Saturday, May 23, 2020

Pablo Palomino's "The Invention of Latin American Music"

Pablo Palomino is Assistant Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Mellon Faculty Fellow at Oxford College of Emory University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Invention of Latin American Music: A Transnational History, and reported the following:
On page 99 the reader will find a variety of examples of what I call “transnational regionalism” in the thinking about music, arts, and culture in general in the first decades of the 20th century. Intellectuals all over Latin America joined a global trend of reflecting and writing about regions of varied size—some sub-national, like Argentina’s provincial folklore or Brazilian Southern and Northeastern regionalisms; others connecting several countries, like pan-Andean indigenismo or the idea of “Arab music”; others being continentally ambitious, with plans to connect music education “from the Gulf of Mexico to the Cape Horn.” Regional music traditions were to be unearthed from the past or invented and concocted toward a future aesthetic. In all cases, music was an arena for state programs aimed at modernizing people’s aesthetics. Page 99 suggests, interestingly, that this global concern about music and modernization, source of policies enacted by national bureaucracies, was elaborated in regional terms. A sort of intermediate, mediating dimension between the nation and the globe.

Page 99 advances thus one of the key arguments of the book: that “Latin America” is not a region in an objective sense. We take it for granted, we assume it automatically, by default, following the conventions of academic fields, as if it were out there waiting to be studied and as if the mere addition of national cases produced a region. But in this history of musical practices I show that Latin America is in fact the result of regionalist projects that “invented” it. Through specifically musical projects, the region became since the 1930s not only an elite diplomatic framework inherited from the 19th century, but a wider cultural history, an unfinished but growing market, and an aesthetic rhetoric. The idea of “Latin American music” also provided other Latin Americanist projects with aesthetic materials and legitimacy.

The rest of the book (pages 1-98 and 100-272) simply expands on the multiple consequences of this regionalist approach: tango musical diasporas, exiled Jewish singers, and Mexican broadcasters crisscrossing and connecting Latin America; state policies and markets that formed this region in dialogue with the wider process of musical globalization; pioneer musicologists who crucially articulated (and policed the boundaries of) what “Latin American” means in music; the use of this category by United States cultural diplomats during and after World War Two; and the consolidation, since the 1960s, of a regional musical idea in Latin American sciences, culture, and politics, including the “Latino” musical discourse in the United States. This is not a music analysis book, but a cultural history. However, its ultimate goal is to make the reader curious about what “Latin America” means and to invite her to figure out the answer by putting the book aside and listening to good “Latin American” music.
Learn more about The Invention of Latin American Music at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue