorama to older performance styles and to carnival generally. I will analyze, in
particular, how these processes condition the use of borrowed symphonic ideas that
include timbre, compositional complexity, and large-scale form.

Steelband History and Symbolism

The incorporation of such musical forms and procedures from European art-music
(as well as many other genres like jazz, mambos, and film music) was linked to a dra-
matic transformation in the social status of the steelband, from a lower class “nui-
sance” at its inception around 1940 to the “national instrument” at the time of
independence in 1962. Because this transformation undergirds the steelband’s role
as emblem of nation and tradition, it needs to be briefly reviewed here.
The first steelbands in Port of Spain were adaptations of tamboo bamboo, an ensem-
ble of bamboo tubes that are struck with sticks or stamped upon the ground, provid-
ing polyrhythmic percussive accompaniment for call and response singing. Tamboo
bamboo bands had accompanied carnival masqueraders in Port of Spain since kalinda
bands with their African skin-headed drums were effectively banned following the
famous Canboulay riot of 1881.1 This lineage defines the steelband as part of a lower
class African expressive tradition that defied colonial authority and has repeatedly re-
sisted official repression during more than a century and a half of carnival in Trinidad.
That notion of resistance exists in dynamic tension, however, with the pride
Trinidadians take in the ability of today’s “steel orchestras” to perform the sym-
phonic works of Mozart and Beethoven. Viewed from this perspective, the early
steelbands (first referred to as “pan bands” or “iron bands” [Thomas 1990:
92–104]) were in a primitive stage of musical development and had a lot to learn
from European music. Metal first began to replace bamboo in the late 1930s only be-
cause it was louder and more durable; and even when the musicians learned to tune
different pitches on the heads of a metal container and began to play simple
melodies, they were still stigmatized—like the tamboo bamboo and the kalinda bands be-
fore them—as a distasteful or even dangerous nuisance. Indeed, middle-class
Trinidadians seem to have resented the “panmen” even more than the bamboo play-
ers because of the increased volume of their instruments. A June 6, 1946 letter from
C. W. Clarke to the editor of the Trinidad Guardian illustrates this point of view:

Beating tins and pans today seems to be contagious. Unemployment is not the cause of
it, for young people prefer the steel bands to good hard work. . . .
So we must put up with the transformation of earth into bedlam, to the utter dis-
gust of parents, students, tired workmen, troubled people and invalids.
Can beating is pan beating in any language and in any form. It does nobody any
good, and when it is indulged in all day all night day in and day out, it is abominable.
Why is there no legislation to control it?
If it must continue and if by virtue of its alleged inherent beauty and charm it will
someday bring popularity and fame to the island and a fortune to the beaters, then by
all means let it go on—but in the forests and other desolate places.

This diatribe also gives evidence (in the statement about “alleged inherent
beauty”) of an emerging alternative view that the steelband is a valuable cultural
asset in the struggle for cultural and political independence. Already in 1946, efforts
were clearly being made to promote and valorize the steelband, and these efforts
contributed to a rapid expansion of the steelband’s melodic capabilities. As these
musical innovations proceeded, and as steelbands shed their reputation for brawl-
ing,2 middle- and upper-class patronage and even participation in steelbands spread
beyond progressive intellectual circles. Ultimately the steelband in Trinidad became
a popular metaphor for the nation, as folklorist Stephen Stuempfle explains:

Related to the notion of local creativity is a conception of struggle and achievement. . . .

Panmen perceive the steelband movement’s struggle for acceptance and respect as
linked to their personal struggle for survival and success. At the same time, many peo-
ple view steelband history as somehow representative of the general struggle of nation-
building. From this perspective the sacrifices and accomplishments of the panmen
evoke a sense of the nation’s efforts to achieve political, economic, and cultural inde-
pendence. (1995: 235)

Although the symbolism of the steelband is often explained in terms of resistance

(“struggle” and “sacrifices”), a focus on the pan players’ creative efforts (“achieve-
ment” and “accomplishments”) reveals how steelband musicians have had to simul-
taneously resist and accommodate the dominant hegemony. Part of the pan players’
creative triumph was the invention of a new instrument, fashioned from discarded
metal containers. The subsequent development of the instrument, however, was
closely linked to its repertoire, as pan players sought to master the performance of
“respectable” music. Thus, almost from the beginning, calypso, U.S. and Latin Amer-
ican popular music, film music, and—most prestigious of all—“the classics” became
staples of the steelbands’ repertoire and stylistic palette. The steelband is a potent
symbol of the nation, then, not only because it represents a defiant alternative to
colonial cultural priorities, but also because its music is credible in terms of those
same colonial priorities. This paradox is at the root of many contradictions and ten-
sions in the discourse on culture in Trinidad.
Anthropologist Daniel Miller notes that a similar paradox is experienced by
many colonized or decolonizing people, who “possess consciousness that one is liv-
ing through objects and images not of one’s own creation.” This consciousness that
is psychologically disturbing,

. . . within an ideology which espouses not only the aesthetic ideal of authenticity
through creation, but its more mundane philosophical counterpart of a notion of natural

ownership through labour. Within such a dominant ideology the condition of consump-
tion is always a potential state of rupture. Consumption then may not be about choice,
but rather the sense that we have no choice but to attempt to overcome the experience
of rupture using those very same goods and images which created for many the sense of
modernity as rupture. (1995: 1–2)

Rupture may occur not only through the consumption of material products (dis-
carded industrial containers in this case), but also through the adoption of European
cultural forms, images, and procedures, as witnessed in Father Terrence Julien’s an-
guished report on the 1973 Steelband Festival,3 which appeared in the December 13,
1973 Guardian:

On Friday night I went to the Queen’s Park Savannah to hear the finals of the Steel-
band Festival. I left halfway through, sick in my stomach at the most pathetic sight I
have had to endure for years—the colonisation of the calypso and the steel pan. There
before our very eyes were groups of performing Trinidadians, like so many classes, sit-
ting a musical G.C.E., under the expert ears of examiner in chief—Professor Tom
Manoff, of the Manhattan School of Music.
It is the most painful experience to have grown up during the movement for “polit-
ical independence” and “massa day done”4 and to have to face the sickening fact that
the movement in our society is not towards independence through creativity but to-
wards total enslavement through meticulous apeing.
I don’t know which was more pathetic! The “conductors” or the “orchestras” trying
to achieve the correct frenzy and mannerisms of Toscanini, agonisingly wringing out
from their classes the correct answers to the European Test Piece. Or the bloodless
abortion of the calypso-road-march5 as “symphonised” by these steel orchestras.

The feelings of alienation and discouragement expressed here are not unique. In de-
bates about Panorama, especially, one hears many expressions of frustration about
the way the competition structure, the judging, or the audience constrain or distort
the music (Dudley 1997: 243–53).
Also remarkable, however, is the passionate enthusiasm with which almost every
musician and fan participates in Panorama—even those who complain about it af-
terwards. Given that many of the conventions of Panorama are explicitly modeled
on European symphonic music, this enthusiasm for the event suggests that, in
Panorama performances, the sense of alienation, of an uncomfortable encounter
with hegemonic forces—Miller’s “experience of rupture”—is somehow overcome. I
argue that steelbands and their audiences in Panorama do this by reestablishing a
connection with performative processes that are their own, even as they employ mu-
sical idioms that are imposed by colonial or nationalist hegemony. The sense of own-
ership, belonging, and comfort that people feel at Panorama indicates that Panorama
performances tap into traditions that are in some very important way Trinidadian.


My use above of the term “tradition” harks back, of course (to steal a line I heard
from Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett), to a time before tradition was invented, and
requires some justification here. Since the early 1980s, when Eric Hobsbawm and

Terrence Ranger called wide attention to the way tradition is “invented” in the pre-
sent (1983[1992]), scholars have questioned “naturalistic” claims that explain tradi-
tion in terms of its continuity with the past (Handler and Linnekin 1984: 274). I will
review some of the important implications of the concept of invented tradition, but
argue that the naturalistic interpretation cannot be entirely dismissed, particularly
in regard to performative events that engender a sense of community. Ultimately I
propose a more balanced view that acknowledges both the invented and the natu-
ralistic aspects of tradition.
The concept of invented tradition is most useful when applied to traditions that
are relatively inflexible. Eric Hobsbawm notes that, even as the pace of change ac-
celerates in other respects, traditions in modern society are often peculiarly un-
changing. Hobsbawm shows not only that many traditions are “invented,” but that
they are also, in fact, “responses to novel situations which take the form of reference
to old situations” (1992: 2). Tradition affirms a “suitable” (and perhaps imaginary)
past that is used to validate selected social norms. This sort of invention or con-
struction of tradition may be viewed positively where tradition is promoted as a way
of resisting cultural domination. David Coplan, for example, speaks of the “essen-
tially moral” authority of tradition that, among colonized peoples such as South
Africans, provides “images, expressive principles, and aesthetic values” that “reverse
the loss of cultural memory” caused by colonial domination (1991).
Raymond Williams argues, on the other hand, that tradition is always implicated
in some project of control or repression: “[T]radition is in practice the most evident
expression of the dominant and hegemonic pressures and limits” (1977: 115). In-
deed, the European colonizers of Africa made extensive use of invented traditions to
give moral weight to their authority (Ranger 1992). And while Coplan points to the
importance of reconstructing Zulu cultural traditions as a counterbalance to
apartheid cultural ideologies, other ethnic groups resent Zulu-centric views of South
Africa’s cultural heritage. This pattern of contending traditions represents a mine-
field for students of culture in every part of the world. In the postcolonial era, espe-
cially, scholars have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of valorizing
“indigenous” traditions that are deployed in resistance to Western cultural domina-
tion, but which may be oppressive in their own right (Linnekin 1992: 260).
The case of Trinidadian steelbands provides clear examples of hegemonic con-
struction of tradition. For example, the Panorama competition was founded in 1963
largely for the purpose of encouraging the steelbands to play calypso, which has
strengthened the association between the national instrument and a song form that
is perceived to be distinctively Trinidadian. This was not particularly consistent,
however, with previous practices, since steelbands in the 1940s and 1950s had played
a wide variety of other musical genres. And even though the promotion of calypso was
an important gesture of cultural independence for many Trinidadians, lower-class
steelband musicians resented middle-class nationalist interference in the name of
“tradition” (Dudley 2002: 143). This example illustrates how tradition is used to val-
idate contemporary ideologies and power structures, lending credence to Handler
and Linnekin’s assertion that, “The origin of cultural practices is largely irrelevant to
the experience of tradition; authenticity is always defined in the present” (1984: 286).
A problem with Handler and Linnekin’s argument, though, is that it equates tra-
dition with authenticity (a conflation of meanings that is also implied in Hobs-
bawm’s definition of tradition.)6 In common usage, the word “tradition” evokes an

idea of community, of relationships in the present and relationship to generations

past, which is not necessarily implied by the word “authenticity.” Both authenticity
and tradition are invoked to claim authority, but tradition also appeals to our more
emotional, affective desire to belong and to share with others. It is because tradition
is experienced effectively that “traditional” events are so often marked by music, like
religious or festive songs and national anthems. And musical traditions are often
more concerned with an evocation of shared experience than with the reproduction
of forms or procedures that “authenticity” implies. Tom Turino demonstrates this el-
egantly in his description of sikuri performances in Conima, Peru:

The originality of the ensembles’ emblem pieces for a given fiesta marks community
identity. But the pieces, like the particular quirks and surprises of specific perfor-
mances . . . also become indices of the particular moment and hence bring the people
who participated into a special relationship based on “being there.” Each year a piece is
played, every time a distinctive musical device is used, it collects a new level of indexi-
cal meaning and adds time depth—“still there,” “still together”—which is one impor-
tant meaning and purpose of Tradition (1993: 114).

In addition to the way particular pieces or musical sounds index shared experi-
ence, making music and dancing represent a familiar process through which people
join in a playful and synchronous relationship with others. Tom Turino calls this
“being in sync,” and notes that, for residents of Conima, Peru, “extended musical
repetition and long periods of dancing during fiestas are particularly powerful
means for bringing people together and allowing for heightened social union” (1993:
111). And, writing about salsa music, Marisol Berrios-Miranda says: “it is in the ex-
perience of listening and dancing together collectively that the sense of belonging to
a musical tradition is strengthened and the knowledge of ‘who we are’ . . . is dis-
played publicly” (1999: 4–5). In relation to dance music, in particular, we should
consider that the conservative nature of physical experience and bodily memory play
a role in determining which music people relate to as “traditional.” Music has a
power to bring people into sync through repetition and physical participation, and the
manner of physical participation in music making and dancing is contingent on one’s
cultural upbringing.
Because people also value innovation and creativity in music, though, musical
performances are not simply conservative; they may also promote change. Turino’s
observation that musical innovation marks memorable events, for example, demon-
strates the inherent potential that traditional performances have to generate change,
even as they reference the persistence of community through time. Bonding through
music may also facilitate broader patterns of cultural play and negotiation. As David
Coplan puts it, “music establishes the emotional ground of cultural communication”
(1991: 45). This emotional ground is established through a performative process, a
“way of doing things,” if you will. This culturally conditioned manner of perfor-
mance and participation represents continuity with the past even when, in a chang-
ing world, new forms are being integrated into performances.
Such a distinction between process and form is central to Karin Barber and Chris
Waterman’s explanation of Nigerianness or Yorubanness in Fuji music. They ac-
knowledge that “indigenous” elements in Fuji performances may be outweighed by
the many “exogenous” elements, “drawn from the repertoires of a global, electroni-
cally disseminated mass culture,” but cite creative and performative processes that

harness these diverse elements to a local aesthetic that is found not only in music but
also in oriki poetry:

Those characteristics that appear most typical of postmodern Western mass consumer
culture—fragmentation, heterogeneity, decentering, suspension of judgment, mixing of
genres—are, as we shall show, to be found in even more concentrated form in oriki.
There is no reason to believe that these features of oriki performances are the outcome
of a recent process of globalisation. This is not to say that oriki were postmodernist all
along—indeed, such a claim would be meaningless—but rather to suggest that some of
the features unhesitatingly identified by social science as typical of Western modernity
may be produced by other processes and have other meanings.

Even in cases where modern change seems to have a disruptive influence, then,
we may see the persistence of processes that are local, non-Western processes that
are part of a distinctive cultural style. This is evident in the worldwide adoption (as
a result of colonialism and European/American economic influence) of things like
movies, rock music, television talk shows, or football. Such forms of popular enter-
tainment (and one might make a similar argument for forms of government, law, or
business) are not simply adopted; rather, they are adapted to local ways of doing
things. These local ways of doing things constitute tradition in the “naturalistic”
sense: they are practices that have been around for a while, and which predate the
introduction of Western modernity. Without such a concept of tradition we could
not explain the many different faces of modernity. Indeed, a naturalistic under-
standing of tradition undergirds the very notion of postmodernism, which Néstor
García Canclini describes as “a way of problematizing the equivocal links that the
[modern world] has formed with the traditions it tried to exclude or overcome in
constituting itself” (1995: 9).


An example of García Canclini’s “equivocal links” can be seen in the relationship of

the steelbands to European art-music. Steelband musicians are keenly aware of the
status of “the Classics,” as they call them, and in some ways regard this repertoire as
the ultimate standard by which their instrument and their music are to be measured.
The earliest documented public steelband performance, by Spree Simon in 1946, in-
cluded a rendition of Schubert’s “Ave Maria”(Dudley 2002: 137), and since 1952
steelbands have performed a wide variety of symphonic repertoire in Trinidad’s bi-
ennial Music Festival. Formal and stylistic aspects of symphonic music as well as Eu-
ropean models of musicianship also carry over into Panorama, where, although the
repertoire consists of calypsos, a single arranger composes ten minutes of complex
music that the other hundred or so players learn by rote. As illustrated by Father
Julien’s dismayed reaction (cited above), these imitations and borrowings can be in-
terpreted as “the colonisation of the calypso and the steel pan” and a negation of
local tradition, leading Trinidadians “not towards independence through creativity
but towards total enslavement through meticulous apeing.”
Unlike Father Julien, however, the musicians I have spoken with view their bor-
rowings from classical music as a creative process. Rather than sacrificing their heritage
on the altar of modernity, they see themselves expanding their musical possibilities,
giving free rein to their imaginations, and incorporating classical forms into an idiom

that is their own. Viewed from this perspective, modernity’s power to exclude or over-
come local traditions seems less convincing. The link between modernity and tradition
is still equivocal, because steelband musicians cannot ignore considerations of prestige.
But in many cases, prestige is not the only, or even the principal motivation for incor-
porating classical music style and repertoire, as a story told to me by steelband arranger
Ray Holman nicely illustrates. This incident took place sometime around 1960, when
Holman was arranging for Invaders steelband, whose captain was Ellie Mannette:

Ellie come on the pan and he play and he say well that is A minor, how you playing D?
He couldn’t understand it. G, and you playing D. E minor and you playing D. So they
call Mr. Pierre.7 Big thing, you know, when he say, “send to call Mr. Pierre. . . .”
But in the meantime now I say listen, I jump on my bicycle, eh? And I head down
Petro St. It had a fella called Blackman, they were music teachers and the fella used to
go to school. I say listen, I want you to help me with something, tell me what this is,
and I play for him [on the piano]. I say “What you call that, what it is I doing there?”
And he go and he bring out his sister. He didn’t know. When I play it she says that is a
pedal point. I say, “What it is you say, a pedal point? What is that?” She say, “Just what
you’re doing there, playing one note, even if the chords change.” I say, uh-huh, well they
dead now! I gone now boy!
I jump on my bicycle man, and I gone up in Invaders yard. I have my two sticks in
my pocket. When Mr. Pierre start to talk, he say he can’t understand this thing, “But
Ray—“ I say, “Mr. Pierre, you don’t know what is a pedal point?” Boy, all the young fel-
las in the yard, they watching me like I know this amount of music! That was kicks, boy!
I feel like a big, big man now, because I teach them this thing. I say, “Mr. Pierre, you
don’t know what is a pedal point?” Well you see that? Mr. Pierre lost all credibility then.
Because some other man who was in the yard listening, a gentleman came, and he say,
“What the boy saying is correct” – and he speaking proper English, eh? – “What the
little fellow said is correct, it’s a pedal point.” (Holman 1993)

This story gives an amusing example of the power and authority that steelband musi-
cians could attain through knowledge of formal music theory. Yet it also shows an artist
who first borrowed a musical structure out of interest in its sound, not its prestige.
The same dynamic applies to the Panorama competition, where borrowings from
European art-music are guided not only by the choices of arrangers, but by patterns
of collective festivity, competition, and play. Of course, many of the forms and struc-
tures in Panorama—such as interlocking strums, call and response, or calypso
melodic phrasing—have local origins. My choice to focus on borrowed or foreign el-
ements, though, responds to the perception (of, for example, Father Julien) that
Panorama has produced a “symphonization” of the calypso. I will discuss three as-
pects of Panorama music—timbre, “complexity,” and form—to demonstrate how
European musical ideas are transformed according to distinctively Trinidadian pri-
orities and aesthetics, suggesting that we might just as well view this process as a “ca-
lypso-ization” of the symphony.

One of the most obvious ways in which the standards of European classical music
have influenced the development of the steelband is in the area of timbre (that is,
sound quality, or tone). Choir director and steelband arranger Pat Bishop told me,
for example, that the history of pan tuning could be explained as the search for a “bel

canto” sound (Bishop 1993). Indeed, any comparison between a steelband recording
from, say, before 1960 and a recording from after 1970 will demonstrate the mod-
ern instrument’s enhanced ability to produce a sustained “bel canto” tone. Signifi-
cantly, the pursuit of this European timbral aesthetic has come at the expense of the
African polyrhythmic aesthetic, since the sustained tone blurs the contrasts and
composites of interlocking strumming patterns (Dudley 1997: 70–71).
The “bel canto” timbre that is the pride of Trinidadian pan tuners is particularly
impressive in steelband renditions of symphonic music or slow ballads. In Panorama
music, on the other hand, this timbral achievement is in some ways subverted. Steel-
band musicians pride themselves on dexterity and precision, but the speed at which
they must play in Panorama causes them to strike the notes hard, producing a tone
that is relatively harsher than it would be if struck gently. Moreover, the competition
favors bands that can play loudly, so that in this context pans are appreciated even
more for their “power” than their “sweetness.” The premium placed on volume and
visceral impact has its roots in carnival street performance, where the ear-splitting
“irons” (motor vehicle brake drums) were a sonic weapon in confrontations with
other bands, as explained by Carleton “Zigilee” Constantine:

Band coming down and band coming up. So both of you alongside and it’s firing, all
band firing on all cylinders. Well is your iron man have to pull you through man. Some-
times it have iron man, they could be tired and thing, yes? And sometime they have
their woman in the band they want to go and hug up, they want to drink and thing. But
when the band going down so, and you sight a band coming up of repute, all man you
see they leave they girl and taking the iron from everybody because this is business, the
business part of the fete. You only hear the whole rhythm, because band passing. We
going down, you going up. And boy, everybody face serious, you know. This have no
laugh. This come like superiority, you know, class. (1993)

In confrontations like this each band tried to play so loud that the other would get
disoriented and stop. Daisy McLean, who began playing pan in the early 1950s, re-
members the thrill of vanquishing another band: “[to] drown them out, crumble
them—that was our happiness” (McLean 1993).
In Panorama, steelbands do not play simultaneously, but they still try to show up
their rivals, and it is commonly assumed that small bands can’t win because their
sound isn’t big enough. The irons continued to be the heart of the rhythm section,
but the bulk of the volume comes from the roughly 100 pan players, so the playing
technique and the style of arranging often emphasize the instrument’s power more
than its sweetness. The “bel canto” timbre therefore serves different purposes in
Panorama (power) than it would in the Music Festival or certain other venues
(sweetness). The arranging and playing style in Panorama have even influenced the
way tuners make their instruments, as they increasingly strive for power as well as
sweetness of sound.8 In these ways the timbral development of the pan, while it
draws on European as well as local precedents, is increasingly driven by a uniquely
Trinidadian performance context.

Another area of Panorama musical style in which European models are evident is
what I will simply call “complexity.” This is not to suggest that complexity per se

distinguishes “European” music from “Trinidadian” or “African” music. Early bam-

boo and steelband music featured complexity of texture and rhythmic improvisa-
tion, not to mention the complex task of bringing a performance alive by
improvising song lyrics and motivating dancers. By “complexity” I refer here,
though, to the modern treatment of melody, harmony and texture in steelband
arrangements that sometimes appears to be complex for complexity’s sake, and
which demands a broad palette of arranging techniques (including modulation, re-
harmonization, sequence, counterpoint) and virtuosic playing from all the mem-
bers of the band. These kinds of structural complexity do not have precedent in
early steelband music and correspond to the steelband musicians’ exposure to and
fascination with symphonic music.
On the one hand, the melodic and harmonic complexity of Panorama arrange-
ments is calculated to appeal to formally trained judges and to assert the arranger’s
and the band’s musical sophistication. On the other hand the practice is supported
by considerations that have little to do with the prestige of symphonic techniques.
As in the case of volume, virtuosity and structural complexity are important to cow
other bands and impress the public. What relates complexity to more specifically
Trinidadian traditions of festivity, though, is the way it contributes to the drama of
performance, providing a vehicle for the players to show off visually, strut their stuff
in the limelight—to “gallery” for the crowd, as they say.
The visual drama of performance in Panorama is clearly related to Trinidadian
traditions of carnival masquerade and competition. From the elaborate detail of
homemade costumes of dragons or Indians, to the reproduction of military regalia
and weaponry in sailor bands, to the eye-popping spectacle of thousands of mas-
queraders portraying historical or literary themes like Gulliver’s Travels or the Odyssey,
playing mas’ (masquerade) in Trinidad entails a huge amount of creative prepara-
tion. And just as a masquerader needs a good costume to give her the spirit to play
mas’, steelband musicians need an inspiring arrangement to perform at their best.
Daisy McLean speaks for many pannists when she says, “You have to like the tune
and enjoy playing the tune. So if you have a part that you don’t like, you wouldn’t
play it well” (1993). Arrangers know that they must compose parts that the players
will enjoy, and they cater to the players’ sense of drama.
The players’ appreciation of the variety and drama in the music is evident in their
histrionic expressions and flourishes. Not only musicians, but also flag wavers and
spectators often mark the dramatic progress of the arrangement as they dance to the
music, as though acting out a story in their individual choreography. In this sense,
therefore, the complexity of the arrangement and its dramatic scope provide the op-
portunity for everyone present to participate in performance, just as they might
“play mas’” with a masquerade band.

A third aspect of Panorama music that relates to the symphony is large-scale form.
In Panorama, a verse and chorus calypso is expanded into a ten-minute instru-
mental arrangement, mainly by means of theme and variation. People often at-
tribute the convention of theme and variation form to the classical orientation of
the judges, who are selected primarily on the basis of their formal music training.
Indeed, the judges commonly use the terminology of European sonata form in

their written comments, referring to the statement of the theme, the develop-
ment, the recapitulation, and so on.9 Symphonic models of form are unquestion-
ably influential in Panorama music, and the judges’ use of classical music
terminology shows a conscious analogy to European art-music. However, the
maintenance of theme and variation form over the years may have even more to
do with what I call “text interpretation.”
Since calypso is a narrative song form in which text and word-play are at least as
important as musical rendition for most listeners, a critical aspect of the perfor-
mance is lost when the song is arranged in an instrumental rendition for steelband.
Calypsonians compensate by writing “pan tunes,” which have relatively greater
melodic and harmonic interest, for performance by steelband. However, most lis-
teners know the words to the original song (and even if they don’t, the calypso is
blared over the PA while the band sets up) and they expect arrangers to recall the
text through onomatopoeic effects and musical quotes. In Clive Bradley’s 1988
arrangement for Pandemonium steelband, for example, a reference to rainfall in the
text of the Mighty Trini’s Sailing was made by having all the musicians at once tap on
the sides of their pans. Ken Philmore, in his 1993 arrangement of David Rudder’s
“Dus’ in Yuh Face” for Potential Symphony, inserted the theme of “The Good, the Bad,
and the Ugly” to evoke a cowboy shootout.
In conjunction with these kinds of sonic metaphors and similes the audience gen-
erally expects the steelband arrangement to adhere to the original calypso’s melody
or form. Theme and variation is the most obvious symphonic form by which to
maintain reference to the original calypso, and at the same time achieve some large
scale formal development and interest. Despite the judges’ use of sonata form ter-
minology, criticisms that the arrangement “strayed from the original” are interpreted
by the arrangers as a reminder that they should stick largely to a strategy of variation,
rather than developing entirely new ideas. The audience’s delight in text interpreta-
tion therefore conditions the judges’ priorities regarding form, and constrains the
arrangers’ options.


Panorama is a tradition that can be seen to have both “invented” and “naturalistic”
aspects. On the one hand, the competition affirms a spurious notion that calypso has
always been the principal genre of steelband performance, an ideological project that
served the interests of independence-era cultural nationalists who needed to iden-
tify themselves with Afro-Trinidadian art forms (Dudley 2002: 141–143). In the
process, Panorama produced an unprecedented modernization of the calypso
through the borrowing of forms and ideas from European art music. On the other
hand, the integration of these forms and ideas into a unique music and performance
event has been guided by processes and values that are traditional by virtue of their
long history in carnival. Theme-and-variation form facilitates Trinidadians’ enjoy-
ment of text interpretation; the timbral character of the steel pan, originally mod-
eled on the “bel canto” sound, has been reconfigured in the competitive pursuit of
volume and power; and textural, harmonic, and formal complexity are cultivated to
support the histrionic performance styles of individual players and the aesthetic of
“playing mas’.”

While a focus on forms may reveal many borrowings and new ideas in Panorama
music, therefore, a focus on festive processes reveals connections to the past, to
other carnival arts, and to other domains of Trinidadian culture. These processes are
predicated on the participatory nature of carnival performances. The connections
that Panorama participants (both pan beaters and supporters) make to an enduring
cultural style may ultimately have a more deep and lasting significance than various
arguments about the symbolic importance of the steelband and its music. The par-
ticipatory processes of Panorama constitute a “tradition” into which hegemonic
forms are incorporated, and through which they are creatively manipulated and
transformed by artists and the communities to whom they respond.


1. During the carnival of 1881 a police captain named Baker tried to break up a torch-
light procession, known as cannes brulés or Canboulay (a reenactment of the forced
marches of slaves from one plantation to another that occurred when a sugar cane
field burned and extra hands were required to harvest it before it was ruined). In
response, stickfighters from different neighborhood bands joined ranks and waged
a pitched battle with police. The Canboulay riots provoked legal restrictions on
music and masquerade, and are often cited as a symbol of carnival’s revolutionary
2. Efforts to help the steelbands in the late 1940s were motivated both by cultural na-
tionalism and also by a concern for controlling violent clashes between bands. These
concerns are clear, for example, in the reports of the Government Steel Band Com-
mittee, formed in 1949. Promoting the legitimacy of the art form and providing “re-
spectable” venues for musical performance were part of a strategy to direct the
panmen’s energy away from violence.
3. The Steelband Festival is a biannual competition that features both classical music
and calypso arrangements. The calypso arrangements are usually very similar to
Panorama arrangements, but the performance context is different in that the musi-
cians are formally dressed and they are led by a conductor.
4. “Mass Day Done” (Master’s Day is Done) was the title of a famous speech given by
Trinidad’s first prime minister, Eric Williams, in which he proclaimed the end of colo-
nial authority and influence.
5. A road-march is a calypso that is written for dancing in the street during carnival, as
opposed to calypsos that have a more narrative character, intended for listening.
6. Hobsbawm proposes the terms “custom” and “convention” for practices in which rep-
etition and precedent are more a matter of pragmatism, reserving “tradition” for prac-
tices in which authenticity is an ideological imperative (1992: 2–3)
7. Lennox Pierre was a lawyer and an amateur violinist who advocated for middle-class
tolerance and support and took an active role in training steelband tuners and play-
ers musically.
8. Boogsie Sharpe, for example, told me that he liked the tenor section of Phase II to
have a mixture of Lincoln Noel’s tenors, which he liked for their sweetness, and Lloyd
Gays more powerful pans.
9. “Theme and variation” is a form in which a theme or melody is played at the outset,
and then the chord progression of that theme is repeated several times while the
melody, instrumentation, and so on are varied. (Pachelbel’s Canon is a famous exam-
ple of a theme-and-variation composition, with its repeated bass line underlying a
long series of variations.) Panorama arrangements do not adhere strictly to this for-

mat, but it is an obvious model. Like theme and variation, sonata form uses recogniz-
able themes as markers in the overall form, but sonata form includes passages that are
independent of these themes, especially in the middle “development” section, so that
the opening themes disappear entirely for long stretches of the composition. No
Panorama arrangement is a simple theme and variation, and some do exhibit some of
the qualities of sonata form; they also use formal devices like cyclical “jams” and
call/response that are obviously of African derivation.

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El Mariachi
Musical Repertoire as
Sociocultural Investment

Cándida F. Jáquez

hen Mariachi Campanas de América of San Antonio, Texas, takes the
stage, audiences are frequently confounded by the often included drum
trap set. The sight of a musician wearing a full traje1 (complete with som-
brero) striking drum heads with a flurry of drumsticks can be visually shocking to
the uninitiated. Indeed, Mariachi Campanas de América has claimed to be the
world’s first mariachi band to include a drum trap set, and this claim has, notably, re-
mained uncontested. But the statement and the presence of the drummer never fail
to elicit a range of responses. In a crowded Austin, Texas, theater in 1995, some au-
dience members laughed at the inclusion of the instrument, some seemed perplexed
by it, and others seemed curious to hear what it sounded like.
The contemporary debates over which musical instruments should be included in
a mariachi ensemble are directly related to issues of authenticity and traditionalism.
Most pertinent seems to be how the group’s overall sound can respond to the de-
mands of the evolving repertoire. Since, to a great deal, this depends on a combina-
tion of each instrumentalist’s ability and experience (including how well the
musicians relate to one another), it is difficult to speak in consistent terms about the
number and variety of instruments that form what is considered a good mariachi en-
semble. Moreover, considerations such as the availability of musicians, financial con-
straints, and scheduling greatly affect the structure of each ensemble that appears at
an engagement.
A discussion of instrumentation foregrounds the intertwining of traditional ex-
pectations, historical knowledge, and the meanings through which musicians and
participants understand the ensemble and repertoire as a whole. In some sense, for
the mariachi, instrumentation fills the role of providing syncretic, symbolic acknowl-
edgment of the tri-ethnic mexicano mestizo heritage: indigenous, European (primarily
Spanish), and African influences. Suppression of both African and indigenous roots
in mexicano/Chicano culture have been well-documented in writings that critically re-
flect on contemporary ethnicities.2 Issues of class, color, gender, and the ways in

which communities have been racialized3 emerge as the cultural expression of histor-
ical knowledge as part of everyday usage. These complexities help explain why in
mariachi performance, where ethnicity assumes a key role in explicating social mean-
ing in musical performance, a drum trap set is of such cultural dissonance.

Transnational Relationships

When we speak directly of U.S. mexicano communities, the point is made even more
sharply in terms of how musicians are placing themselves within the international
sphere, or how the tradition is defined as being distinctly mexicano within a U.S. con-
text. Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, a southern California group, is ac-
knowledged as one of the premier U.S. show mariachis. Briefly, a show mariachi
differs from other mariachis in that it is a larger ensemble that gives staged presen-
tations that sometimes include dancers and use intricate arrangements. Show mari-
achis are also often based in a family restaurant sometimes owned or run by the
musicians or by their family members. Many of the members pursue their work on
a full-time basis. Mariachi Los Camperos has toured extensively both nationally and
internationally. The group is based in La Fonda Mexican Restaurant and, according
to Cano, the ensemble’s director, the group does a sort of “American dinner theater,”
with set shows for specific dinner seatings.
In addition to presenting the scripted show, the restaurant’s owners or operators
arrange the physical space of the restaurant to fit the requirements of the ensemble.
A stage built at the front of the dining area is the visual draw of the room. All the ta-
bles are positioned so that every seat in the house has a good view. Microphones,
lighting, and stage sets present the group to its best advantage.
Los Camperos de Nati Cano appears to be one of the few U.S.-based ensembles
that regularly features the Jaliscan harp, and it bills itself as such from the stage. This
is in sharp contrast to other groups that may include a harpist as a guest musician
from time to time.
By featuring the Jaliscan harp, Los Camperos hearken back to early nineteenth-
century mariachi history, in which the harp functioned as the bass instrument.4 In-
terestingly, Los Camperos have been characterized by other musicians as being
perhaps “less traditional” than other groups because “they do shows where they play
for the Japanese tourists, playing ‘Sakura,’5 and all that.” In more general terms, there
is clearly a sense among U.S. mariachi groups—a sense that is usually based on reper-
toire, instrumentation, and performance settings—that some ensembles are more
traditional than others.
As Steven Loza notes, Mariachi Los Camperos remains a fixture on the Los An-
geles mariachi scene, and the group regularly includes some of the best musicians
from Mexico.6 The talents of Los Camperos are showcased in carefully scripted pre-
sentations that strive to maintain some of mariachi’s spontaneity by incorporating
audience participation and frequent movement of the musicians from the stage onto
the floor, among the patrons.
Despite the group’s record of excellence and numerous awards, Mariachi Los
Camperos must constantly negotiate the tensions that exist both within its own
U.S.-based mariachi performance complex and its international standing vis-à-vis
Mexican-based groups. Although filial relationships form a part of the mariachi per-

formance complex that extends both within U.S. borders and between U.S. and
Mexican groups, professional competition and community standing play equally im-
portant roles:

I can’t really say if it’s one thing or the other, but I know when I hear a group from
there [the United States] I don’t think they quite have the same feeling for it . . . and
that comes through in the music. It’s mostly just the sound. Mariachi is a very definite
style. I have some good friends over there [in the United States] who are really good
musicians. But their groups don’t have the same life to them. (personal interview, Plaza
Garibaldi Mariachi trumpet player)
Some of them [Mexican-based mariachis] say we [U.S.-based mariachis] don’t play
as well. In a way it’s a little true because I think most of the best teachers are in Mex-
ico—the people who know this tradition from having been professional musicians for
longer than I’ve been born! Here, you have to work a little harder to study with some-
one really good. But I think we’re a little more professional sometimes because we have
to be. You know we go someplace where people might think, “Oh lazy Mexicans,” and
that kind of stuff so we’re really sure that we show up looking good and the guys don’t
drink during a job. We also practice a lot as a group to make sure we sound good and
everyone’s part is sharp. (personal interview, guitar and guitarrón player)

These tensions7 extend over a number of public and private displays (such as mari-
achi conferences and workshops, professional concert series, and unofficial “jam”
sessions) where the merits of different playing techniques, singing styles, trajes, pre-
sentations, training, and musical arrangements are debated. Premios (prizes) awarded
in national and international competition, official recognition—such as the National
Endowment for the Arts Music Heritage Awards—and many other honors that rec-
ognize outstanding artistic achievement remain highly contested.
Increasingly, recordings released by individual ensembles are discussed. As
recording technologies have become more accessible and economically feasible, a
number of middle school, high school, university, and professional mariachi ensem-
bles have begun to release their own CDs. As always, the recordings released by ven-
erated groups such as Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán and solo singers such as Pedro
Infante, Jorge Negrete, Miguel Aceves Mejía, Lola Beltrán, Vicente Fernández, and
José Alfredo Jiménez provide historical and contemporary performance standards.
The wealth of commercially released recordings provides ample opportunity for
comparative study, as aspiring mariachis emulate their favorite groups and individ-
ual song arrangements.
The core of the debates centers on issues of traditionalism and the recognition
that mariachi exists as a vibrant, evolving practice. Innovations and developments
interpreted as more modern or recent events (perhaps since the middle of the twen-
tieth century) are continually measured against issues of historical understanding of
mariachi as an established tradition and the possible future of this tradition.
The internal conflicts over the values of traditional and more modern approaches
to mariachi foreground a lively discussion among musicians and their audiences. Al-
though total agreement over where the boundaries exist in terms of musical style,
execution, interpretation, and stage presence is rare, the topic for discussion remains
consistent in how groups and individuals view their efforts. In terms of instrumen-
tation at least, there exists a general expectation against which actual instrumenta-
tion in a given performance context is measured.


According to tradition, the ensemble should include trumpet, violin, vihuela, guitar,
and guitarrón. As for the ensemble’s exact configuration, this seems most directly re-
lated to the issues of balance and the role that each section plays within a mariachi
ensemble. As Steve Ray Pearlman notes in his work on the Los Angeles mariachi
performance complex, groups exist at a variety of economic and social levels. En-
sembles that work as planta groups, which depend primarily on standing engage-
ments at hotels or restaurants in addition to chambas (jobs/single performances)
maintain the most stable memberships. Ensembles that work al talón follow a circuit
of establishments that have little or no financial obligation to the ensemble, where
patrons who make requests usually pay the musicians by the piece.8
As one might imagine, these professional performance modes engender a range
of instrumentation that takes into account whether or not the ensemble exists as a
regular group, is primarily made up of “pickup” players, or is some combination of
the two. In any case, the overall musical sound generates the most commentary
about the instrumental configuration: “There needs to be a good sound. If the vihuela
and guitarrón are there, then at least one trumpet and a couple of violins I would say
is what you need. You can even manage without a vihuela if you have a really good gui-
tarist or two” (personal interview, Mariachi director, Tucson, Arizona).
The underlying process behind this opinion concerns the relationships between
each instrument and the divisions between larger sections of instruments. For ex-
ample, the trumpet and the violin handle the melody lines, sometimes harmonizing
with each other between the trumpet and violin sections and within each instru-
ment section, in parallel thirds, fourths, or sixths. The vihuela, guitar, and guitarrón
collectively form the rhythm section, although each one has a distinct role.
The guitarrón, tuned A-d-g-c1-e-a,9 functions as the bass. The tuning is, at first, a
challenge to many beginning players, since the instrument does not follow an expected
arrangement of lowest to highest strings in succession (note that, from the fourth to
the fifth string, the pitch goes down a minor sixth). The arrangement ingeniously facil-
itates the playing of octaves and keeps the string tension to a minimum as it provides
a full range of pitch content possibilities, easily allowing an experienced musician to
play in virtually any key or harmonic progression.
Although the guitarrón part is notated in written form as a single line, the part is
actually most often realized in octaves. Sonority of the instrument’s acoustical con-
struction (arched back) easily allows a good-quality instrument to carry the bass line
for the entire ensemble with a full sound. The playing technique demands a follow-
through that is unique to the instrument in that the strings are plucked with the
thumb and first or second fingers of the right hand. The hand snaps back slightly at
the wrist as the arm, from the elbow, curves away from the instrument into the air.
Since the strings are physically very thick,10 much thicker than guitar strings, the
technique requires continual anticipation, so that the bass part remains on or slightly
ahead of, rather than behind, the beat. This is particularly important in passages
where the bass line is “walked” through more melodic gestures, such as arpeggiations
or scalar patterns. These gestures usually ornament cadential ligatures, harmonic
modulations, or perhaps a meter or tempo change. The instrument is constructed
with Mexican cedarwood for the sides and back, and tacote (a light, strong wood) for

the top. Machine heads or wood pegs are used to manipulate the pitch of each
string.11 It is rare for more than one guitarrón to be used in an ensemble.12
The vihuela belongs to the same string family as the guitarrón in that they are both
considered Jaliscan instruments closely associated with the development of nine-
teenth-century regional, mestizo popular musics.13 In terms of construction, the vi-
huela has an arched back like that of the guitarrón and is made of similar materials. In
addition, the vihuela tuning, a-d1-g1-b-e1, reflects a tuning that goes down a minor
sixth between the third and fourth strings. In this case, the string tension is mini-
mized so that the rapid mánicos, or right-hand strumming patterns, can be executed
with some ease and still provide a wide range of pitch content.
The mánico technique combines with the acoustical properties of the vihuela to pro-
duce an important rhythmic role. Unlike the strings of a classical or Western guitar,
these nylon strings have a rich resonance that is paired with a rapid sound decay. The
instrument’s arched-back shape and its size contribute to a bright timbre. The effect
is that, despite the vihuela’s harmonic function in playing the chord progressions, its
role becomes strongly percussive in the overall sound. This is achieved primarily
through the use of specific genre-related mánicos executed by the right hand and the
relationship of the mánicos to the rhythmic pattern established in the guitarrón.
As Daniel Sheehy has discussed, the mánicos (for example in the son jarocho14 tradi-
tion), are intricate patterns that hold the key to the repertoire’s entire rhythmic
framework. Sheehy also notes that the resulting rhythmic patterns are thought of as
extended patterns that repeat themselves and help identify specific song types.15
Within the mariachi repertoire, these mánicos serve a similar function, since the vi-
huela and guitar players are expected to have a technical command of a wide range of
Each musical genre has a pattern of mánicos that uses a combination of down-
strokes and upstrokes. Basic downstrokes use primarily the middle three fingers with
the tips or backs of the fingernails or individual finger picks,16 striking the strings.
Basic upstrokes use mostly the thumb, again with either the tip or the back of the
nail striking the strings. The focus is on maintaining a loose wrist, where the fore-
arm rotates with a minimum of motion to allow the fingers to move easily across the
strings. These rapid strumming patterns combine with the instrument’s acoustical
properties to produce clear rhythm patterns that penetrate through the whole
rhythm section as well as the larger ensemble. In this sense, the vihuela emerges as an
important percussive element, since—because of the instrument’s rapid sound decay
and the comparatively bright timbre-the clarity of the strumming patterns, even the
most intricate, remain “clean” sounding.
The Spanish guitar is the final element of the rhythm section. Because the
chords played on the instrument have a longer decay period than the vihuela, its role
is primarily harmonic. Although the guitar follows the same mánico strumming pat-
terns as the vihuela, because of the guitar’s resonance, the patterns are less sharply
defined. Over rapid strumming passages, there is a tendency for the articulations to
become “blurred” as the tones blend together. Some guitarists use a pick to coun-
teract this effect. It is also precisely this characteristic that makes the guitar ideal in
providing a strong harmonic base. The sonorities achieved bolster the harmonic
language by providing a backdrop to the vihuela role, even though both instruments
ostensibly play the same instrumental part. Although the trumpet, violin, and
Spanish guitar are usually acknowledged as European instruments, the playing

techniques and general sound quality particular to their use in mariachi music are
seen as unique to the genre. While I was in Austin, Texas, a colleague of mine men-
tioned that a small Mexican restaurant near his home seemed to have recently
added a mariachi ensemble on the weekends. He noted that, although he had not
actually seen the ensemble, on several weekend he had heard that “mariachi trum-
pet sound.” As he described the sound, he detailed a distinct, recognizable, mariachi
trumpet vibrato: a “wide” effect, achieved using the jaw, and articulation, often with
sharp, “pecked” notes, where the airstream is stopped by the tongue behind the
upper teeth. In addition, each of these instruments—violin, trumpet, and guitar—
has a specific function with artistic expectations for the whole of the ensemble. The
violin functions as a melodic instrument. Mariachi violinists generally use less vi-
brato than classical musicians and have a delicate repertoire of sliding and finger-
ing techniques that create specific sound qualities. Their bowing techniques also
include such practices as caballito.17 The guitarist may have a slightly higher bridge
than a classical player to help achieve the desired sound quality as he or she per-
forms rapid strumming patterns. At first, many guitarists find it somewhat chal-
lenging to adjust their strumming technique to allow the wrist and hand, as
opposed to the entire forearm moving from the elbow, to carry most of the motion.
Previous work on traditional mexicano musics has focused on violin, trumpet, and
guitar as mainly European borrowings or cultural influences.18 It seems wise to con-
sider that the presence of European-based instruments engenders a historical pres-
ence that has effectively remade the instrument into a particular cultural icon—most
notably, an icon that by its very presence points toward the contemporary evocation
of a colonialist experience. Few have looked at the ways in which the instruments are
constructed under a specific mexicano musical aesthetic as the aural and visual sym-
bols of mestizo cultural expression.
Pearlman presents an interesting case in arguing for an indigenous-based musical
aesthetic to explain the relationship that developed between instruments in mestizo
musical string ensembles that emerged in nineteenth-century Mexico. The argument
focuses on how indigenous musical ensembles used ocarinas, multiple-chamber
flutes, and other flautas as the melody instruments that were juxtaposed to tambor or
drum instruments as the percussive element.19 Pearlman specifically argues: “What is
most interesting is that as the [mestizo] musical ensembles evolved, it appears that
aboriginal instruments and ensembles were replaced, post-contact, by others that
filled structurally contiguous, cognitively comparable, roles. For this reason the con-
tinuity from the hypothetical20 aboriginal ensembles to the modern mariachi is com-
pelling.”21 Pearlman is referring to the basic division within the mariachi ensemble
that has been previously defined as the melody section (trumpet and violin) and the
rhythm section (guitar, vihuela, and guitarrón). The role of flautas has been taken by the
melody section and the role of the tambor has been taken by the rhythm section.
The argument itself in this context is compelling not so much for its plausibility
as for the illustrated need to reconcile a historical, indigenous past with contempo-
rary musical expression. The cultural ruptures created at the time of conquest are
well documented as the collision of two autonomous worlds that violently engaged
one another in a dominant (Spanish)/subordinate (indigenous) relationship.22 The
emergent, highly mediated mestizo Mexican culture takes on significant levels of
historical layerings in its contemporary understanding within U.S.-based communi-
ties of Mexican descent.

The definition of mestizaje itself acknowledges indigenous heritage, although in a

meditated process often marked by ambivalence and historical reinventions that
seek to build coherence where violent (colonial) disruptions dominate. It is not only
a reclaiming of a historical past but the recreation of spaces previously marked by si-
lence and erasure. The herbs to cure our stomachaches that my mother made on her
electric stove in Fresno, California, and the shops on the west side with statues never
to be found in our north-side Catholic church remain in my memory as elements of
this mestizaje that no one would (or could) quite explain.
They became the objects that “some people” believed in or the basis for curanderas’
healing. “Some people” became this powerful group of individuals who knew what
all those powders and candles could do. In our home, “some people” occasionally
emerged in veiled references through those teas and especially through those stories
about healings and about how incompletely remembered poultices could cure most
In a similar vein, a Chicana colleague of mine who was raised in the barrios of
East Los Angeles speaks of how her family identified primarily as mexicano without
acknowledging an indigenous history; in fact, at some levels, they even actively de-
nied it—various preparations of snake skins and meat, herbs, and poultices
notwithstanding. She cogently pointed out that this Europeanizing of their cul-
ture at the expense of the indigenous roots seemed to her an attempt to “whiten”
mexicano culture.
The indígenas active today on the Zócalo square in Mexico City also remind us of
these cultural gaps in mestizo cultural expression in response to contemporary
needs. As with the needs expressed by Pearlman regarding how the roles of indige-
nous musical practice are reflected in the instrumentation of the mariachi ensemble,
a certain leap of faith or logic is required. In addition, all points in between must be
filled in as far as possible, by employing emergent bases of cultural knowledge.
Although indigenous-based dance and music at the Zócalo may appear recreated
or reinvented for, perhaps, the local tourist trade, the indigenous speakers address
the mexicanos/as at large as the main reason that they come to this gathering place.
They say they want to remind people of their cultural roots and the knowledge that
remains buried and forgotten: the foods, herbs, religious practices, and exercise ap-
proaches that promote health and well-being from an indigenous perspective.
Leaflets that document poultices, teas, and indigenous history are distributed for a
modest fee. In perhaps one of the more pointed moments, the indigenous speaker
who addresses the gathering crowd notes what a “shame” it is that he must address
them in Spanish (the language of the conquerors) rather than in a native tongue
such as Nahuatl.
In a stunning visual reminder, a more concrete excavation takes place at the Aztec
Templo Mayor (Main Temple) at the same Zócalo location. Perhaps metaphorically
it represents what is more difficult to characterize about thought, method, intent,
and apparent cultural creativity. Within the open excavation, multiple historical lay-
ers in relief show how structures were built upon the foundations of temple ruins.
Archeological excavations still take place today; the site serves as a “living” dig con-
nected to the major museum that houses many of the artifacts found.
These archeological structures reflect how materials were used to construct parts
of the city throughout different eras. Stones were taken from the temple ruins them-
selves to build newer buildings under Spanish colonial rule. Some materials of these

structures were similarly used for the construction of yet other layers. This visual ca-
cophony represented in integrated structures testifies to time and spaces in which
they functioned as a whole.23
Similarly, out of expressive stresses/fractures/omissions, the historical threads of
indigenous, European (Spanish), and African cultures have been integrated into
contemporary mestizo practice, including music. In this way, both the guitarrón and
the vihuela are discussed in contemporary mariachi circles as the “heart” or “root” of
the ensemble in defining a characteristic mariachi-mestizo musical aesthetic. Visu-
ally and aurally they represent a past connected to a musical history whose edges
emerge from colonialist relationships based on an intercultural process of mestizaje.
For U.S. communities of Mexican descent, mariachi instrumentation has been a
particular point of contention among musicians. In looking at how mestizo music has
been characterized as adopting European instruments, some have felt that little at-
tention has been paid to how each instrument developed within the mariachi itself:

We use trumpet, violin, guitar . . . and those you can say are really European instru-
ments. You can say that but also . . . you have to remember . . . that this isn’t the kind
of playing you would do in an orchestra or classical ensemble. We get some of these
guys who say “well, this is only mariachi music” like a folk tradition and then they start
to play and then they realize it’s not that easy. That’s where I think the respect comes
in. Each one of these instruments has great history in the mariachi. . . . They’re really
very different instruments [from the European instruments].

As this example illustrates, the tensions in identifying the instruments for their
European background relate to the respect the mariachi tradition garners on its own
merits. In a related vein, this speaker goes on to identify different periods in mari-
achi history that included a number of different kinds of instrumentation.
The earliest-released mariachi recordings through Arhoolie Records support the
idea that the developing ensemble often included ad hoc instrumentation, using
whatever was on hand to form a group. Finding flute or trombone players in a mari-
achi band, as evidenced by the early twentieth-century recordings, was not un-
usual.24 Jonathan Clarke also notes the ambivalence with which the introduction of
the trumpet to the mariachi group was initially met. Basing his observations on in-
terviews with mariachis active during the early part of the twentieth century, he
found that the trumpet was initially only sporadically introduced and that audience
reaction was somewhat mixed.25 This is in stark contrast to contemporary expecta-
tions, which have fostered audiences that are likely to feel offended or even
“cheated” if a mariachi ensemble does not include at least one trumpet. Indeed, exact
instrumentation is often part of the negotiations in booking a playing engagement
at private residences. As a Texas mariachi band leader put it, “People expect guitar,
violin, vihuela, guitarrón and especially trumpet . . . If the trumpet is missing, it’s not
really complete for those who know mariachi.” The idea here is that the trumpet is
an integral part of the contemporary ensemble. Note too that the speaker strength-
ens his observation by referring to “those who know mariachi.” Aficionados, those
considered most knowledgeable, speaking from their deep understanding, can say
that this is the expected norm.
The point is emphasized by the fact that professional mariachis remain flexible in
their instrumentation to reflect the demands and expectations of their clientele and

the performance context. A potential customer may come to a public performance

or group rehearsal to “audition” the ensemble, but the potential customers who are
most knowledgeable will always specify not only the number of musicians they re-
quire but also what instrumentation they expect.
A relevant illustration is a story recounted by a mariachi director in Austin, Texas.
He had been asked to provide “three mariachis” for a given event. He replied that he
would need about a week or so to contact all the musicians. When he called the in-
quirer with a price quote, the individual balked at the price: “Why so high?” The
leader replied that hiring 20 or more musicians was going to be expensive. The po-
tential customer explained that he wanted only three musicians. The person making
the inquiry did not understand that a full mariachi is considered to include at least
six to eight musicians. The mariachi director ended the conversation by noting that
what the person wanted was “not a mariachi but a trio!”

Repertoire Considerations

The mariachi repertoire is often spoken of as consisting of a traditional core that

well-trained musicians should know. In terms of daily practice, the repertoire is de-
fined along the lines of individual songs. This is in no small part due to the expecta-
tion that an experienced group can respond to multiple audience requests. On
another level, musicians speak of specific broad song types or categories: rancheras, pol-
cas, boleros, huapangos, sones, and valses, especially when they refer to musical style and
technical execution as the primary components of the traditional repertoire. Each of
these broader song types is differentiated by a combination of meter, tempo, rhyth-
mic characteristics, and stylistic characteristics.
In discussing the significance of a traditional repertoire base, mariachis and their
audiences maintain that a good, professional ensemble can know literally thousands
of songs: “Our group knows probably around eight hundred songs really well . . . and
probably another one hundred or so pretty well. As long as we have someone who
has maybe heard it enough to sing it or know the chords, he can lead the rest of the
group along.”
At some functions, especially those that include knowledgeable audiences famil-
iar with older songs or other wide-ranging Latino musical genres such as merengue,
salsa, Spanish-language hip-hop, or Chicano rock, mariachis consult with one an-
other before they respond to a request that may not be a regular part of their reper-
toire. The goal is to meet audience expectations and render as well-executed a
performance as possible. As can be readily surmised, those groups working al talón are
especially motivated to learn emerging popular favorites. The more permanent
groups also respond to audience expectations in order to maintain long-standing en-
gagements and procure chambas as a favored group.
The song “Volver, Volver,” is perhaps one of the best known rancheras. A host of
musicians have noted that it is often used as the final encore in a given performance.
I have participated in several performances where the audience would not release the
mariachi group: “¡Otra! ¡Otra! ¡Otra!” (“Another! Another! Another!”); they would
yell until “Volver, Volver” was performed. Since the chorus consists of only one word
(“volver, or to return”) many non-Spanish speakers may comfortably join in the
singing, and they often do, especially at Southwest public venues. This particular

piece also provides an interesting example of how traditional musical/theoretical

concepts employed in Western musical analysis may only just begin to unravel the
complexities of the mariachi repertoire.
The harmonic plan employs three chords: I, IV, and V7. This strophic song pro-
gresses through two verses, the chorus, and an instrumental interlude, which is then
followed by a return to the second verse and a repeat of the chorus.

Title: Volver, Volver Title: To return, to return

1. Este amor apasionado 1. This passionate love
Anda todo alborotado por volver, still continues restlessly to return,
Voy camino a la locura I’m going down the path of
Y aunque todo me tortura and although it completely tortures
Yo sé querer I know what it is to want.
Hsp: 2. Nos dejamos hace tiempo, Hsp: 2. Time has passed for us
pero me llegó el momento But the moment of loss
de perder; just arrived for me,
tú tenías mucha razón, you were so right,
le hago caso al corazón, I’m paying attention to my heart
y me muero por volver. And I am dying to return.
Hsp: Coro: Hsp: Chorus:
Y volver, volver, volver, And to return, to return, to return
A tus brazos otra vez to your arms once again,
Llegaré hasta donde estés, I will come to where you are,
Yo sé perder, yo sé perder, I know loss, I know loss,
I want to return, to return, to
Quiero volver, volver, volver return.26
Hsp: instrumental interlude
Hsp: interludio instrumental NO: Return to the second verse and finish
with the chorus.

Eight measures plus eight measures for a sixteen measure phrasing maintain a
regular flow for each verse and the chorus. The instrumental interlude features in-
strumental solos, usually violin or trumpet, before the final chorus is rounded out by
a coda. Although the solos may be notated, often performance situations see indi-
vidual soloists improvise on the melody. In a ranchera, the instrumental solos in the
hand of a skilled musician can take on some of the vocal inflections that were ex-
pressed in the verses during the vocal solo. The degree to which this is done inten-
tionally is reflected in the reference by some mariachi aficionados to an especially
well-played instrumental solo as having been “sung” very well.
The rhythmic organizing principle as forwarded by the rhythm section (guitar, vi-
huela, and guitarrón) often falls along a quadruple or triple meter with the stresses on
the first and third beats or first beat, respectively. On the face of this analysis, many
instrumentalists and singers new to the tradition (although sometimes musicians
who are already competent in other musical genres) find the harmonic form and
structure deceptively easy to learn; however, they find the ranchera stylistic and ex-
pressive qualities some of the most difficult to produce. The explanation behind this

musical conundrum lies in the primary difficulty of reproducing the affective senti-
ments and qualities so strongly associated with ranchera music. Aspiring Spanish-
language popular singers in mexicano traditional musics are expected to have
command over the vocal inflections, vibrato, and extreme timbre shifts associated
with a good ranchera singing style. Indeed, in some circles the measure of a good
singer of mexicano traditional musics is how well a vocalist can sing a ranchera. In this
sense, it becomes the litmus test against which all other abilities are measured. It
seems that only the most skilled are able to provide that affective presence without
overstatement—a fine line that is easily crossed. An example is the mexicano popular
music singer Lola Beltrán, who is skilled in a number of Latino popular music gen-
res; however, it is in ranchera music that she is thought to excel, and indeed her name
has become synonymous with the genre. This has in no small part contributed to her
popularity and international presence in Spanish-language venues.
The ranchera “Volver, Volver” is a widely known piece often used as the final en-
core that signals the end of musical presentations, that is, mariachi shows or staged
concerts. In a quadruple meter, the ranchera beat pattern is established early in the
instrumental. The guitarrón plays on beats one and two with the rest of the rhythm
section responding in quarter notes on beats two and four. The moderate tempo al-
lows for a pronounced emphasis on beats two and four. Although a backbeat pat-
tern is thus established, the overall aesthetic calls for a more balanced approach in
the strength of each line. The bass line becomes more active line in ornamenting
For this piece, mariachi transcribers often write “ad lib” to describe the vocal en-
trance. A common feature of the ranchera vocal aesthetic is the musical expression of
time out of time. The song “stops” as the vocalist gradually enters the song, eventu-
ally arriving at the tempo and meter previously established. A sense that the singer
is about to tell a story of extreme emotion pervades as the syllables come slowly and
are laid bare without musical accompaniment. In the hands of a skilled interpreter,
this is perhaps one of the most tender moments to be found in the repertoire.
An additional example of this vocal technique comes in the chorus (one measure
before rehearsal number four). The utterance “Y volver, volver, volver,” holds the song’s
key emotional concept as the strong desire to return once again to the arms of a
lover. In contrast to the earlier example, this chorus is the invitation for all partici-
pants to share in the evocation of this emotion. The texture has a minimalist ac-
companiment (resembling an a cappella texture in overall sound), with only the
guitarrón and rhythm section providing skeletal harmonic support. The effect is fur-
ther emphasized by the fact that the chorus vocal part remains in the uppermost
vocal range of the whole piece. In addition, the rhythmic pulse is suspended in elon-
gated values for the second syllable of the word volver.
In addition to these aspects, a poetic Spanish-language competence is necessary
for a full understanding of the multiple levels of the language being used. Not only
must the declamatory style be sensitive to syllabic stresses and articulations, but
double entendre or abstract meanings must also be made concrete in their delivery.
Second only to the chorus as the piece’s emotional climax is the return to the second
verse after the first chorus and the instrumental interlude.
In a strophic song construction, the return to the second verse (beginning one
measure before the coda) emerges as an unusual feature. By examining the text more
closely, we can see that a return to the second verse focuses on the moment of extreme

regret, when the speaker emphasizes the sense of loss. By going back to this moment,
extreme despair is established in that the repetition foreshadows a cycle of regret
from which there seems to be no exit. Not inconsequentially, the vocal solo part
(fourth measure after rehearsal number three) begins in the upper vocal range and
also incorporates an “ad lib” approach to the phrase “ . . . le hago caso al corazón.”
Even with this technical expertise under control, the expectation is that the tech-
nical efforts coalesce into a specific kind of general ranchera expressive quality that
must be invoked for a singer to successfully perform the piece. It is the sentimiento or
active evocation27 of a particular kind of historical past that gives life and meaning
to the performance. Ranchera music itself is most often defined on the basis of the
themes and subjects it addresses in its romanticized evocation of lo ranchero. As
Manuel Peña notes:

Romantic nationalism in Mexico has exerted a unifying influence by appealing to the

glory of the nation’s “unique” heritage. As components of this nationalism, the concept
of lo ranchero and the symbols that cluster around it—of which música ranchera is one—
have contributed to the ideology by ennobling the existence of hacienda and rural life
in general, portraying this existence as idyllic. Since the 1930s the principal vehicles for
this portrayal have been film and music, often used in combination.28

Peña’s comments refer to this process and its symbolic meaning for Texas Mexi-
can communities. The concept is taken to be operative on both sides of the border,
though with distinct contextual meanings. In sum, the qualities, then, that Peña
most closely associates with the lo ranchero concept, and with ranchera music by exten-
sion, are those that mexicanos/as ascribe to themselves as “ . . . embodied in the twin
symbols of the charro and the campesino . . . manliness, self-sufficiency, candor, sim-
plicity, sincerity, and patriotism, or mexicanismo.”29
In his reference to the charro (peasant) and the campesino (countryman), Peña in-
vokes cultural stereotypes that deal with the landed gentry/owners of the hacien-
das and the impoverished, rural workers. It is a reference that is particularly
important, as is discussed later, in the adoption of the charro traje by the mariachi
ensemble. It is this complexity, then, that is to be commanded and expressed in a
good ranchera performance. Although the lexical meaning of the words of some
rancheras deal explicitly with these themes (for example, “México Lindo” (“Beauti-
ful Mexico”), “El Rancho Grande” (“The Big Ranch”), “La Ley del Monte” (“Law
of the Mountain”), others are more subtle in their references. The ranchera cur-
rently under discussion, “Volver, Volver,” is just such an example. It also brings to
the fore a series of gender issues that Peña alludes to when he speaks of the “man-
liness” that is invoked.
In the world of the idealized rural life and its nationalization as a symbolic core
to Mexican culture, love relationships adopt a tenor that is equally provocative in
their abstract appeal to idealized circumstances. This is not to say that these ideal-
ized conditions reflect love relationships that meet with unmitigated success; on the
contrary, many rancheras that refer to love relationships focus on the difficulties in-
volved, such as betrayal, misunderstanding, competing relationships, or unfulfilled
desire. The concept of heartfelt emotion remains the commonality, although per-
haps from a different perspective than one might readily imagine.

At this point, some careful discussion about this apparent emotionality is neces-
sary. People recently introduced to the tradition have often made observations such
as the following:

Does everything about this music have to do with love?

Aren’t these pretty “macho” lyrics?
This stuff is really “over the top.”
I’m always impressed with how beautiful and romantic this music is.
Why do the singers always sound like they’re in such pain?

Far from being able to provide satisfactory responses to these questions/ob-

servations and many more like them, I believe they illustrate how cultural stereo-
types can inform intellectual curiosity. A brief review of a number of articles in
the popular press illustrates how notions of sexualization (some would say over-
sexualization) invoke interpretive language to describe these Latino popular mu-
sics, such as “Hot to Trot,” “Muy caliente,” “Soul Sauce,” and “The Spicy Bite of
Latin Music.”30
This language and the twin specter of the Latin lover, (“Handsome, heavily
cologned men in open-neck shirts keep the ladies under close observation . . .”)31
and the overly erotic Latina (“Attractive young women teeter across the dance floor
on their vertiginous high heels, their hourglass figures accentuated by off-the-
shoulder Lycra tops and tight leather microminiskirts”)32 shape our expectations of
how emotions and love relationships are deployed within the context of a Latino
popular musics frame. On a certain level, mariachi music, with its idealized love re-
lationships, appeals to these observations in the kind of characters invoked and the
import of their actions. As scholars who focus on women’s listening practices in
Latino popular musics have noted, women create lyrical meanings while they are en-
gaged as active listeners.33 Other scholars maintain that the lyrics themselves are of
secondary importance in relationship to the kinds of evocations inspired (that is, lo
ranchero) and that many of the lyrics have very little to do with the actual contempo-
rary lives of the participants.34
The point that emerges from these two observations, then, is this: how do people
make their interpretations of lyrical meaning relevant to their sociocultural posi-
tions? At least part of that question can be answered by looking at what common
threads exist in the overall relationship between these pieces and their musical ex-
pression. Although the lyrics themselves take on a set of diverse characters and re-
gional identities, their general approach remains relatively consistent.
What remains constant and idealized are at least two characteristics that define
this approach. The first is that the song texts remain male-centered in their gene-
sis (dominant composers associated with this genre include José Alfredo Jiménez,
José Angel Espinoza “Ferrusquilla,” Manuel Ezquivel, Felipe Valdés Leal, and
Tomás Méndez) and in their execution: a male-centered voice dominates the nar-
rative. The second is that the gender relationships are idealized and normalized
into a dynamic between male and female lovers, where the male figure frequently
becomes the pursuer or wooer and the female figure assumes a passive role as the
object of desire.
The following text is from a ranchera entitled “Ay Jalisco no te rajes!”:

Title: ¡Ay Jalisco no te rajes! Title: Oh Jalisco, Don’t Give Up!

(M. Esperón y E. Cortázar) (M. Esperón and E. Cortázar)
1. Ay Jalisco, Jalisco, Jalisco 1. Oh Jalisco, Jalisco, Jalisco
Tú tienes tu novia You have your girlfriend
que es Guadalajara it’s Guadalajara
Muchachita bonita Young, beautiful woman
la perla más rara the rarest pearl
De todo Jalisco Of all Jalisco
es mi Guadalajara is my Guadalajara
Hsp: 2. Me gusta escuchar los Hsp: 2. I like to listen
mariachis to the mariachis
Cantar con el alma Singing with their soul
Sus lindas canciones Their beautiful songs
Oír como suenan los guitarrones To hear the sound of those guitars
y echarme un tequila con los And have a tequila with the
valentones. braggarts.
Hsp: Coro: Hsp: Chorus:
Ay-ay-ay-ay Ay-ay-ay-ay
Ay-ay-ay-ay Ay-ay-ay-ay
Jalisco no te rajes Jalisco, don’t give up
Me sale del alma It comes from my soul
Gritar con calor, To shout with passion,
abrir todo el pecho to open my chest
Pa’ echar este grito To throw out this shout
Qué lindo es Jalisco, How beautiful is Jalisco,
palabra de honor. word of honor.
Hsp: 3. Pa’ mujeres, Jalisco primero Hsp: 3. For women, Jalisco is first
Lo mismo en Los Altos The same in Los Altos
Que allá en La Cañada As over there in La Cañada
Mujeres muy lindas Very beautiful women
rechulas de cara with very cute faces
Así son las hembras de Guadalajara. That’s how the Guadalajara females
Hsp: 4. En Jalisco se quiere Hsp: 4.In Jalisco they love
a la buena in good ways
Porque es peligroso querer Because it’s dangerous to love
a la mala In bad ways
Por una morena echar mucha bala For a brown-skinned woman to fire
a lot of bullets
Y bajo la luna cantar en Chapala. And sing under the moon in
Return to the chorus with the text from
“abrir todo el pecho” repeated for

Of particular interest in this nationalist evocation of lo ranchero is that the land itself
(stanza 1) becomes the female body. The state of Jalisco has a rare, young, beautiful girl-
friend in the city of Guadalajara. The comparison or symbolism is neither accidental
nor unusual in appealing to a constructed femininity for the ultimate portrayal of na-
tionalist sentiments.

This exuberance is musically achieved within the framework of a polca: a rapid,

duple-metered piece rhythmically organized around each beat divided into an even
downbeat and upbeat. The pattern is established early between the guitarrón (down-
beat) and the rest of the rhythm section (upbeat). The introduction is marked by a
strong melodic motion with unison doublings between the trumpets and violins.
The rhythmic crispness of the dotted eighth notes and sparse harmonic accompani-
ment in the rhythm section highlight the effect. A rapid, repeated flurry of sixteenth
notes in the first violin part carries this rhythmic energy into the vocal entrance.
The musical exuberance is also carried by the fact that this polca resonates as
dance music. The mariachi repertoire itself has a number of Mexican regional
dances associated with specific pieces. They consist of a prescribed set of steps and
movements that employ zapateado (foot stamping) patterns usually performed by in-
dividuals trained in what is generally referred to as folklórico dancing. It is usually un-
derstood that the zapateado form of dancing is associated with older, more traditional
parts of the repertoire.
A second part of the repertoire concerns Latino popular music dance genres in
general. These genres are seen as a more modern addition. Examples of this reper-
toire are boleros, cumbias, merengues, and salsa music. A third kind of reference to
dance concerns a part of the repertoire most pertinent to our current discussion of
“¡Ay Jalisco!” “¡Ay Jalisco!” itself is considered a ranchera. However, since the rhyth-
mic patterns are those of a polca, it has a musical resonance that can overlap with
other dance forms of Mexican descent. Mariachi ensembles relate to their audiences
and often adjust their repertoire to cater to the audience’s tastes and desires.
Because of this complex, mexicano/Chicano popular musics can act reflectively
upon one another in social practice. In many parts of the Southwest, mariachis who
play “¡Ay Jalisco!” at public gatherings or festivals can inspire people to take to the
dance floor in a modified two-step. Particularly in the Southwest and most specifi-
cally in Texas, this modified two-step is strongly associated with conjunto music.
Peña describes conjunto music as a “highly popular type of accordion music . . .
among Texas-Mexicans (tejanos) beginning around 1930.”35 Indeed many pieces from
this conjunto repertoire have found their way into the repertoire of tejano mariachi
groups. In light of the fact that tejano music has become an internationally recognized
popular form, particularly since the latter half of the twentieth century, it is no won-
der that its influence is felt in the mariachi arena.36
Included in what is considered the most traditional part of the repertoire are
pieces that often have a strong Mexican regional identity. Although the son jaliciense
(from the Jalisco region) dominates the contemporary repertoire with respect to re-
gional pieces, other types are closely associated with mariachi performance. These
pieces simultaneously engender a specific Mexican regional identity and also reflect
how U.S. communities of Mexican descent create multilayered ethnic identities in
their social practices.
The huapango, associated with the Huasteco region, is usually based in a triple
meter with a mánico extended over six beats. In addition to the characteristic strum-
ming pattern that follows, the huapango is also easily identified by the use of falsetto.
A beginning guitar or vihuela musician might start with this pattern:

Key37: È down strum È down strum

using the fingers in a fan motion

Ç up strum (thumb) È golpe /

down strum where sound is
stopped by the hand

As is evidenced in this example, the mánico uses an ornamentation sometimes re-

ferred to as a redoble, with the sixteenth notes on the first upbeat of the second mea-
sure. In effect, the sixteenth notes have “doubled” a space where an eighth note
might have been executed. In early stages, instrumentalists may learn the strum
without the redoble.
One of the better known huapangos is “La Malagueña” (“The Woman from

Title: La Malagueña Title: The Woman from Málaga

1.Qué bonitos ojos tienes 1. What beautiful eyes you have
debajo de esas dos cejas, below those eyebrows,
debajo de esas dos below those
cejas, qué bonitos ojos tienes. eyebrows, what beautiful eyes you
Ellos me quieren mirar They want to look at me
Pero si tú no los dejas, but if you don’t allow them,
pero si tú no los dejas ni siquiera but if you don’t even allow them to
parpadean. blink.
Hsp: Estribillo: Hsp: Refrain:
Malagueña salerosa, Graceful woman from Málaga,
besar tus labios quisiera, I want to kiss your lips,
besar tus labios quisiera, I want to kiss your lips,
malagueña salerosa Graceful woman from Málaga
y decirte niña hermosa que and tell you, lovely, young woman,
eres linda y that you are beautiful
hechicera como el candor de and charming like the purity
una rosa. of a rose.
Hsp: 2. Si por pobre me desprecias, Hsp: 2. If for poverty you scorn me,
yo te concedo razón, I admit you are right,
si por pobre me desprecias. if for poverty you scorn me.
Yo no te ofrezco riquezas, I don’t offer you riches,
Te ofrezco I offer you
mi corazón a cambio de mi my heart instead of my
pobreza. poverty.
Hsp: Segundo Verso Opcional Hsp: (Optional Alternative Second
Alternativo Verse):
Con tus ojos me anunciabas With your eyes you told me
que me amabas that you loved me
tiernamente, que me amabas tenderly, that you loved me
tiernamente. tenderly.
Ingrata me traiciones cuando Ungrateful, you betrayed me when
de ti estaba ausente, cuando I was away from you, when
de ti estaba ausente, I was away from you,
de mi pasión te burlabas. you ridiculed my passion.
Hsp: Estribillo: Hsp: Refrain:
Hsp: Malagueña . . . Hsp: Malagueña . . .

Again, “La Malagueña” is constructed as a female body that engenders national-

ist, regional identities. The woman from Málaga, Spain, as an object of desire, em-
bodies those ideals conceived of as the height of femininity. The complexity involved
in evoking a Spanish model for Mexican beauty and refinement dredges up the
specter of the promotion of European-based forms as culturally superior. By defin-
ition, this comes at the expense of indigenous- or mestizo-based forms. This dy-
namic is further highlighted when we realize that the musical form dictates that
these desires be voiced by a Mexican male.
This interplay is perhaps in no small way part of the conversations that surround
how people engage a Spanish ancestry. Referring to Américo Parédes, Peña speaks of
the nonadherence to “inferiority complexes born of the rape of ancestral mothers by
Spanish conquistadors” as the explanation for the “folklore of machismo” as a sym-
bolic alibi for “frustration rooted in other spheres.”38 In a sense, his comments are
appropriate to the discussion at hand in illuminating the politics invoked in the cre-
ation of and expression of a Spanish history by U.S. inhabitants of Mexican descent.
More pointedly, it highlights the struggles for cultural validation and the way these
struggles engage forms that are seen as partially or primarily European based in both
form and content.


Although the ethnomusicological debates over context-sensitive analysis and tran-

scription are far from over,39 for mariachi the fact remains that Western-style nota-
tion and considerations of pitch, timbre, and tuning are relevant to the mariachi
experiences for both musicians and listeners; however, they are relevant over a spe-
cific mariachi aesthetic that may use these concepts for different purposes and end
Over the years, several classically-trained university musicians have expressed to
me their astonishment over the technical and interpretive skills exhibited by some
of the best U.S.-based mariachi musicians and ensembles. As one University of
Michigan undergraduate who was majoring in music performance trumpet recalled
of his visit with Mariachi Cobre in Orlando, Florida,40 “They did some really in-
credible stuff. All kinds of stuff.”
The idea is that divisions between folk or popular musics and Western classical
musics remain more operative than perhaps one might expect. The difficulty lies not
in noting differences but in positing these differences in value-laden judgments as
the basis of musical inferiority/superiority. The tenets of pitch, tuning, harmonic
progression, vocal quality, sound production, and instrumental technique can some-
times be invoked by classically trained musicians/listeners as the standard against
which all other musics are evaluated.
In some instances, arguments can be made against such judgments by noting that
cultural conceptions of music and music making prevail that may have absolutely
nothing to do with the Western classical system. In the case of mariachi, we are faced
with a particularly interesting challenge. In light of the genre’s very definition as a
mestizo musical tradition, the tenets of a Western European musical system (by way
of Spanish influence) remain relevant in discussing the ways people learn, teach, and
listen to this music. Additionally, these considerations in terms of musical form and

structure, as we will see, are in themselves only the starting points for how one may
“enter” a mariachi song.
The difficulty in approaching this topic is readily apparent when we reflect on the
various interviews that have taken place and the experiences these interviews high-
lighted. Mariachi musicians and audience participants engender musical experiences
that vary from conservatory training (both U.S. and Mexican), to traditional ap-
prenticeships with well-known performers or groups, to community classes, to self-
taught individuals, to some combination of these.
In recent years, the issue of musical notation has also highlighted a sense of pro-
fessionalism among the most respected U.S. groups, in that young musicians who as-
pire to membership in these elite groups are expected to be skilled in both written
notation and aural transmission. This means that they can learn new music equally
by listening to recordings and by hearing the ensemble play the piece several times.
In addition, musicians are aware of their own training as it relates to these elite
groups, and they have varying opinions about the importance of music notation.
Perhaps the most extreme ends of this continuum of opinions are exemplified by
the following two speakers: A California mariachi school program director states:

Music [reading] lets you learn things very quickly—a certain arrangement or a song you
don’t have time to learn [by ear] with someone. I think all the best [mariachi] musi-
cians have to know how to read because that makes you a complete musician. If you
don’t read well, like I tell the kids, you’re really limiting yourself. I see it as an impor-
tant part of getting a good musical education and being a professional musician.

A professional mariachi from California comments:

Well, sometimes you hear these groups who use only music and they just don’t have
that sound together. They get so busy trying to read the notes on the page they forget
what they are supposed to sound like. The ear is the final judge, and listening to good
groups perform and good singers is the key. Reading music is OK if you’re not depen-
dent on it, but learning how to listen is far better because that’s what makes a good mu-
sician—not reading notes. Yes, I think reading music for mariachis is less important
because listening is so key.

Both speakers work with young students. And interestingly, both reflected upon
their musical training experiences in general to further illustrate their points. The
tenor of musical development and personal relationship to the tradition emerge as
salient factors.
In the case of the first speaker, a Chicano who was born and raised in California,
his early training included elementary school and high school orchestra programs, as
well as high school and college classical violin training. The second speaker also
began in an elementary school program (trumpet in band) but lost interest in school
programs in high school, choosing to play in a number of neighborhood rock bands
instead. Both speakers came to mariachi music as musicians in their late twenties.
Although both referenced a strong listening background in mariachi music and tra-
ditional mexicano musics in general, neither had played the music before becoming in-
volved with local mariachi groups.
In some respects, both musicians speak from their overall association with insti-
tutionalized musical experiences. There remains a tendency to view musical nota-

tion primarily as a tool of Western classical music training. Historical knowledge in-
terprets mariachi primarily as an aural tradition: “The ear is the final judge.”
It is through these kinds of aesthetic arguments that issues of mariachi instru-
mentation, repertoire, musical interpretation, and contemporary use of musical
transcriptions enliven the debate about the importance of this tradition. In the end,
and perhaps most notably, it is only by understanding mariachi as a culturally con-
structed icon that we begin to see the sociocultural positioning of individual speak-
ers emerge as ideologically based expressions. The communal ownership and sense
of place and time for people who relate to that tradition and actively create the
points along which the tradition is defined, as well as lyrics, musical elements, and
practices emerge as the central theses for these debates. And if a drum trap set en-
ters along the way, perhaps it indicates only how much richer the ongoing discussion
can be. It is a discussion that will endure as part of the social fabric as long as people
of Mexican descent engage in cultural retrenchment to validate, historicize, and pro-
duce knowledge from an unequal plane of sociocultural empowerment.


1. Traje refers to a mariachi suit or outfit.

2. Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands, La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Franciso: Aunt Lute,
1987); José Limón, Dancing with the Devil: Society and Cultural Poetics in Mexican-American
South Texas (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994); Cherríe Moraga, Loving in
the War Years: Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios (Boston: South End Press, 1983); Manuel
Peña, The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music (Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1985).
3. Tomás Almaguer, Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994); Ramón Gutiérrez,
When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico,
1500–1846 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991).
4. Mark Fogelquist, “Rhythm and Form in the Contemporary Son Jaliciense” (Master’s
Thesis, University of California at Los Angeles, 1975).
5. A University of California at Los Angeles student of Japanese descent was intrigued
by the taped recording of a Los Camperos performance of “Sakura” (“Cherry Blos-
som”) as part of a dinner show for a number of Japanese tourists. She commented that
“Sakura,” a traditional song often taught in Japanese schools, is recognized by most
6. Steven Loza, Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1993), 88.
7. In an interesting and relevant aside, international tensions illustrate how mariachi has
become heavily invested in viamusical ownership. Nydia Rojas, an emergent, Califor-
nia-born mariachi prodigy (by age 16 she had made numerous international and na-
tional appearances and had recorded her first professional album, Nydia Rojas [BMG,
ARCD 8823, 1996], to critical acclaim), sang at the 1996 Mariachi Espectacular in
San Antonio, Texas. Her performance was so well received that some mexicano (Mex-
ican national) audience members were overheard to say that she must be a mexicana to
sing like that.
8. Steve Ray Pearlman, “Mariachi Music in Los Angeles” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cal-
ifornia at Los Angeles, 1988), 71–72; Loza, Barrio Rhythm, 89–90.
9. This is the Helmholtz system, where middle C equals c1, and the C two octaves below
middle C equals C.

10. The first three strings are made of a thick nylon, and the last three are usually made
out of a thick metal alloy. Although open strings are freely used, the left hand must be
fairly strong and agile in order to use sufficient finger arch and pressure to produce a
“clean” sound. Some of the fingering positions use the third and fourth fingers (start-
ing with the index finger) to finger one note. Also, the lowest string may sometimes
be fingered by the thumb. A delicate balancing act must be maintained between the
fingers in use, in order to distribute strength equally.
11. Several guitarrón players have commented that, although they may have a personal
preference between machine and wood-peg tuning systems, both serve equally well
on a good-quality instrument. Some of the poorer-quality instruments use wood pegs
that are ill-fitted and slip quite easily.
12. A notable exception is middle-school/junior-high-school, high-school, or university
mariachi programs, where directors may encourage more than one student to learn
the instrument. This practice also allows more experienced players to help train
newer players and helps ensure that at least one guitarrón player will be available for
each engagement.
13. Fogelquist, “Rhythm and Form in Contemporary Son Jaliciense.”
14. The son jarocho is defined by Sheehy as a “musical-choreographic genre native to the
southern coastal plain of Veracruz” (“The ‘Son Jarocho’: The History, Style and
Repertory of a Changing Musical Tradition” (Ph.D. diss., University of California at
Los Angeles, 1979),1. Although they are a distinct form of Mexican regional, mestizo
music, son jarochos such as “La Bamba” have become a part of the mariachi repertoire.
15. Ibid., 97–111.
16. The finger picks used are usually made of plastic and are worn on the index and mid-
dle fingers of the right hand. The pick attaches with a plastic band that circles part
of the finger and a rounded piece of plastic that curves over the fingertip. This piece,
which extends well beyond the fingertip, looks like a long fingernail. Players who use
both natural fingernails and plastic tips note that each has a slightly different sound
quality and that it is perhaps easier to produce a louder sound with the plastic picks.
Most musicians agree that the decision to use picks or fingernails comes from indi-
vidual experience. An interesting example is a young mother who decided to use fin-
ger picks after the birth of her baby, in order to minimize the possibility of
accidentally scratching her child as she bathed or diapered the baby. She liked the
finger picks so much that she continued to use them long after the child was out of
17. Caballito is a derivative form of the word caballo, which means horse. The caballito des-
ignation is sometimes marked where notated eighth notes are played in a rhythm pat-
tern perhaps most closely described as a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth
note. The idea is that a “tripping” rhythm is created that is evocative of a galloping
horse’s hooves. The bow is moved quite rapidly with little or no vibrato, creating a
hard-edged sound by digging into the strings with great pressure.
18. Fogelquist, “Rhythm and Form in Contemporary Son Jaliciense”; Vicente T. Men-
doza, Panorama de la Música Tradicional de México (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional
Autónoma de México, 1956); Sheehy, “The ‘Son Jarocho’’; Robert Murrel Stevenson,
Music in Mexico: A Historical Survey (New York: Crowell, 1952).
19. Pearlman, “Mariachi Music in Los Angeles,” 46–54.
20. Pearlman uses the term “hypothetical” in deference to the fact that pre-Columbian
musical studies must rely primarily on limited sources of archeological artifacts and
representative iconography, instrument reconstructions, descriptions from Spanish
chroniclers at the time of contact, and indigenous religious codices.
21. Ibid., 47–48.
22. Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).

23. It was during excavation for the subway lines that workers made many of the initial
archeological finds that gave rise to this location as a site of inquiry and subsequently
a major museum.
24. Jonathan Clarke, Mariachi Coculense “Rodríguez” de Cirilo Marmolejo, Mexico’s Pioneer Mariachis,
vol. 1, Arhoolie Folkloric 7011, 1993); idem, Mariachi Tapatío de José Marmolejo, Mexico’s Pi-
oneer Mariachis, vol. 2, (Arhoolie Folkloric 7012, 1993).
25. Clarke, Mariachi Tapatío de José Marmolejo, 5–8.
26. Unless otherwise noted, all English translations are mine.
27. The initial idea of an evocation of a particular historical past came from Manuel Peña
in a conversation with the author in Fresno, California, in September of 1997.
28. Peña, The Texas-Mexican Conjunto, 11.
29. Ibid., 11.
30. Enrique Fernández, “Hot to Trot,” Harper’s Bazaar, June 1993, p. 154; Peter Watrous,
“Muy Caliente, Salsa Comes to the Garden,” New York Times, October 25, 1993, pp. C3,
C17; Robin Tolleson, “Soul Sauce Revisited,” Down Beat 57 (1990): 33; Félix Hernán-
dez, “The Spicy Bite of Latin Music,” Essence (1987): 30.
31. Watrous, “Muy caliente.”
32. Ibid.
33. Frances R. Aparicio, Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures
(Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New Eng-
land, 1998).
34. Ibid.
35. Peña, The Texas-Mexican Conjunto, ix.
36. It is through these kinds of observations that many people associated with mariachi
performance have come to define mariachi primarily as a music genre with a particu-
lar musical style rather than as a genre dependent upon a well-defined repertoire ex-
clusive to its traditions.
37. I use a notation system that approximates the systems employed in contemporary in-
struction materials.
38. Ibid., 40.
39. Marcia Herndon, “Reply to Kolinski: Tarus Omicida,” Ethnomusicology 21 (1976): 217–31;
Marcia Herndon, “Analysis: The Herding of Sacred Cows?” Ethnomusicology 18 (1974):
219–62; Mieczyslaw Kolinski, “Final Reply to Herndon,” Ethnomusicology 21 (1977):
75–83; Mieczyslaw Kolinski, “Herndon’s Final Verdict on Analysis: Tabula Rasa,” Eth-
nomusicology 20 (1976): 1–22; Charles Seeger, “Prescriptive and Descriptive Musical
Writing,” Musical Quarterly 44 (1958): 184–95.
40. Mariachi Cobre is among the most respected U.S.-based ensembles. In addition to
touring internationally, the group’s members regularly participate as instructors and
performers at national mariachi conferences and workshops.

Works Cited

Almaguer, Tomás. 1994. Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California.
Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. 1987. Borderlands, La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute.
Aparicio, Frances R. 1998. Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures.
Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan University Press/New England University Press.
Clarke, Jonathan. 1993a. Mariachi Coculense “Rodríguez” de Cirilo Marmolejo. Mexico’s Pioneer Mariachis
1. Arhoolie Folklyric 7011.
———. 1993b. Mariachi Tapatío de José Marmolejo. Mexico’s Pioneer Mariachis 2. Arhoolie Folklyric

Fernández, Enrique. 1993. Hot to Trot. Harper’s Bazaar (June) 1993: 154.
Fiske, John. 1989. Understanding Popular Culture. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
Flores y Escalante. 1994. Cirilo Marmelejo: Historia del Mariachi en la Ciudad de México. Mexico City:
Asociación Mexicana de Estudios Fonográficos, Dirección General de Culturas Populares.
Fogelquist, Mark. 1975. Rhythm and Form in the Contemporary Son Jaliciense. Master’s the-
sis, University of California at Los Angeles.
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Gutiérrez, Ramón. 1991. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power
in New Mexico, 1500–1846. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Harpoole, Patricia. 1989. Los Mariachis! An Introduction to Mexican Mariachi Music. Danbury, Conn.:
World Music Press.
Hernández, Félix. 1987. The Spicy Bite of Latin Music. Essence 17: 30.
Herndon, Marcia. 1974. Analysis: The Herding of Sacred Cows? Ethnomusicology 18: 219–62.
———. 1976. Reply to Kolinski: Tarus Omicida. Ethnomusicology 20: 27–31.
Kolinski, Mieczyslaw. 1977. Final Reply to Herndon. Ethnomusicology 21: 75–83.
———. 1976. Herndon’s Final Verdict on Analysis: Tabula Rasa. Ethnomusicology 20: 1–22.
Limón, José. 1994. Dancing with the Devil: Society and Cultural Poetics in Mexican-American South Texas.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Loza, Steven. 1993. Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles. Urbana: University of Illi-
nois Press.
———. 1991. The Mariachi Tradition in Los Angeles. Cultural Affairs News, first quarter.
Mendoza, Vicente T. 1956. Panorama de la Música Tradicional de México. Mexico City: Universidad
Nacional Autónoma de México.
Moraga, Cherríe. 1983. Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios. Boston: South End
Pearlman, Steve Ray. 1988. Mariachi Music in Los Angeles. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of
California at Los Angeles.
Peña, Manuel. 1985. The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music. Austin: Univer-
sity of Texas Press.
Saldívar, José David. 1997. Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies. Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press.
———. 1991. The Dialectics of Our America: Geneaology, Cultural Critique, and Literary History.
Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Seeger, Charles. 1958. Perscriptive and Descriptive Music Writing. Musical Quarterly 44:
Sheehy, Daniel. 1979. The “Son Jarocho”: The History, Style, and Repertory of a Changing
Musical Tradition. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles.
Stevenson, Robert Murrel. 1952. Music in Mexico: A Historical Survey. New York: Crowell.
Todorov, Tzevetan. 1984. The Conquest of America. New York: Harper and Row.
Tolleson, Robin. 1990. Soul Sauce Revisited. Down Beat, 57: 33.
Watrous, Peter. 1993. Muy Caliente, Salsa Comes to the Garden. 25 October. New York Times:
C3, C17.

Rock con Raza, Raza con Jazz

Latinos/as and Post–World War II
Popular American Music

Anthony Macías

uis Rodríguez’s autobiography, Always Running, covers the period of his youth
in Los Angeles from the mid- to late 1950s through the height of the Chicano
movement. The relationship he describes between blacks and Chicanos had
been evolving since the early 1940s, when African Americans began migrating to the
city in substantial numbers:

I often lay back in my garage room, listening to scratchy records of Willie Bobo, Thee
Midnighters, War, and Miles Davis. Sometimes oldies; the “Eastside Sound” revues, old
Stax and Atlantic rhythm & blues: Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas, Solomon Burke and
The Drifters. And of course, Motown.
For the most part, the Mexicans in and around Los Angeles were economically and
socially closest to blacks. As soon as we understood English, it was usually the Black
English we first tried to master. Later in the youth authority camps and prisons, blacks
used Mexican slang and the cholo style; Mexicans imitated the Southside swagger and
style—although this didn’t mean at times we didn’t war with one another, such being
the state of affairs at the bottom. For Chicanos this influence lay particularly deep in
music: Mexican rhythms syncopated with blues and ghetto beats.1

Rodríguez’s observations encapsulate several issues that are addressed in this chap-
ter: the breadth of the musical tastes of Chicano Angelenos; the cross-cultural affini-
ties, influences, and borrowings between Chicanos and African Americans as
expressed in style, language, and music; and the socioeconomic context within which
this process evolved.2 The lives and songs of the musicians described herein demon-
strate that significant social interactions and cultural exchanges took place between
Mexican Americans and African Americans, and between Chicanos and other Lati-
nos, in Los Angeles neighborhoods and nightclubs.
The vibrant postwar music scene in Los Angeles was a multicultural crucible that
showcased an array of national and international musical genres; generated new, hy-
brid styles; and produced integrated bands and innovative performers. These artists

in turn helped to create and sustain social spaces of urban civility where their diverse
fans could intermingle. Consequently, there emerged in Los Angeles a unique envi-
ronment that fostered interethnic social mixing despite, and indeed, because of the
city’s de facto segregation.3 To flesh out this historical process, this chapter analyzes
the music and style that Chicano Angeleno musicians created through their partic-
ipation in jazz, Latin jazz, rhythm and blues (R&B), and early rock ‘n’ roll.
My research intervenes within not only postwar U.S. historiography by examin-
ing Latino culture but also within Chicano historiography by examining popular cul-
ture, subcultures, and other Latinos. In particular, within Chicano historiography
my work builds on that of scholars such as Mario García, George J. Sánchez, and
David G. Gutíerrez in order to better understand the “Mexican American Genera-
tion” of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.4 In light of the Chicano movement, the mem-
bers of this generation have often been portrayed as passive accomodationists, but
by examining popular cultural forms scholars can paint a more nuanced picture of
their experiences. As Manuel Peña, George Lipsitz, Steven Loza, and Raúl Fernán-
dez have shown, twentieth-century Mexican American culture was far from mono-
lithic.5 Rather, it was in continual artistic dialogue not only with Mexico and Latin
America but also with African Americans, Anglos, white ethnics, and Asian Ameri-
cans. These histories of cross-pollination challenge essentialist assumptions about
racial identity and folkloric authenticity, just as the presence of Latinos in American
popular music challenges traditional racialized constructions of American culture.
Music is therefore an ideal window through which to understand both the expres-
sive cultures of U.S. Latinos and the changing nature of the dominant culture.

Latin Jazz and Pachuco Boogie

During the 1940s, singer-maraca player Frank “Machito” Grillo and his musical di-
rector Mario Bauzá featured African American jazz musicians as special guests of
their Afro-Cuban orchestra, while the charismatic conguero Chano Pozo brought the
rhythmic traditions of Afro-Cuban religion to the American bebop combo of Dizzy
Gillespie. At the same time, Cuban composer Chico O’Farrill wrote songs for both
white big band leaders and African American bebop artists. The resultant merging
of modern American harmonic jazz soloing and melodic arrangements over com-
plex Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms, originally dubbed “Cu-Bop,” has since been la-
beled “Latin jazz.”6 Although Latin jazz is usually associated with the East Coast, a
West Coast version flourished by the early 1950s. Before the mambo entered Los
Angeles via Mexico City, however, the Latin music scene featured society orchestras
playing rumbas and boleros, with flamenco dancers and Mexican trios as intermis-
sion acts, entertaining both affluent whites in Hollywood, and Mexican American
and white Angelenos, along with Mexican and Anglo tourists, in pricey venues
downtown. The musical mélange being performed was a generic, international Latin
American sound that Los Angeles swing generation trumpeter Paul López calls “so-
ciety rumba,” and that I call “Hollywood Latin,” of which Chicanos were avid con-
sumers and producers.7
One of the more intriguing musicians to emerge from this musical landscape dur-
ing the immediate postwar years was Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero. Born and raised in
Tucson, Arizona to Mexican immigrant parents, Guerrero is a prolific songwriter in

styles ranging from corridos to parodies of popular American songs. In high school
during the early 1930s, Guerrero idolized Jewish Americans such as Al Jolson and
Eddie Cantor, and he “sang only in English.”8 Calling himself “Eddie Guerrero, the
Jazz Singer,” he dreamed of crossover success as a mainstream pop singer, but whites
“wouldn’t buy a Mexican . . . singing American music.”9 Back then, as Guerrero ex-
plains, “I saw I wasn’t going to make any money. I reverted to singing Mexican
music.”10 Yet Guerrero’s interests extended beyond traditional Mexican music to
encompass both African American and Latin American music, and he found his in-
spiration in the Mexican American youth subculture of pachucos and pachucas.11
Around 1946, while leading an intermission trio at a downtown Latin nightclub,
Guerrero wrote two novelty rancheras with caló lyrics, “El Pachuco” and “La
Pachuquilla,” for local company Imperial Records. These pachuco songs were so
popular that the label owner, Lew Chudd, prodded Guerrero into writing more of
them.12 In 1948, as a soloist with his own orchestra, Guerrero forayed into big band
swing and boogie woogie styles, recording pachuco songs with caló lyrics such as
“Vamos a Bailar,” which alternates between swing and guaracha tempos, “Chucos
Suaves,” which describes pachucos dancing to Cuban forms such as the danzón, rumba,
and guaracha, and “Marijuana Boogie,” which blends boogie woogie with the favorite
pachuco high.13 Not only are these songs among Guerrero’s earliest successes; they
are also prime examples of the mestizo musical offerings of Los Angeles.14
The pachuco subculture, itself a hybrid phenomenon, was the ideal subject matter,
and audience, for Guerrero’s musical experimentations. Although most aspects of the
pachuco subculture originated in El Paso, Texas during the 1930s, Los Angeles was
America’s pachuco capital during the war years. In Los Angeles, non-Mexicans who
adopted the pachuco style were often considered, and often considered themselves,
pachucos. Author Beatrice Griffith observes that in racially mixed or predominantly
Mexican neighborhoods “you find youths of Scotch-Irish Protestant, Jewish or Ital-
ian, Russian or Negro backgrounds who have learned to speak Spanish with Pachuco
emphasis, [and] wear the traditional Pachuco clothes and haircuts.” Griffith also
claims that “Pachucos as a rule feel closely allied with Negro youth, and their attitudes
are friendly except where outside leadership has consciously tried to change it.”15
The pachucos’ oversized zoot suits; acrobatic dance steps; and improvisational
slang terms all had their counterparts among the zoot-suited African American hip-
sters of Los Angeles. Similarly, the pachucas’ distinctive style complemented that of
the pachucos, just as the style of black “hep cats” was complemented by the “crazy
chicks” who shared their social world. For both Chicanos and African Americans the
zoot suit, and the corresponding “black widow” and “way out” look of the pachucas
and female hipsters, signified a lower-class background; an exaggerated construction
of both masculinity and femininity; and, as the style eventually gained broader pop-
ularity, a general youth culture.16 The wartime similarities, social networks, and sol-
idarity between pachucos and African American hipsters marked the beginning of a
new era, as this cultural compatibility and its corresponding interracial spaces ex-
panded greatly during the late 1940s, continuing into the 1950s through R&B and
rock and roll.
The transitional genre between jazz and rhythm and blues was jump blues, a
hard-driving swing style derived from black bandleaders such as Count Basie, Lionel
Hampton, and Louis Jordan. Local bandleader Johnny Otis began playing the An-
gelus Hall in 1948, introducing jump blues to the East Side, which soon led to the

formation of the first Chicano jump band by bandleader Don Tosti.17 Born and
raised in El Paso, Edmundo “Don Tosti” Tostado mastered classical violin as a child;
led a swing orchestra while attending Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights as a
teen; and traveled the country as a bassist with the big bands of Charlie Barnet, Les
Brown, and Jimmy Dorsey as a young man. In 1948 Don Tosti contributed his tal-
ents to the formation of the pachuco boogie sound when he wrote and recorded
“Pachuco Boogie” for the Mexican-run Los Angeles record label, Taxco.18 A hit
throughout the Southwest, the song was driven by a boogie woogie ostinato piano
and a shuffle beat, with spoken-word caló lyrics.
Tosti’s “Pachuco Boogie” illustrates how Chicano musicians in Los Angeles
adopted, and adapted, African American music to speak to their own cultural sensi-
bilities, yet as Guerrero’s incorporation of Latin music and dance reveals, Chicano
Angelenos were also influenced by a different black musical tradition. In fact, Fer-
nández reminds us that “in Los Angeles the Mexican-American community grew
side by side with smaller Puerto Rican and Cuban enclaves that maintained their
Afro-Latino traditions.”19 After the late 1940s, Chicano Angeleno musicians were
inspired by Beny Moré and Perez Prado, two Cuban expatriates who gained fame in
Mexico with their orchestras; as well as New York Puerto Rican bandleaders such as
Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez; and, after the mid-1950s, Latin jazz vibraphonists
such as Cal Tjader and Joe Loco. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s the city’s
Latin music scene sustained a wide range of styles and settings for casual listeners,
discriminating dancers, and intrepid promoters, and for Mexican American musi-
cians, whether Latin jazz dilettantes or clave devotees.20 As a result, a mature, multi-
cultural urbane civility emerged in which cosmopolitan, upwardly mobile Mexican
Americans used Latin music to simultaneously negotiate both whiteness and black-
ness, and to escape an Anglo-imposed “commodity identity” as uneducated Mexican
laborers.21 Chicanos could now cultivate a “Latin” identity that allowed them to be
sophisticated, in finery, dancing the latest Latin steps and listening to Spanish-
language lyrics.

Chicano Rock

Although Chicanos, both young and old, danced the mambo and the cha cha cha in
southern California, Latin music fans represented only a small percentage of “the
community.” Instead, from San Fernando to Long Beach, and from Santa Monica
to San Bernadino, the majority of Mexican American youths embraced rhythm and
blues and rock and roll. During the postwar period, blacks and Chicanos intensi-
fied their mutual musical enculturation, with the help of local black radio disc jock-
eys such as Joe Adams, and white disc jockeys such as Al Jarvis, Hunter Hancock,
Art Laboe, and Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg, who used broadcasting technology to dis-
seminate emergent musical styles to loyal audiences throughout the city. What
George Lipsitz calls “the limited but nonetheless real cultural mixing in working-
class neighborhoods” increased as African Americans and Mexican Americans
began interacting more frequently in social arenas such as high schools, workplaces,
and leisure spaces.22
This African American-Chicano connection can be seen in black saxophonist
Chuck Higgins’s 1952 recording, “Pachuko Hop,” a song he wrote in honor of the

dancing, style, and slang of the Mexican-American youths he encountered while he

played dances at East Los Angeles union halls. Once Hunter Hancock “broke” this
instrumental sax single, Higgins became an overnight local sensation, especially
among Chicanos. Such tributes by African Americans demonstrate that they were as
influenced by the style and creativity of Chicanos as Chicanos were by African
Americans. Even though, as Jim Dawson remarks, “besides the title, there is nothing
in the music or delivery of ‘Pachuko Hop’ to suggest a Latin theme,” the song signi-
fies the crucial support of Chicano fans in the success of local African American
artists such as Chuck Higgins, Big Jay McNeely, and Joe Houston. In particular, cho-
los, the cultural inheritors of the pachucos, and Chicano car club members bought
R&B records, many of them by “honking” saxophonists, as their cruising anthems.
“Considering the importance of East L.A.’s barrio to the popularity of rhythm and
blues in Southern California,” Dawson notes, “it’s surprising that it took until 1952
for a black artist to dedicate a tune to the pachucos.”23
The multicultural musical milieu of Los Angeles also produced saxophonist
Gilbert Bernal, a fascinating figure who moved between big band jazz and honking
R&B. Born and raised in Watts, Bernal studied music at Jordan High School and
Los Angeles City College. Although his father was Sicilian, as Bernal explains, “My
mother raised me and I took her name and always considered myself part of her cul-
ture not his.”24 In 1950 Bernal began to play with African American vibraphonist Li-
onel Hampton, one of the few bandleaders to maintain a successful big band during
the postwar years. Bernal left Hampton’s band in 1952 to lead his own jazz trio, and
in 1954 he backed up a cappella doo-wop singers for Spark Records, a fledgling West
Hollywood label. This recording company was founded by the song writing team of
Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber, two Jewish Americans who wrote dozens of best-
selling R&B songs for African American artists, and who both “had black girlfriends
and were into a black lifestyle.”25 Lieber was raised in segregated Baltimore, where,
he says, “I imitated black cultural attitudes for so long as a child that it became sec-
ond nature to me.”26 After his family moved to Los Angeles in 1945, Lieber attended
Fairfax High School, and worked in Norty’s Record Shop on Fairfax Avenue in the
heart of the Jewish district.27 Stoller grew up in New York on Long Island, taking
piano lessons from the aging stride pianist James P. Johnson, sneaking into 52nd
Street jazz clubs, and joining a Harlem social club before moving with his family to
Los Angeles in 1949.28 Mingling with Chicano, Filipino, and African American stu-
dents at Belmont High School, Stoller “learned the pachuco dances and joined a
pachuco social club.” While playing piano for a Mexican American bandleader, he
was exposed to Chicano interpretations of Anglo, African American, and traditional
Mexican musical styles.29
Lieber and Stoller’s musical upbringings demonstrate the allure of African Amer-
ican music, the intermediary position of Jews as cultural brokers, and the often hid-
den role Mexican Americans have played in the history of popular music. Stoller had
befriended Gil Bernal when they both attended Los Angeles City College, so he
hired Bernal’s trio in 1953 to cut some of the Spark label’s first studio session dates
with the Flairs, a local vocal group out of Jefferson High School. Bernal also played
saxophone with the Robins for Spark Records in 1954 and 1955, most notably on
songs such as “Riot in Cell Block #9,” “Framed,” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” Bernal,
who had always thought of himself as “a commercial jazz player,” worked sporadi-
cally with other rhythm and blues artists during the 1950s, but he spent the rest of

the decade playing with local comedic Hollywood revue act of Spike Jones and his
City Slickers.30 With a penchant for self-promotion, Bernal also worked as a solo
singer and entertainer, billing himself as “Sex on a Sax” in order to take full advan-
tage of his charming personality and handsome face.31
While Gil Bernal succeeded by singing jazz and parodying black R&B saxo-
phone styles, a young man from East Los Angeles named “Li’l” Julian Herrera suc-
ceeded by singing rhythm and blues ballads. Ruben Guevara describes Herrera’s
local 1956 hit song, “Lonely Lonely Nights,” as “an elegant and beautiful doo wop
ballad, very much in the ballad style, but something about it—the accent, the voice,
the attitude—made it different. It was Chicano rock.”32 Ironically, as George Lip-
sitz has pointed out, Herrera was actually born Ron Gregory to Hungarian Jewish
parents. After running away from the East Coast, he had been raised by a Mexican
woman in East Los Angeles, and was living, and passing, as a Mexican American.
Moreover, his hit song was cowritten, recorded, and promoted by Johnny Otis, a
second-generation Greek American who considered himself “black by persuasion”
and who had lived for most of his adult life, and had often passed, as an African
American.33 In addition to the weekly R&B shows that he promoted and starred in
at the Angelus Hall, Otis also promoted dances for mixed-race audiences all over
Los Angeles city and county, as well as legendary shows at the American Legion
Hall in El Monte, east of East Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley. The El Monte
dances of the middle and late 1950s have come to represent a golden age of Los An-
geles doo wop and rhythm and blues, the songs of which would continue to exert a
powerful attraction for California Chicanos as “oldies.” Indeed, as the black Los
Angeles disc jockey Tom “the Master Blaster” Reed claims, “it was El Monte Legion
Stadium, with its large Mexican American following to this day, generation after
generation, that has helped keep this music alive.”34
The R&B scene enabled Li’l Julian Herrera to become a local celebrity, but the
rise of rock ‘n’ roll enabled Ritchie Valens to become the first nationally success-
ful Chicano rock star. Of all the Los Angeles–based Chicano musicians of the
postwar period, Valens stands out because of his eclectic creativity and unprece-
dented recognition. Born Richard Steven Valenzuela to working-class second gen-
eration Mexican Americans, Valens grew up in the San Fernando Valley town of
Pocoima, the only area in the predominantly white Valley in the 1940s and 1950s
with a significant population of Mexicans, blacks and Asians. During junior high
school Valens jammed with both black and white friends, even though his Chicano
peers called him falso for doing so.35 Despite the negative reaction, Valens sang and
played guitar at school rallies, and at parties thrown by the local Anglo car club, the
Lost Angels.
In 1957, encouraged by the success of these early performances, Valens joined his
first group, the Silhouettes, a multiracial band composed of Chicanos, African
Americans, Italian Americans, and a Japanese American. While still a member of
the Silhouettes, Valens continued to play at parties for both the Lost Angels car club
and the local Chicano car club, the Lobos. These performances illustrate one of the
key aspects of Valens’s career: He not only associated with people of all races and
backgrounds; through his music and personality he united a diverse body of people
as well. For example, the Silhouettes saxophone player, Walter Takaki, remembers
that “Ritchie actually got the two gangs, the Lobos and the Angels, a little bit closer
together. Whenever he was playing, they would get along just fine.”36 This phenom-

enon that surrounded Valens’s performances would only increase with his popular-
ity, as he began reaching ever broader audiences.
In May 1958, after Valens was discovered singing with the Silhouettes, he signed
a contract with independent record producer Bob Keane, who also became his man-
ager. Following Keane’s suggestion, Valens Anglicized his family name, Valenzuela,
in order to further his career, but he never hid or denied his Mexican heritage. Los
Angeles–area teens undoubtedly knew Valens was Chicano, but like the Anglo
members of the Lost Angels, their ethnic notions about Mexicans were dispelled by
his talent and unique sound. Valens was heavily influenced by rhythm and blues, es-
pecially the music of Little Richard. In fact, he played so many Little Richard songs
that his early fans called him “Little Richie,” and “Little Richard of the Valley.”37 Yet
even Valens rockers such as “Ooh My Head,” with its boogie woogie rhythm and
throaty vocals, or teen love ballads such as “Little Girl,” with its loose blues groove
and falsetto vocals, were never merely pale imitations of the black music he loved.
Valens’s sound revolved around not only his sharp, distinctive guitar playing, but
also his honest vocal delivery. In addition to the obvious R&B influences, Valens’s
singing style has many precedents in the vocal tradition of the Mexican ranchera
genre, which Valens learned from family members and neighbors as a child. Mexican
“ranch music” also shares some similarities with country and western music, includ-
ing a highly emotional message and vocalization, and the use of three-four time or
brisk two-four polka time.38 Interestingly, Valens’s childhood dream was to become
a “singing cowboy” like his “western heroes” Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.39 This
early country and western influence can be heard stylistically in his vocal timbre and
inflections on the song “Hi-Tone,” and in his twangy, cowboy rhythm guitar line on
his cover version of the rockabilly song “Bluebirds Over the Mountain.” Since Valens
learned the chords for Mexican music from his uncle John Lozano and his cousin
Dickie Cota, and since he “used to sing a lot of country-western” in his youth, these
two styles must also be considered part of his musical sound.40
Of course, Valens’s most famous use of Mexican music is his rock version of the
traditional Mexican son jarocho “La Bamba,” which became his biggest hit. This tradi-
tional Mexican wedding song typifies the son jarocho style that originated on the Ve-
racruz Atlantic seaboard, where Mexico’s African legacy is strongest.41 Valens’s
interpretation combines Mexican folk rhythms on guitar, a high-hat R&B backbeat,
and a clear percussive clave beat. Ironically, Valens was hesitant to record “La Bamba.”
According to Bob Keane, “Ritchie felt it would demean his culture. It was a national
folk song and he was afraid it would be exploiting his ethnic music.” According to
Valens’s older half-brother, Bob Morales, who was allegedly at the recording session,
Valens mispronounced some of the words and had “an accent” when he sang in
Spanish, even though “La Bamba” had supposedly been a staple of the Silhouettes,
and even though Valens spoke enough Spanish to communicate with his grand-
mother, who spoke no English.42
Despite Valens’s reported reluctance to record a traditional Mexican song, he was
working on a rock ‘n’ roll interpretation of “La Malagueña” when he died. Released
posthumously, his demo is a hypnotic guitar solo that merges the melodies from two
different songs that were popular in Mexico: “La Malagueña,” a light-classical piece
written in the 1930s by Cuban composer and pianist Ernesto Lecuona, and “España
Cani,” a pasodoble written in 1934 by Spaniard Pascual Marquina. With no vocals or
accompaniment, “La Malagueña” showcases Valens’s impressive guitar skills, from

his crisp chord changes to his flamenco flourishes, and points toward an unrealized
future musical direction. On “La Malagueña,” and especially on his atmospheric in-
strumental “Fast Freight,” Valens’s fingered tremolo technique, like that of Dick
Dale, anticipated the southern California “surf guitar” style of the 1960s, when
white surf music for white teenage consumption became popular.43
Ritchie Valens synthesized several diverse sounds while inspiring new ones, yet
his commercial success was the exception rather than the rule. A heavy-set Chicano
kid from the barrio, Valens beat the odds because of his extraordinary talent, hard
work, and ambitious drive, but also because of the privileged whites in his corner
who used their access, connections, and insider knowledge to make him a household
name. Thus, Bob Keane’s choice of recording studio, sound engineer, and session
musicians, as well as his production instincts, business savvy, and radio industry con-
tacts, should not be discounted.44 Not only did Keane hire a Beverly Hills talent
agency to better market his client, but also by all accounts it was Keane who pushed
Valens to record “La Bamba.” It was not that Valens only succeeded because of his
white manager, but neither was it that Keane simply exploited Valens for a profit.
Rather, the relationship between them shows that the Los Angeles urban civility of
the swing and R&B eras opened people’s minds to multiple musical possibilities,
bringing together seemingly disparate individuals and sonic elements.
Moreover, the cross-cultural nature of modern Chicano popular music reminds
us that “through music, Mexican Americans constructed their own distinctive, hy-
brid American cultural identities.”45 During the postwar period, in fact, Chicanos
experienced what Juan Flores calls, referring to the relationship of Puerto Ricans
with African Americans in New York, a “branching out” stage in the development of
their cultural consciousness. During this “moment,” according to Flores’s multifac-
eted enculturation paradigm, Puerto Ricans selectively interacted with “the sur-
rounding North American society,” gravitating toward other minorities with whom
they shared physical space and cultural characteristics. The resulting “interfertiliza-
tion of cultures,” Flores concludes, involved “something other than assimilation or
cultural separatism” and was by no means “unidirectional.”46 However, the Nuyori-
can schema is not entirely applicable to Los Angeles, particularly because Flores
claims that Chicanos’ “natural” affinity is toward Native American rather than
African American culture. As my research reveals, Chicano Angeleno musicians
spearheaded Mexican Americans’ own “branching out” stage, but in the 1940s and
1950s Mexican Americans were drawn to black, not Indian music and style.
Thus, as Mexican Americans branched out with pachuco-inspired jump blues
and Little Richard–inspired Chicano rock, they created an ongoing interracial mu-
sical and cultural dialogue.47 Even more than the swing scene had done before it, the
Los Angeles rhythm and blues scene expanded the swing-era public culture of urban
civility, supporting transgressive leisure sites where blacks, whites, Chicanos, Lati-
nos, and Asian Americans broke the social taboos of interracial dancing and social-
izing. In the process, by the late 1950s Mexican Americans joined African
Americans as the innovators of new cultural styles for America’s youth, thus contin-
uing the wartime trend of fashion, music, and recreational activities originating from
the bottom up.48 For example, Mexican Americans’ unique dances, such as the
Pachuco Hop, the Hully Gully, and the Corrido Rock; clothing, like khaki pants and
Sir Guy shirts; and car clubs, with their customized, primered cars, were all copied
by Anglo, Asian, and African American youths.49

This sort of trend-setting and cross-borrowing increased by the early 1960s, as

East Los Angeles groups such as Rene and Ray, the Salas Brothers, the Carlos Broth-
ers, and the Romancers, scored recorded regional hits, and as Mexican American
musicians such as Li’l Bobby Rey and Chuck Rio emulated the honking tenor style
of African American saxophonists with much success.50 The mid-1960s then wit-
nessed an explosion of musical creativity in East Los Angeles that resulted in the
“East Side sound.” The local rock scene became very popular, and the music caught
on throughout the country, as seen by the national success of the Premiers, Thee
Midnighters, and Cannibal and the Headhunters. However, the escalation of the
Vietnam War, the Watts Riot of 1965, and the rise of cultural nationalism among
African Americans and Chicanos altered both the East Side music scene and the re-
lationship between African Americans and Chicanos. Ruben Guevara observes that
“towards the late 1950s, serious gang problems began to surface between blacks and
Chicanos, and in the 1960s affirmative action programs often wound up pitting us
against each other for jobs.” By the early 1960s, he claims, “the relatively friendly re-
lations between blacks and Chicanos that had existed in the immediate postwar era
had been deteriorating for some time. The civil rights movement had, in some ways,
awakened us to the reality that our two cultures were very different.” In other words,
new political and cultural identities ultimately fragmented the urban civility of the
swing, R&B, and rock and roll years.
Yet despite Guevara’s bleak assessment, he adds that “one thing did unite us: Mo-
town.”51 The passage from Luis Rodríguez’s autobiography at the beginning of this
chapter also alludes to the popularity of Motown artists—as well as Miles Davis,
Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas, and Solomon Burke and the Drifters—among Chi-
canos. In addition, Guevara notes that the front man for Thee Midnighters, Li’l
Willie G (Garcia), “drew his inspiration from James Brown.”52 Growing up in East
Los Angeles during the 1960s, another Chicano musician, Willie Herrón, was also
inspired by the “Godfather of Soul” while playing in British rock-styled Chicano
garage bands. Herrón, who participated in the student walk-outs at Garfield High
School in 1968 and in the Chicano art collective ASCO in the 1970s, and who led
the Chicano punk rock group Los Illegals in the early 1980s, testifies to the contin-
uing influence that African American music exerted on Chicanos. He states, “I think
for me [it] was James Brown. I mean, he . . . had the urgency, he had the passion . . .
I really related to . . . that grito he had.”53


Clearly, the Chicano affinity for African American music did not disappear, even in the
period of civil rights activism and cultural nationalism. Regardless of the shifting polit-
ical climate over the years, Los Angeles has continued to produce Latino musicians with
wide-ranging influences and broad-based appeal, from Chicano conguero Poncho
Sánchez to the Grammy Award-winning band Los Lobos. Like jazz and R&B in earlier
generations, the Los Angeles hip-hop culture has also provided a common ground for
diverse musicians and fans to come together. In the 1990s, it produced groundbreaking
rap acts such as the Afro-Cuban/Italian American/Cubano-Chicano group Cypress
Hill, and the group’s Chicano/Puerto Rican rap protégés, Funkdoobiest. At present, the
Los Angeles hip-hop scene continues to facilitate intercultural exchange, as evidenced

by the African American/Chicano-Native American/Afro-Filipino group Black Eyed

Peas, and the up-and-coming Chicano/Afro-Latino/African American rap group
Nuevo Xol. These kinds of creative interactions can also be seen in contemporary mul-
ticultural Los Angeles bands such as Rage Against the Machine, an incendiary, agitprop
rap/thrash rock group, and Ozomatli, whose hip-hop, reggae, Latin, Mexican, and jazz-
influenced music combines rapping with singing, English with Spanish lyrics, and live
instrumental playing with turntable mixing and scratching.54
For Latino musicians continuing this tradition of artistic creation, cultural adap-
tation, and musical innovation, Los Angeles is ultimately much more than a melting
pot. As Jesse Velo, the bassist for Los Illegals explains, “L.A. is nothing but . . . a big
bowl of menudo with everything else in it. So we have no choice but to just absorb
each other’s rhythms and patterns.”55 Indeed, the cross-cultural encounters that so
enriched Los Angeles also produced important Latino contributions to American
society from the postwar period to the present. Whether on the cutting edge or the
bandwagon of popular culture, Mexican Americans drew upon their double con-
sciousness and their rich cultural history, forging their own unique expression some-
where between the schmaltz of mainstream white music and the sass of subcultural
black music without ever fully imitating blackness or assimilating whiteness. Ulti-
mately, as more Latin music and culture is discovered by more non-Latins during the
twenty-first century, Chicanos and Latinos will continue to transform the feelings,
the flavor, and the face of American culture.


1. Luis J. Rodríguez, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. (Willimantic, Conn.:
Curbstone Press, 1983), 84–5.
2. “Chicano” is used interchangeably with “Mexican American” for people of Mexican
descent born in the United States; “Latino” for Spanish-speaking Caribbean and
Latin American immigrants and their American-born children; and “white” and
“Anglo” for British and Euro American immigrants and their American-born chil-
dren. “Black” is used interchangeably with “African American,” although this collapses
black Cubans and Puerto Ricans within African American culture and ignores
African American ethnicity, while “Chicano” and “Latino” are used for both men and
women, unless gender is specified. Thanks to poet Martín Espada for the phrase “Raza
con jazz.”
3. Roger Keil claims that twentieth-century Los Angeles has been torn between “white
domination” and a mixed-race working class that created a “civil society from below”
by carving out “spaces of alternative civility.” See Keil, Los Angeles: Globalization, Urban-
ization and Social Struggles (Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, 1998), 34–5. My re-
search shows how a dangerous police force and a conservative mayor and city council
waged culture wars in what Marshall Berman calls “democratic spaces” throughout the
public sphere “where people can come and assemble freely” to “meet and talk, or sim-
ply look at each other and hang around.” See Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into
Air: The Experience of Modernity (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), 7. In Los Angeles,
“genuinely democratic” public spaces such as “free beaches, luxurious parks, and
‘cruising strips’” were contested cultural terrain. See Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Exca-
vating the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 227.
4. Mario García, Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology and Identity, 1930–1960 (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1989); George J. Sánchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity,

Culture and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945 (Oxford, England: Oxford University
Press, 1993); and David G. Gutiérrez, Walls and Mirrors: Mexican-Americans, Mexican Immi-
grants, and the Politics of Ethnicity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
5. Manuel Peña, The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music (Austin: Uni-
versity of Texas Press, 1985); George Lipsitz, “Land of a Thousand Dances: Youth,
Minorities, and the Rise of Rock and Roll,” in Larry May, ed., Recasting America: Culture
and Politics in the Age of Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 267–84;
Steven Loza, Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles (Chicago: University of
Illinois Press, 1993); Raúl Fernández, “Notes from East L.A.,” American Quarterly 46, 3
(September 1994), 441–47; George Lipsitz, “Cruising Around the Historical Bloc:
Postmodernism and Popular Music in East Los Angeles,” in Time Passages: Collective
Memory and American Popular Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1990); and Manuel Peña, The Mexican American Orquesta: Music, Culture, and the Dialectic of
Conflict (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999).
6. See John Storm Roberts, The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United
States (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1979); and John Storm Roberts,
Latin Jazz: The First of the Fusions, 1880s to Today (New York: Schirmer Books, 1999).
7. Paul López, interviewed by the author, tape recording, Los Angeles, CA, 18 June 1999.
“Hollywood Latin” denotes the influence of the film and music industries in Los An-
geles, but society Latin orchestras performed the same style of music at resorts, casi-
nos, and hotels in Tijuana, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Miami, and Havana.
8. David Reyes and Tom Waldman, Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock ‘n’ Roll from South-
ern California (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998), 7.
9. Lalo Guerrero, interviewed by M. Heisley and Albert S. Pill, tape recording, #CA102,
Braun Research Library, Lummis Southwest Museum, 21 February 1986.
10. Loza, Barrio Rhythm, 159.
11. Pachucos were Mexican Americans who belonged to a subculture popular in the
Southwest during and after World War II. They were distinguished by their “duck-
tail” hair styles, encoded slang, and distinctive zoot suits (long coats that had large
padded shoulders and that narrowed at the waist, then flared below the knees, worn
with extremely baggy pleated pants that ballooned at the knee and narrowed at the
12. George Barker, “Pachuco: An American-Spanish Argot and its Social Functions in
Tucson, Arizona,” University of Arizona Social Science Bulletin 18, 1 (January 1950), 16. Caló,
the insider dialect of the pachuco subculture, incorporates Hispanicized English
words and black vernacular English slang terms.
13. Loza, Barrio Rhythm, 178–80.
14. Mestizaje officially refers to the racial miscegenation between Spaniards and indige-
nous MesoAmericans, although it also includes West African, Afro-diasporic, and
Moorish cultural influences. Mestizo thus refers to any person, or cultural practice,
born of or representing this mixed-race state.
15. Beatrice Griffith, American Me (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1948), 51.
16. On the Mexican American cultural meaning of the zoot suit, see, for example, Mar-
cos Sánchez-Tranquilino and John Tagg, “The Pachuco’s Flayed Hide: Mobility, Iden-
tity, and Buenas Garras,” in Lawrence Grossberg et al., eds., Cultural Studies (London:
Routledge Press, 1992), 566–70.
17. Ruben Guevara, “The View from the Sixth Street Bridge: The History of Chicano
Rock,” in Dave Marsh et al., eds., The First Rock and Roll Confidential Report: Inside the Real
World of Rock and Roll (New York: Pantheon Press, 1985), 115. See also Loza, Barrio
Rhythm, 71, 81.
18. Don Tosti, interviewed by the author, tape recording, Palm Springs, CA, 20 August

19. Fernández, “Notes From East L.A.,” 444.

20. The clave is a syncopated two-three, or, less often, three-two rhythmic pattern over
two bars. Roberts calls it “the basis of all Cuban music, into which every element of
arrangement and improvisation should fit.” See Roberts, The Latin Tinge, 223. Rebecca
Mauleón-Santana notes that the clave is “responsible for dictating both rhythmic and
harmonic aspects of Cuban music,” including one’s “concept of phrasing and impro-
vising.” See Mauleón-Santana, “The Heart of Salsa: Exploring Afro-Caribbean Piano
Styles,” Keyboard (January 1996), 33.
21. On Mexicans’ “commodity identity,” see Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez, Border Visions: Mexi-
can Cultures of the Southwest United States (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996), 7.
22. Lipsitz, “Land of a Thousand Dances,” 276.
23. Jim Dawson, Nervous Man Nervous: Big Jay McNeely and the Rise of the Honking Tenor Sax (Mil-
ford, New Hampshire: Big Nickel Publications, 1994), 96–7. The “honking” school of
tenor saxophone playing involved an aggressive, exuberant repetition of certain
notes—usually low B-flats—during solos, as well as flamboyant stage antics designed
to work the crowd into a frenzy.
24. Ibid., 119.
25. Robert Palmer, Baby, That Was Rock and Roll (New York: Harvest Press, 1978), 19.
26. Joe Smith and Mitchell Fink, eds., Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music (New
York: Warner Books, 1988), 120.
27. Palmer, Baby, That Was Rock and Roll, 19.
28. Nelson George, The Death of Rhythm and Blues (New York: E.P. Dutton Press, 1988), 65.
29. Palmer, Baby, That Was Rock and Roll, 19.
30. Dawson, Nervous Man Nervous, 120.
31. Ed Frias and Lucie Brac Frias, interviewed by the author, tape recording, Pasadena,
CA, 17 August 1998.
32. Guevara, “The View from the Sixth Street Bridge,” 118.
33. See Lipsitz, “Land of a Thousand Dances,” 142–3. See also idem, introduction to Up-
side Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue (Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan
University Press, 1993), by Johnny Otis.
34. Tom Reed, The Black Music History of Los Angeles—Its Roots: A Classical Pictorial History of Black
Music in Los Angeles from 1929–1970 (Los Angeles: Black Accent on L.A. Press, 1994), 383.
35. Falso here means fake, phony, or inauthentic. Beverly Mendheim, Ritchie Valens: The First
Latino Rocker (Tempe: Bilingual Press, 1987), 23.
36. Ibid., 36.
37. Mendheim, Ritchie Valens; Jim Dawson, “Ritchie Valens, The Forgotten Story,” Los An-
geles Times (February 3, 1980), Calendar section, p. 100.
38. George H. Lewis, “La Pistola y El Corazón: Protest and Passion in Mexican-Ameri-
can Popular Music,” Journal of Popular Culture 26, 1 (1992): 58–59.
39. Mendheim, Ritchie Valens, 18.
40. Ibid., 18–19.
41. On the role of West Africans in the creation of Mexican music, see Lewis, “La Pistola
y El Corazón,” 54. On the son jarocho, see Steven Loza, “From Veracruz to Los Angeles:
The Reinterpretation of the Son Jarocho,” Latin American Music Review 13, 2 (Fall/Winter
1992): 179–194.
42. Bob Morales’s account, and the assertion that “La Bamba” had been a staple of the
Silhouettes, comes from Mendheim, Ritchie Valens, 34, 22. The claim that Valens did
not know the words to “La Bamba,” and that he had to call his aunt, Ernestine
Reyes, from the studio for the lyrics, comes from Bob Keane, narrative track, The
Ritchie Valens Story (Del-Fi Records, 1993); and Larry Lehmer, The Day the Music Died:
The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the “Big Bopper,” and Ritchie Valens (New York: Schirmer
Books, 1997), 53.

43. The fingered tremolo technique uses a rapid alternation between two notes of a
chord, usually a third apart. Dick Dale claims that he absorbed this picking style from
the Middle Eastern music of his family heritage. Charles McGovern, correspondence
with the author, 26 July 1998.
44. It is evident, comparing Valens’s solo demos to the final recorded versions, that Keane
often filled out the rough songs with a melodic and lyrical structure, and that he then
arranged these songs for the studio session musicians. Keane, The Ritchie Valens Story;
and Lehmer, The Day the Music Died, 52–53.
45. Fernández, “Notes from East L.A.,” 446.
46. Juan Flores, “‘Qué assimilated, brother, yo soy asimilao’: The Structuring of Puerto
Rican Identity,” in Divided Borders: Essays on Puerto Rican Identity (Houston: Arte Público
Press, 1993), 182–95.
47. Ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin refers to the new culture created out of the “constant
conversations” that “subcultures carry on . . . among themselves” as an “affinity inter-
culture.” See Slobin, Subcultural Sounds: Micromusics of the West (Hanover, New Hamp-
shire: Wesleyan University Press, 1993), 19–20.
48. See Lipsitz, “Land of a Thousand Dances.”
49. Guevara, “The View from the Sixth Street Bridge,” 118.
50. Loza, Barrio Rhythm, 82; and Guevara, “View from the Sixth Street Bridge,” 118.
51. Guevara, “View from the Sixth Street Bridge,” 120.
52. Ibid.
53. Loza, Barrio Rhythm, 223. A grito is a typically Mexican high-pitched scream or shout.
54. See also Rafael Pérez-Torres, “Mestizaje in the Mix: Chicano Identity, Cultural Poli-
tics, and Postmodern Music,” in Ronald Rodano and Philip V. Bohlman, eds., Music
and the Racial Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
55. Loza, Barrio Rhythm, 224. Menudo is a Mexican soup made with tripe, hominy, and red

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Rock ‘n’ Roll in Peru’s Popular Quarters

Cultural Identity, Hybridity,
and Transculturation

Luis A. Ramos-García,
translated by María Elena Cepeda

his chapter investigates various socio-artistic issues and meanings. In par-
ticular, it looks at those that pertain to the relationship between rock as a
symbol of resistance and the contestatory subculture propagated since the
early 1980s by marginalized, urban Peruvian bands such as Los del Pueblo and Los
Mojarras. It is always difficult to conjecture about the cultural matrices of hegemony,
its transformation, and its latest innovations; however, in the present case, one intu-
its that the avid bourgeois consumers of Anglo-Saxon cultural paradigms have tired
of mere musical mimesis. For its part, the culture of the dispossessed—where the
marginal and the instinctive have always been easily accessible alternatives to
modernity’s utopias—now appears to be an unbalanced system in which the adop-
tion of ideological and resistant strategies1 has made possible the appropriation and
(de)construction of cultural artifacts once thought to be beyond marginalized per-
formers’ capacities of aesthetic-musical absorption and interpretation.
From the previous statements we may infer, then, that latent in debates about
cultural bartering, mass media, and the flow of postmodern products from the West
looms the notion that certain articles of the so-called entertainment culture (such
as rock ‘n’ roll) serve dominant cultures as ideological tools in their efforts to pro-
pose new models of modernity. Indeed, we must incorporate artistic plagiarism,
rooted in the triviality of the media and pop culture and so purposefully removed
from the bothersome ideological burden of national history and its particular cul-
tural heritage, into our consideration of the postmodern’s fickle signifiers. From
this inventory of historical styles, popular artifacts, aesthetic repertoires, and mod-
ern twists, emerges a degree of consciousness that already does not permit us to
conceptualize reality as something that we should experience directly and immedi-
ately, since “reality” arrives mediated and filtered by the media’s cultural idiom. The
production of Peruvian musical-cultural discourse serves as an example of this me-
diation, as it originates from one of modernity’s pseudocultures. More accurately

stated, this musical-cultural discourse arises from the recycling of materials from
the United States and Great Britain, both formidable societies and principal gen-
erators of cultural products willing to disseminate their cultural industries, partic-
ularly their publicity apparatus, in support of the global politics of domination.
Canonized as certain and infallible, these cultural industries attach themselves like
parasites to the objects of their desire until they recreate the illusion of progress
and the discourse of difference in the privileged sectors of Lima; through the years,
these same sectors have preferred to exclude themselves from the democratic aims
of the new national consciousness proposed by Juan Velasco Alvarado’s 1968 mili-
tary coup.2
This also appears to be the case for an infinite number of “new wave” Peruvian
musical groups that since have been imitating psychedelic rock, hard-core, world
music, punk rock, techno-pop, heavy metal, and rap styles since 1965. Along with G-
3, Frágil, Arena Hash, and Leuzemia, these bands constitute “the Peruvian under-
ground movement of the 1980s.”3 The everyday validity of the ideas presented in
Peruvian underground music is not reflected in the movement’s lyrics; rather, the
songs’ words distort oppositional discourse in order to create among audiences the
illusion that the personal quest for hard rock is easily aligned with the complex aspi-
rations and protests of the Peruvian social imaginary.
With regard to this new musical subjectivity on the part of the urban-Andean
marginalized, it is imperative to note the presence of the innovative rock groups of
the 1970s, which were contemptuously baptized “los folklorosos” (the folkloric groups).
Their artistic echoes are still heard today in the musical-lyrical experimental fusions
best represented by the band Del Pueblo.4 Moreover, the new paradigms of the
urban marginalized could be historicized as the systematic encounter of diverse mu-
sical generations that stem from traditional rock ‘n’ roll, urban panqueque rock,” and
the “chicha” rock of the urban quarters.5 These new paradigms have occasionally come
together in musical competitions and annual festivals (for example, in Lima, in 1985,
in Miraflores, in 1990, and in the Barriada del Cerro el Agustino, from 1990 to
1997), where the bourgeois and the working classes have met in order to establish
new parameters of artistic interaction.
Earlier groups, such as Río (1987) and No sé quién y los no sé cuántos (1991),
managed to demystify and caricature the national rock hegemony, ignoring the con-
ventions of elite Limean society. From this rupture, emerged the chicha rock of the
band Los Mojarras, an icon of the popular sector’s cholo6 community that had been
previously segregated from the rock simulacrum. It was the first time that chicha
rock’s contestatory compositions were heard sung with such contained rage and
force, describing the lives of populations previously unexplored within the tradi-
tional thematics of Peruvian rock: migrants, street people, the achorados,7 the inhabi-
tants of the popular quarters, and the working class, all accompanied by striking
sounds, blues, a bit of panqueque rock, and an important dose of chicha music,8 Andean
cumbia, and Afro-Peruvian stylings.
The immense popularity of Los Mojarras brought to light a possibility that was
already being argued in other areas of the Peruvian social imaginary: the partial fis-
sure of the hegemonic Creole-Spanish model maintained by the privileged classes.
Until then, this model, a succinct example of “Peruvian-style apartheid,” perpetu-
ated the belief that its creators were the only legitimate heirs to Peruvian culture and
power, as they expressed aversion to all that signified “cholo,” “Serrano,” or “Andean

chicha,” perceiving it as an arbitrary and underdeveloped manifestation of the pe-

ripheral sectors’ vulgar tastes. This would explain in part the elite’s enthusiasm for
constructing its models in alien or unknown spaces, facilitating the regular affirma-
tion of the elite class and imaginarily connecting itself to postmodernity and the no-
tion of progress. Parodoxically, these classes have not been able to completely resist
the massive influence of the chicha culture; thus, they have partially assimilated it as
they have simultaneously developed a politics of containment. The anachronic Cre-
ole illusion of national identity has given way to the “cholo- citizen,” a social subject
who carries with him or her the elements of a new culture in formation, a culture
that awaits a historical articulation characterized by the cultural mestizaje common to
all members of Peruvian society.
Peruvian Creole society has thus already been identified as an entity that per-
ceives itself as an organic whole motion, imbued in a national discourse that allows
it to imagine itself as a culture in complete control, with legacies to fulfill. The le-
gitimacy of Los Mojarras’s artistic success challenges the elite hypothesis, and asks us
to examine a second social phenomenon that historically precedes the incorporation
of rock ‘n’ roll in the Peruvian cultural patrimony yet becomes evident upon the in-
troduction of chicha culture and chicha rock to Limean society. To this end, the con-
troversial comments of Limean musical critic Pepe Barreto reflect the attitude of
those akin to the hegemony. Barreto criticizes the album Opera salvaje para tribus urbanas
by Los Mojarras, for being based “on a dichotomous and almost simplistic vision of
the haves and the have-nots.”9 He asserts that, instead of eliminating the racial/eth-
nic prejudices of Peruvian society, the group deepens them, as it constantly invokes
the notion of difference throughout the album. To Barreto, the “choledad” of Los Mo-
jarras appears anecdotal and circumstantial, an empty and temporary posturing that
is motivated by the desire for leadership and has little to do with the contestatory
spirit of the Peruvian cholo majority. Hernán Condori, (also known as “Cachuca”),
the lead singer of Los Mojarras, gives the following response to Barreto’s critiques:

When I’ve gone to the beaches to play, I’ve seen how one of the groups was driven away
because it was a group that seemed excellent, but the people said no, they aren’t real
whites/Creoles, they’re highlanders [indigenous]. . . . [When you appear on the
stage] . . . you topple the structure of their dreams about traditional rock stars. . . .
When we traveled to Tacna and got off of the plane, the people that had come to greet
us, with posters and everything, they didn’t recognize us, behind us came some whites
and foreigners, and the people began to applaud them, believing that they were us: look
how Peru thinks. . . . They only see the fat one, the ugly one, the chicheros, the cholos, the
highlanders. That’s how it goes.10

These anthropological, Eurocentric postures practiced by elites and adopted by

diverse segments of upwardly-mobile society are the very real reflection of the con-
troversy within the cultural discourse regarding the national identity. This contro-
versy includes ancient polemics that neither the state culture nor the resistance
moments have been able to resolve since the 1960s experimentation with represen-
tative political culture and national “consciousness raising.”
Barreto’s words correspond to a discursive project that has its origins in a prescrip-
tive cultural calling, and that is ultimately connected to larger themes in Peruvian his-
tory, such as nationalism, racism, sexuality, and gender. The “chicha postmodernity,” or
the cultural discourse of the cholo majority, has emerged in reaction, and has partially

manifested itself in the Andean/coastal/jungle chicha, chicha rock, and chicha-rap musical
variants. Thus, Peru continues to be perceived as a place of complex and problematic
racist ideologies, culturally religious and profoundly shaped by traditional sociohistoric
philosophies currently exposed via the organized actions of resistance groups located
within the popular districts.
Once threatened, the traditional order displays archaic faith in science’s immense
social authority as a provider of cultural meanings. Rich in social codes, these cultural
meanings are in turn employed to justify the institutionalization of the discrimina-
tion against and the alienation of those perceived as inferior, via a language that af-
firms difference and constructs boundaries. For example, if one considers that the
term cholo is pejorative, implying physical, aesthetic, and intellectual inferiority—
serrano (highlander), indigenous, mestizo, itinerant, rural, chicha, and so on, with their
respective negative connotations: ugly, inferior, ignorant—it becomes inconceivable
just how a piece11 written to “celebrate” the return of a band of undeniably cholo ori-
gin could include the following title: “Los Mojarras: haciendo cholito al sistema”
(“Los Mojarras: Fooling the System”).12 This title becomes comprehensible only if
one continues to perceive Creole/white society as the exclusive model for behavior
and cultural aspirations within the national imaginary. This proves, in part, that many
criteria previously deemed natural, normal, or unquestionable facts are essentially
complex social constructions connected to larger practices and social institutions.
In the early twentieth century, prior to the contemporary debate regarding eth-
nic/racial identity, the Eurocentric, eugenic school of thought determined that racial
mestizaje (mixture) was the cause of the decline of Latin America and, consequently,
that of Peru.13 After assimilating these negative judgments, elites and intellectuals
incorporated them into the existing dichotomies of civilization/progress and civi-
lization/barbarism, as they masochistically asked themselves if, in fact, the racial
mixture was, rather than a sign of inferiority, the cause of Peru’s failure to form a sin-
gular national identity. In the 1970s, Peru dedicated itself to reevaluating the enor-
mous Andean migrant capital that had been marginalized on Lima’s fringes since the
1950s. This quasi-positive evaluation made the construction of cultural strategies
possible, most notably musical discourses, as well as the internal formation of cul-
tural instigators that responded to the community’s urgent need for self-sufficiency
and reaffirmation. Nevertheless, in Peru, miscegenation still signified indigenous in-
feriority, thereby propelling the creation of contestatory discourses that became
identified as elements of choloficación (cholofication) within the popular quarters.
Later, the concept of choloficación systematically took root in the social nomenclature
and spaces belonging to the white/mestizo cultural hegemony. The cholo inhabitants
of the popular neighborhoods quickly developed a unified sense of self, and began to
realize their own political projects during a key moment of national fragmentation
and political turbulence. The cholos’ economic management and tremendous orga-
nizing capacity transformed the misappropriated identity thrust upon them by the
ruling classes, and by the racist elite’s tendency to support popular youth movements
only to abandon them (for example, Shining Path, MRTA, and organizations based
on liberation theology) once they became radicalized and began to support true so-
cial integration. This explains just how the culture of the marginalized quarters, with
their undeniable expressions of urban cholo origin, managed to claim an entire
decade for the purpose of subverting the cultural practices of the Creole/white elite:
theater, art, literature, the vernacular, social norms, and music.

Nevertheless, the following phase of choloficación provoked a dilemma unforeseen

by the movement’s members: the “new society” would be permitted to negotiate its
newcomer status only on the condition that its assimilation conform with the pre-
cepts of modernity, rationalism, and materialism already established by the Peruvian
state. But the state refused to compromise with those who stubbornly adhered to
traditional customs or who resisted institutions’ efforts to acculturate them. The
dilemma grew even more pronounced when the cholos’ very marginality condemned
the complete assimilation of the movement’s members, even when assimilation sig-
naled the triumph of their short- and long-term objectives. Thus, it becomes evi-
dent that, upon realizing the initial goal of reaffirming the marginal, cholo identity of
Lima’s natives and having entered in a phase of integrative definition, cholofication is
forced to balance its achievements with the cultural reminders of its distinct ethnic-
ities in its search for an ideal model of progress. Apart from theater, it is the rock ‘n’
roll groups of the popular quarters and the working class that problematize the
processes of cultural democratization and reverse acculturation—precisely what
alarms their communities. The ultimate objective is clear: in order to arrive at a new
reality, one must recognize that the manufacture of a cultural product congruent
with its chosen meaning demands discipline, effort, and great vigilance over collec-
tive interactions and over interactions between the collective and its surroundings.
Cultural democratization, as proposed by the rock groups that participate in
the festivals held at the Cerro del Agustino neighborhood, allowed cultural pro-
moters to mobilize the community’s creative capacities in order to form musical
groups, produce texts, and disseminate musical/lyrical protest. The marginalized
neighborhoods are culturally politicized and of diverse and contradictory tastes.
They occupy the spaces carved out by communal leaders; musically, their roots are
in the huayno, the salsa, and chicha music, which to a degree mediate the fragile and
complex state/individual relationship that enters into conflict with the advent of
armed violence.
However, as devaluated replicas of Anglo-Saxon musical globalism, the music of
the white/mestizo bands of Lima and Miraflores has given way to themes connected
to the populations under examination as they engage in a “dialogue with the other.”
This chicha rock is dedicated to, among other things, redeeming the provincial her-
itage and reclaiming themes clouded with superstition and false beliefs, in addition
to the issues of disintegration of the family, state intervention, and the fight to undo
the distorted image of the “cholo barrio” created by the media. The chicha rock lyrics of
groups such as Los Mojarras debate gender and sexuality, the apocalyptic vision of
the proletariat, the construction of machismo, linguistic codification, community re-
newal, the sociological determinism of the migratory classes, and the views of the
conglomerate in Lima’s popular quarters. Other bands, such as Grupo del Pueblo,
explore urban phenomena: the informal economic sector, squatting, gangs, and
street life.
The exact parameters of the process of “musical cholofication” to which Lima’s
ruling social classes have been exposed have yet to be established. And we have yet
to see in which ways these parameters stimulate or impede artistic expression and,
above all, in what manner they are being incorporated into the constants of the na-
tional consciousness. Nevertheless, rooted in the contemporary musical fusion
and the genuine expression of an immense, working-class sector of the population,
Los Mojarras has realized great artistic and commercial success across social

classes, as the group has imposed an aggressive, nearly flawless musical vision of a
new national identity.
In conclusion, it must be maintained that a majority of the musicians who write
and perform their works under this last strata of acculturation—from the hegemonic
to the “cholification” of their objectives—inhabit new musical terrain, in both lin-
guistic and metaphorical senses, as much in art as in daily life. Some share in the
complexities of their cultural heritage and any attempts to escape and embrace eth-
nic roots, while others champion exclusionary perspectives, rendering their “cholo
and achorado” subjects the carriers of the Peruvian identity under construction. Led
by Condori, groups such as Los Mojarras point out the common social threads and
Manichean elements of Peruvian history, as they agitate within the past and within
an uncertain present. They offer a version of events populated by particular ideo-
logical stances, and deliver a rereading of a tragic, comic, and heroic past, of a coun-
try that debates and divides, but that ultimately perceives itself as advancing under
miscegenation a la José María Arguedas. Meanwhile, with respect to the aesthetic
and thematic aspects of Peruvian rock, we must continue to recognize its diversity as
its primary distinguishing characteristic, even as the valorization of auditory codes,
symbolic elements, and musical performance remains a work of great urgency as a
means of musically responding to Peruvian reality.


1. In response to the difficulty of legitimizing a national culture capable of multiplying

difference or of sustaining a diversity rooted in the plurality and complexity of
lifestyles in the broadest sense of the terms—without racial, class, or gender-based di-
visions—marginalized Andean populations have not only demanded an ecumenical
reinterpretation of the Peruvian national past; they have also conscientiously worked
to subvert the cultural models of elite Creole society, invading its spaces and resisting
previous paradigms of moral and racial superiority. Politically, the resistance of elec-
toral blocs strategically organized along ethnic and social lines made possible the 1990
presidential defeat of Mario Vargas Llosa (identified as a proponent of the “old Cre-
ole order”) and the rise of Alberto Fujimori (recognized as the favored, “legitimate”
son of the majority). With respect to artistic manifestations of resistance, the strate-
gic fusion of rock, huayno, and Afro-Caribbean music has enlarged the audiences of
marginalized urban rock groups such as Los Mojarras, Del Pueblo, and Praxis, thus
proposing a new breed of national rock with roots in the emerging urban folklore.
(See also note 8 herein).
2. The 1968 military coup and its egalitarian socialist aims engendered a type of politi-
cal oxymoron. On one hand, the Castro-like dictatorship dissolved the congress; on
the other hand, it implemented long-awaited agrarian reforms and the nationaliza-
tion of foreign industries, established diplomatic relations with communist nations,
experimented with the creation of a state political culture and the democratization of
the electoral process at the local level, and supported a reevaluation of Peru’s indige-
nous past. In August 1975, General Francisco Morales Bermúdez, leader of a military
sector allied with large local and foreign industries, ended Velasco Alvarado’s “demo-
cratic” experiments. See Cynthia McClintock, The Peruvian Experiment Reconsidered
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983).
3. As the early 1980s approached, diverse Limean rock groups formed by “underground
people” were searching for paradigms within the English punk movement. Dressed in

chains, boots, and leather, these middle-class youths initiated a series of spontaneous
gatherings that generally ended in violence and scandal.
4. As one of the most noteworthy marginalized groups recognized for its contributions
to Peruvian rock, the members of Del Pueblo have produced an impressive, albeit un-
even, body of work, which began in 1982 and extends to the present. The group’s best
recordings are anthologized in the album Grupo Del Pueblo (Antología 1983–1994).
5. The term “panqueque” is in reality a phonetic derivative of the word “punk,” and “chicha
rock” refers to a hybrid of rock ‘n’ roll with some or all of the following: Andean music,
cumbia serrana (highland cumbia), cumbia costeña (coastal cumbia), and cumbia selvática
(woodland/jungle cumbia). Chicha rock is frequently identified as a hybrid cultural
product of urban neighborhoods.
6. Historically, the term cholo refers to an individual of mixed European and indigenous
heritage. In recent decades, however, the term has gained a pejorative connotation as
applied to the rural Andean migrants who inhabit the outskirts of urban zones and
adopt Western customs. See Gonzalo Portocarrero, Los nuevos limeños (Lima, Peru: Sur
y Tafos, 1993).
7. The term achorado, which generally applies to individuals of unseemly conduct, implies
a violent reaction to any type of provocation, either real or imagined.
8. Although chicha music initially emerged in the 1960s as an Andean/tropical fusion, the
chicha “boom” arrived in 1983 with an explosion of groups, performances, and pro-
grams (“Chichamanía”) in metropolitan spaces. Associated with the working class and
the marginalized sectors, the chicha phenomenon gave birth to the use of “chicha” as an
adjective to identify cultural products and personal conduct of an inferior nature. See
Wilfredo Hurtado Suárez, “La música chicha en los 90,” Márgenes 8, 13–14 (1995):
9. Pepe Barreto, Caleta (July-August, 1996).
10. Quoted in ibid.
11. “Los Mojarras: Haciendo cholito al sistema.” Caleta (June 1996).
12. The popular expression hacer cholito literally means to fool/deceive, or to turn another
person into a cholo, or someone of little intelligence. See Juan Zevallos, et al., Habla la
ciudad (Lima, Peru: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 1986).
13. See Alfredo Fernández Verano, Las doctrinas eugénicas (ensayo de sistematización) (Buenos
Aires: Liga Argentina de Profilaxis Social, 1929). With respect to the role of eugenics
in Peru and Peru’s stances at the Conferencia Panamericana de Eugenesia y Homi-
cultura de las Repúblicas Americanas, which took place in 1928 in Havana, Cuba, see
Marcos Cueto, “La historia de la ciencia y la tecnología en el Perú: Una aproximación
bibliográfica,” Quipu: Revista Latinoamericana de la Historia de las Ciencias y la Tecnología 4 (Jan-
uary-April, 1987): 119–47.

Works Cited

Alfaro, Rosa M., et al. 1990. Cultura de masas y cultura popular en la radio peruana. Lima, Peru: Tarea.
Barreto, Pepe. 1996. Caleta (July-August).
Cueto, Marcos. 1987. La historia de la ciencia y la tecnología en el Perú: Una aproximación
bibliográfica. Quipo: Revista Latinoamericana de la Historia de las Ciencias y la Tecnología 4 (January-
April): 119–47.
F., Daniel. 1995. Interview by Daniel Carranza. Caleta (January 1995).
Fernández Verano, Alfredo. 1929. Las doctrinas eugénicas (ensayo de sistematización). Buenos Aires:
Liga Argentina de Profilaxis Social.
Hurtado Suárez, Wilfredo. 1995. La música chicha en los 90. Márgenes 8, 3–14: 171–87.

McClintock, Cynthia. 1983. The Peruvian Experiment Reconsidered. Princeton: Princeton Univer-
sity Press.
Portocarrero, Gonzalo. 1993. Los nuevos limeños. Lima, Peru: Sur y Tafos.
Rowe, William, and Vivian Schelling. 1991. Memory and Modernity: Popular Culture in Latin America.
London: Verso.
Starn, Orin, et al. 1985. The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, North Carolina: Duke
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Zevallos, Juan, et al. 1986. Habla la ciudad. Lima, Peru: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San


Grupo del Pueblo. Antología 1983–1994.

Leuzemia. No nos entendemos. 1994.
Los Mojarras. Opera salvaje para tribus urbanas. 1996.
About the Contributors

Ethnomusicologist and musician PAUL AUSTERLITZ is Assistant Professor of Music

at Brown University. His book, Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity, looks
at popular music in relation to national and racial identity in the Dominican Re-
public and among Dominicans in the United States. His forthcoming book, to be
published by Wesleyan University Press in 2003, treats jazz on the global stage and
is entitled Jazz, the Black Atlantic, and the Human Race. In addition to his scholarly work,
Austerlitz is active as a jazz musician (bass clarinet/tenor saxophone) and composer.

FRANCES R. APARICIO is Professor and Director of the Latin American and Latino
Studies Program at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is author of the prize-
winning Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures (1998) and
co-editor, with Susana Chávez Silverman, of Tropicalizations: Transcultural representations
of Latinidad (1997). She has also authored numerous articles and essays on U.S. Latino
literatures and cultures, teaching Spanish to heritage language learners, popular
music and gender, and theories of literary translation.

MARISOL BERRÍOS-MIRANDA is currently a University of California President’s

Postdoctoral Fellow. She has conducted field research on salsa and other Caribbean
musics in her native Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, the San Francisco
Bay Area, Central Florida, and Seattle, Washington. She is the author of “The Sig-
nificance of Salsa Music to National and Pan-Latino Identity.” (Ph.D. dissertation,
University of California, Berkeley, 1999), “Is Salsa a Musical Genre?” in Situating Salsa:
Global Markets and Local Meaning in Latin Popular Music (Routledge 2002), and articles on
salsa, dance, and their relationship to the Latino diaspora in the United States.

MARIA ELENA CEPEDA is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Romance Lan-

guages and Literatures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her research to date
focuses primarily on U.S. Latina/o popular music, language politics, and literature. She
has recently published pieces in Popular Music and Society, Revista Canadiense, Discourse, and
the forthcoming Global Pop, Local Talk (2003, University of Mississippi Press), among
other publications. Currently based in Miami, Cepeda is completing a dissertation on
Colombian popular music and Miami’s transnational Colombian community.

SHANNON DUDLEY is assistant professor of ethnomusicology at the University of

Washington. His Ph.D. dissertation (University of California, Berkeley) is titled
“Making Music for the Nation: Competing Esthetics and Identities in Trinidad and
Tobago’s Panorama Steelband Competition” (1997). Publications include “Drop-
ping the Bomb: Steelband Music and Meaning in 1960s Trinidad,” Ethnomusicology

46(1) 2002, and “Judging by the Beat: Calypso vs. Soca” in Ethnomusicology 40 (2),
1996, and forthcoming articles and books on steelbands and Trinidad carnival. In
addition to ongoing research and writing on steelband music, areas of interest in-
clude the Caribbean, Latin America, popular music, nationalism, and performance

JORGE L.GIOVANNETTI is the author of Sonidos de condena: Sociabilidad, historia, y política

en la música reggae de Jamaica, published in Mexico by Siglo XXI Editores (2001). He
studied sociology at the University of Puerto Rico and history and Caribbean Stud-
ies at the University of North London in the United Kingdom. His interests in-
clude Caribbean popular music as well as the social and cultural history of the
region, and his current research project is on race relations and migration in early
twentieth century Cuba.

GEMA R. GUEVARA is Assistant Professor of Spanish in the department of Lan-

guages and Literature at the University of Utah. She teaches courses on colonial
Caribbean and Latin America and U.S. Latino/a literature and culture. She special-
izes in cultural studies and postcolonial literary theory.

CÁNDIDA F. JÁQUEZ is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Folklore and

Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the Director of the IU
Mariachi de La Flor and works on Latino popular and traditional musics. Her spe-
cialty area is mariachi with an emphasis on women’s professional mariachi. She is
currently working on a manuscript on U.S. based mariachi and her recent work in-
cludes “Meeting La Cantante through Verse, Song and Performance” in Chicana Tra-
ditions: Continuity and Change (University of Illinois Press 2002).

ANTHONY MACÍAS is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Cal-

ifornia, Riverside. He is currently revising his book manuscript, “Mexican American
Mojo: Popular Music and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1940–1965