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Volume 64 / Humanities


CRISTINA MAGALDI, Associate Professor of Music, Towson University, Los Angeles

TO REVIEW FOUR YEARS OF LITERATURE about music from southern Latin American countries has become a daunting task. This is, of course, good news. If the piles of books and articles seem to grow bigger every time a submission for HLAS is due, identifying current research trends has become easier as the years go by. Not only has the number of publications increased, these writings have contributed to our field in significant and original ways. Within the large body of literature reviewed here, one can identify a critical mass that was still lacking as recently as five years ago; that is, a substantial number of studies that go beyond the mere descriptive and/or the self-laudatory to provide contextual background and critical interpretation of a staggeringly varied musical production. This critical mass of works has allowed scholars of Latin American music not only to work within "their field," where ideas specifically related to musics of the area are born, analyzed, and (re-)interpreted, but also to address less localized topics and deal with issues that have a broader scope and as such, are relevant to those outside the field of Latin American music. As a result, one notices the participation of a wider range of scholars—musicologists, ethnomusicologists, historians, and social scientists—writing about music in collections of essays not devoted solely to Latin America, or solely to music, and published in languages other than Portuguese and Spanish. See, for example, Abreu's study about lundu songs and gender (item #bi2007000538#) and Denilson Lopes' essay about electronic bossa nova and transnational musics (item #bi2008003764#).

A general trend in studies about music in southern Latin America has been the reassessment of the role of music in the political and ideological nationalistic rhetoric, a trajectory traced by Reily (item #bi2005004786#). Critical essays re-examining the constructions of national icons are particularly welcome in a music historiography dominated by nationalist ideals, as are studies devoted to the role of music in transcending the idea of national, or that focus on multiple musical meanings and transcultural interchanges. Excellent works in this direction are Ariza (item #bi2007003789#), Morgan (item #bi2005000257#), and Trigo (item #bi2008003770#). Another emerging trend is the interest in musical constructions of regionalisms, of which studies by Lucas (item #bi2005004788#), Santos (item #bi2005002452#), and Citro (item #bi2007000093#) are stellar examples.

Without a doubt, the 2004 collection A (des)construção da música na cultura paranaense (item #bi2007003809#) surely shows that the idea of national music has either been relegated to the second tier or has disappeared all together. The collection is a gem in terms of coverage of a single area: the Brazilian state of Paraná. The essays address music of all styles, time periods, and genres from a variety of perspectives, and are written by people with a wide range of backgrounds, from musicologists to journalists to dilettantes interested in the topic. The word de-constructing in the title is in itself a strong indicator that those thinking about music in the state of Paraná think of it in a multiplicity of ways.

Although tango and samba continue be the topic of many of the studies published in the last four years, the focus has shifted from studies that celebrate the music's "national" status to works that critically review and interpret, from a multitude of scholarly angles, the paths taken by these popular musical styles in constructing, sustaining, or dismantling ideals of nationality; see for instance, Luker (item #bi2007001986#) and Horvath (item #bi2007004378#) on tango, and Araújo (item #bi2008003346#) on samba. Nonetheless, tango and samba continue to be celebrated outside Argentina and Brazil as symbols of nationality, particularly as topics of study in survey courses at the college level in US universities. Two recent publications (items #bi2008003347# and #bi2008003751#) intended as textbooks in US universities cover a wide gamut of Brazilian styles, offering English-speaking students plenty of samba and carnival music, but also discussing regional styles and contemporary local pop, thus widening the musical offerings and avoiding static definitions of musical Brazil. Although equivalent publications on Argentina have not yet appeared, the US College Music Society, for instance, launched the CMS Tango Institute. The second institute was held from June 15–27, 2008, in Buenos Aires. The two-week program, entitled "Argentine Tango Music: History, Theory, and Practice," aimed to "intersect tango scholarly studies with practical musical and cultural experience."

A significant number of studies examining the social and cultural implications of the appropriation of rap and other African-American popular styles in marginalized areas of Brazilian cities highlight the role of music as a tool for activism by Afro-Brazilian youth in recent years. Excellent examples of critical essays exploring this phenomenon are Sneed (item #bi2008003752#) and Moehn (item #bi2008003755#). In a similar vein, but focusing instead on gender and race stereotypes in the Brazilian mainstream music industry and audiences, is Leme's insightful study (item #bi2007003814#) about axé music, dance, technology, and the appropriations of international sounds in Bahia.

Two groundbreaking works from Argentina and Chile deserve special mention. Carlos Gardel's biography by Julián and Osvaldo Barsky (item #bi2007003791#) is a tour de force, drawing from an impressive number of documents about the singer's life and work. González Rodríguez and Rolle's (item #bi2007003803#) Historia social de la música popular en Chile, 1890–1950 is a monumental work that not only provides a historical overview of popular music in Chile, but also offers a significant critical assessment of popular music making in urban areas of Latin American that will appeal to readers with a wide array of scholarly interests. The work received the prestigious Casa de las Américas award in musicology in 2003. And, as I write this review, news has come that Argentine scholar Omar Conrrado has been awarded the 2008 Casa de las Américas award for his essay "Vanguardias al Sur: La música de Juan Carlos Paz, Buenos Aires, 1897–1972."

If the number of publications stemming from the five countries reviewed here has increased substantially, the growth in scholarly production has been uneven. Brazil, Argentina, and Chile continue to be in the forefront of musical research, while Paraguay and Uruguay lag behind. Nonetheless, Trigo's stellar article on rock in Uruguay (item #bi2008003770#) and Donas and Milstein's study on songs in Montevideo (item #bi2007003784#) show the beginning of a critical approach to the local popular musical production that promises to parallel studies in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.

The idea of a "critical mass" of scholarly production becomes evident in the increasing number of national meetings devoted to music that continue to occur on a regular basis, especially in Brazil and Argentina, and that have produced annals or collections of studies. The annals of the historical musicology meetings in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais (annual meetings began in 1994), gather the most recent research in the field of colonial music. The consistently high level of the papers presented in the meetings (item #bi2007004365#) speak to the maturity of the Brazilian musicologists interested in colonial and 19th-century music, particularly in sacred music. The recent publications on colonial music and the recordings of Brazilian sacred music that stem from the research presented in these meetings are summarized in item #bi2007002305#. Several organizations make their annals available online, like the Associação Brasileira de Etnomusicologia (ABET), which has met periodically since its creation in 2001 (http://www.musica.ufrj.br/abet). The annals of the Jornadas Argentinas de Musicología are not yet fully online, but one can browse through the programs on the organization's site (http://www.aamusicologia.org.ar).

Online periodical publications are also proving to be a stable outlet for a wider dissemination of local researchers' work. In Brazil, Opus (http://www.anppom.com.br/opus) and Revista Eletrônica de Musicologia (http://www.rem.ufpr.br) continue in the forefront; the recent Música & Cultura, the online periodical of the Brazilian Association of Ethnomusicology, is another welcome addition. (Vol. 2 was published in 2007.) In Argentina, Revista Argentina de Musicología, a publication of the Asociación Argentina de Musicología (http://www.aamusicologia.org.ar/revista.html), and Música e Investigación produced by the Instituto de Musicología Carlos Vega (http://www.inmuvega.gov.ar/inmuvega/indice_rev_cron.htm), do not yet offer full-text online, but do provide tables of contents of the articles published since 1996 and 1997, respectively. Finally, a number of essays in annals and periodicals that have not yet reached international circulation are now becoming available online through Transcultural Music Review, a yearly publication of the Spanish Ethnomusicology Society, edited by Ramón Pelinsky (http://www.sibetrans.com/trans). With articles in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, this most welcome publication is the first of its kind to move beyond the established US periodical Latin American Music Review, to focus not only on Latin American music, but also on the musics of the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish and Portuguese-speaking communities around the world. The word transcultural in the journal's title aptly summarizes the trends in the recent scholarly production in southern Latin America.

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