Michael Birenbaum Quintero
Hemispheric Institute
3rd Annual Encuentro Lima, Peru
Seminar Course Project
Music and Globalization workshop

 

In the Music and Globalization workshop, we were largely clear what music is (although issues of folklore, "intangible patrimony", and commercialism tend to cloud the issues of what music is "worthy" of study.) The concept of globalization, was, however, rather more complicated to untangle. At one point, a gentleman in the audience asked, pointedly, whether globalization was good or bad, and despite its somewhat ingenuous nature, it's certainly a legitimate question to tease out the moral issues of this condition of linkedness which has accelerated drastically in recent years.

Certainly, globalization is an unavoidable fact --- whether we like it or not, we must realize its inevitability. At the same time, an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of a globalized world can hopefully serve to positively influence policies of globalization. One of the necessities for this discussion to take place is to separate the various facets of globalization, which tend to all be subsumed under the same rubric and analyzed as a single concept. One example is the idea of the collapse of the concept of periphery and center. Clearly, the periphery has inserted itself unequivocally into the center in the form of transnational migration from former colonies to the metropoles. Similarly, international tourism and the "world beat" music phenomenon have implanted ores of cultural capital in some rather unexpected places, to be consumed by the metropolitan core. However, this phenomenon is tempered by the fact that the flow of financial capital tends to retain periphery/center distinctions --- with the exception of the Indian film industry, cultural capital is controlled by seven multinational conglomerates, all located in what used to be called the "first world." In other words, we must separate the flows of people, media, culture, finance, etc. into different phenomena instead of attributing a general movement falling under the rubric of "globalization."

As far as Latin America is concerned, it is fairly clear that the matter is far more complicated than the simple cultural opposition between the oppressed masses of the "South" armed with chili peppers and otherworldly starving children against the cigar-smoking fatcats of the United States. The presence of a large contingent of Spanglish-speaking mis-interpreters, stateless Puerto Ricans, and Chicano shadowboxers at the encuentro were testament to the complicating factors that trouble the purity of a North vs. South model of globalization. (I'm referring here to the performances of Jesus Rodríguez, and Guillermo Gómez Peña, and the presence of myself and a lot of other U.S. passport-holding Spanish-, or Spanglish-, or Spangloid-speakers.) The insertion of migrants from the South and the generations which come after them makes the notion of the North as culturally constant difficult to sustain. It also, of course, changes the way in which me must understand the notion of core and periphery in any discussion of globalization.

If the presence of sub-alterns within the core is a factor that complicates an Old Left view of globalization, so is its reverse: the presence of Latin American oligarchies siphoning off financial capital, appropriating or minimizing popular class cultural capital, and in short serving as a domestic class of cigar-smoking fatcats. Exploitation, in other words, does not require foreign interlopers --- Latin elites have been excelling at it for years. The work of Yuyachkani, particularly the Montesinos character and some of their work on the road clearly points to the embezzlement of finances, but the theme of de-legitimization of popular cultural expression is a bit more difficult to pin down, mostly because it acts as much by non-representation and "invisibilization" (if I may be permitted to make up a new word) as by mis-representation or outright disparagement. Yuyachkani's "Musicos Ambulantes" addressed the theme by highlighting the folkloric traditions of some of Peru's ethno-regional groups and thus highlighting the necessity of a valorization of popular artistic expression. One rather troubling aspect of the encuentro was the elite-targeted and elite-produced nature of many of its performances. While the use of abstract and avant-garde artistic techniques, and the participation of members of the upper-middle and upper classes, are by no means elitist in and of themselves, the relative absence of popular performance speaks to the difficulty of reconciling Latin American class antagonism even in an encounter of left-leaning artist and academic types. The point is that alongside the heterogeneity of a globalized core which includes sub-alterns within it, is the heterogeneity of a Latin American troubled in its position vis-à-vis the North due to its own heterogeneous class and race structure.

It is in the light of an Old Left center-pole opposition that we must view claims by many encuentro participants to sub-altern status, whether based on gender, "racial" minority status within the United States, sexual orientation, or newfound middle-class bankruptcy in Argentina. I mention this not to minimize these claims, but to posit that "sub-alternity," "North", "South", "globalization", and other terms we have tended to bandy about, need to be complicated by the specific situations of each of the constituent groups that these blanket terms are assumed to denote. A discussion of the cultural expression of the (themselves highly heterogeneous) popular classes of Latin America, however, seems to me to be particularly urgent, not only due to their relative absence from the encuentro, but in the fact that they comprise perhaps 80% of the gross population of Latin America. A central issue is the use of cultural expression and performance, and particularly folklore, to justify claims to sub-alternity. Did "Musicos Ambulantes", then, highlight the need to valorize popular expression or did it instead highlight the need for an ethno-regional group to have a marketable folklore? Chinese- and Japanese- Peruvians' absence would presumably be due to either lingering bad feelings about former hometown hero Fujimori, their supposed inclusion in the Limeño elite, or their lack of a catchy music or folkloric flash which would justify their existence. Yuyachkani, to their credit, highlighted urban popular expression (tecno-cumbia) in both their presentations, but in general, in the encuentro as in the world music market, urban popular cultural expression, particularly music, has played second fiddle to folkloric expressions fitting either a dominant (whatever that is) aesthetic or dominant notions of appropriate exoticism. It is, paradoxically, through appealing to Northern hegemonic criteria that Southern sub-altern identity is legitimated.

The central issue, then, is the validity of the core vs. periphery paradigm. Informing this issue are: the difficulty of sustaining the geographic specificity of dominant/sub-altern groups due to the presence of sub-alterns in the metropoles and oligarchs in the "third world", on the one hand, and on the other, the ways in which sub-alterns represent their sub-alternity vis-à-vis the centrally-located elite and their record industry, which accepts only certain representations of sub-alternity, profiting financially or culturally from some, and "invisibilizing" the rest. The working group on Music and Globalization dealt with these varied phenomena in different ways, troubling a monolithic conception of globalization.

Josh Kun's essay on the Nortec phenomenon in the borderland city of Tijuana deals with this explosion of traditionally dualistic categories: core and periphery, first world and third, Mexico and the United States. As the example of Tijuana shows, the two have been cannibalizing each other culturally for years. Neither a celebration of the folklore of the South glorifying a Northern concept of Mexican alterity on the one hand, nor a feeble copy of Northern music by Southerners, Nortec utilizes all the facets of the multiple nature of the Tijuana soundscape to posit a hybrid borderland largely free from distinctions of center or periphery. This soundscape consists, variously, of the kitschy 1960s representations of Latin-ness by second-generation Russian Jew Herb Alpert, with his band (consisting, in his words, of "Italian sausages, bagels, and an American cheese"), the Tijuana Brass; the rock, hip hop, and techno of the American club kids who come to drink and dance; the cumbia, banda, and norteño music of the popular classes and drug-trafficking nouveau riche; the folkloric mariachi imagined by nationalists and tourists alike; and the jungle and drum-and-bass music of the international hipster circuit within which the Nortec DJs would come to make their mark. Along with this musical variety came a variety of possible identities: the stereotyped alterity of Mexican-ness for assimilating North Americans, the Sin City of drunken U.S. college kids, Mexican popular culture, nationalist Mexicanism, and international artistic credibility. The result of this musico-cultural sancocho is a typically globalized, specifically Tijuanese hybrid which mirrors the essential hybridity of the porous borderlands.

The place of Kun's presentation in the present date is to deconstruct the center-core periphery in the sense of classical studies of globalization. It is tempting to label the utterly anti-purist, border-hopping, Nortec genre as a "hybrid", but it is equally important to note that each of the many constituent genres that inform it are themselves hybrid products of successive globalizations going back to the Moorish conquest of Spain. To resign ourselves to the 19th and 20th centuries: mariachi is the marriage of Mexican and French wedding music; cumbia is a Colombian Afro-indigenous genre adopted by the Mexican "narco riche" and played by norteño bands; norteño is Spanish ballads and revolutionary songs played in polka rhythms learned from German immigrants; hip hop and jungle are unthinkable without the contributions of Jamaican immigrants to New York and London, respectively. In other words, Kun's aim is not merely the explosion of center-core periphery in the present, but an attempt to trouble the purity of genres in a supposed "pre-globalization" period, in fact to trouble the idea that globalization can only be located (temporally speaking) in the present and recent past.

Alexandra Vazquez's presentation on Dámaso Pérez Prado was also linked to the theme of temporality. Her thesis was that Pérez Prado's trademark grunt was related to a particularly Cuban temporality which did not carry over in the process of globalization (as well as an exhortation to musicians and dancers to bring their craft to new heights.) Using the common Cuban expression "en la esquina" as a touchstone for a non-linear, unmeasured living time, she posited that Pérez Prado used his grunt as a distemporalizing device, a brief space in time in which time itself was suspended. At the same time, this grunt makes reference, she explained, to the groans and cries of the Cuban past, particularly slavery, making this distemporalization not an escape from time, but an embrace of Cuban history which could be encapsulated in the brief instant in time in which Pérez Prado unleashed his grunt. The significance of this grunt to a Cuban audience is clearly different from its significance to the U.S. audience to which early processes of globalization brought it. While its significance in the process of poesis was the distemporalized epoch-embracing temporality which Vazquez describes, to non-Caribbean audiences, Pérez Prado's grunts were exotic Latin barbarism. In other words, while the sound product of a recorded Pérez Prado song could cross borders and cultures, the keys to its intended effect could not.

In Pérez Prado, then, we have a division between core and periphery based on the lack of permeability of extra-commercial cultural elements such as symbologies, while commoditized symbols, such as a musical recording, could pass through easily. The question, then, is whether the flow of symbols and symbologies is the same if it flows from periphery to core ("world beat" and metropolitan mining of sub-altern culture), from core to periphery (cultural imperialism, or sub-altern adoption of hegemonic symbols), or from one peripheral zone to another.

My presentation was effected by Mary Louise Pratt's keynote speech, which complicated the notion of "flow" as a term which naturalizes hegemonic control of the movement of capital and resources in "globalization" (itself a term which naturalizes neoliberal economic policy.) In my discussion of champeta music, then, I wanted to see how the flow of commoditized symbols (in this case, a certain popular class music) differed from the flow of the symbology which was used to create and interpret the symbols in their original location (in this case, the aesthetic held by the music listeners in the popular barrios of Cartagena.) The case of champeta is particularly useful in discussion of globalization --- it is one of the few examples of the movement of a music crossing national and linguistic borders, from one third world region (Congo-Zaïre and the Caribbean) to another (Cartagena), in popular terms and without the interference of a "First World" multinational. At the same time, champeta, the Cartegenero popular class's version of the Congolese popular class's music, is now being inserted into the familiar periphery ? core "world beat" paradigm.

In my examination of the "flow" of the champeta musical complex, I found that in the completely grassroots flow from Africa to Cartagena, certain portions of the aesthetic (danceability, bass-heaviness) were held by both ends. Nonetheless, the popular Cartagenero aesthetic of personalization was used to bring "música africana" into that place's aesthetic system. Now that certain sectors are looking to sell champeta abroad and in the culturally distinct interior of Colombia, they have found that the personalized aesthetic must be suppressed in order to appeal to consumers outside the Cartagenero popular class. More importantly for our present discussion, attempts to use champeta to bring to light the long-invisible popular classes of Cartagena have clashed with the hegemonically-held notion of folklore. Champeta is an urban, partially electronic, and within its own small universe, highly commercialized genre of music. Despite the clearly sub-altern status of its practitioners and public, it does not jibe with the idea of folklore as rural, acoustic, and communal. This leads me to the conclusion that periphery ?center and periphery ? periphery flows are both conditioned by the culturally-dependent aesthetic needs of the receiving end of the flow, whether it is periphery or core. Nonetheless, while homegrown ingenuity was able to incorporate foreign music into Cartagena's aesthetic system, the capital controlled by the core is able to exert far more influence over musical consumption than that exerted by the periphery.

This was the main point of Ricardo Pereira's presentation: that despite optimistic visions of globalization of music as a tool for sub-altern empowerment and the collapse of core-periphery power relations, the "First World"-based multinationals control the capital that allows for the promotion (indeed, the production) of the cultural products of the periphery. He gave the humorous example of the hasty post-Buena Vista assembly of a group of Cuban octogenarians called "Los Jubilados" by a Spanish record company. The ways in which the images of periphery-based artists are controlled (by core-based multinationals) is always in keeping with the ways in which audiences in the metropoles wish to see the periphery. Buena Vista veteran Compay Segundo picking up a cigar, his guitar, and a glass of rum, told Ricardo and his wife Susana Baca, "Watch this," as the press immediately began snapping pictures. The timba, songo, and rap of the Cuba of today must, then, take a back seat to the First World image of Batista-era, rum-soaked Cuba in its musical "glory days".

Lastly, Raul Romero provided a summary of the issues dealt with here, opening up the floor to audience questions and comments. The gist of this section of the panel was essentially a rehashing of the same arguments mentioned above. The upshot was that while globalization's movement of commoditized cultural elements such as music (a phenomenon complicated by the presence of peripheral populations within the core) has dissolved the borders between core and periphery to a certain extent, the mass media through which these cultural elements glide ensure the control of these flows by the business interests of the core, and always in keeping with the aesthetics and ideologies of the (Northern) target audience. Even while Compay Segundo gently mocks this state of affairs, and the champeta-lovers of Cartagena initiate their own grassroots version of it, it would be inaccurate either to discard or to blindly accept the dissolution of the core-periphery duality. The task at hand now is that of categorizing ways in which the core-periphery or cultural imperialism model is (flow of finances generated by the exchange of commodified cultural elements; control of the image of the periphery disseminated in the core; control of such aspects of production in the periphery as financial access to instruments) and is not (lack of control or translatability of an aesthetic or symbology; access of artists to raw musical material; ability of some artists to assemble their own expression within the boundaries granted by the hegemonic aesthetic) applicable.