Popular Latin American Culture Essay Example
Popular Latin American Culture Essay Example

Popular Latin American Culture Essay Example

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  • Pages: 12 (3046 words)
  • Published: April 7, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
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At the dawn of the twenty-first century, and a generation after the emergence of the Chicano movimiento of the 1960s, popular culture and especially popular music functions as a vital marker of the changing shape of Chicano/ a identity in the 1990s. The music of Ozomatli reveals much about an important moment in the changing nature of Chicano culture while providing a window as well into the cultural and social dynamics of contemporary America as a whole.

The spatial context of Ozomatli's emergence and their links to past musical movements helps historicize these changes and clarifies their impact on Chicano/a identity in turn-of-the-century America. Most importantly, perhaps, Ozomatli's history of formation, the multiplicity of its sounds, and the role played by its music in enabling political activism and political coalitions all illuminate the relations between identities and politics a


t the present moment.

The band's success shows how some of the mechanisms of oppression like displacement, segregation, and commercial culture can be hijacked and used against the grain by grass roots activists, artists, and intellectuals. (Davis 1993a) One of the better known groups to emerge from the burgeoning underground music scene in America, Ozomatli brings together a number of eclectic instruments ranging from congas to claves, from bajo sextos to bass guitars, from turntables to tablas -- into an infectious blend of poly-rhythms and politically engaged bilingual lyrics.

The words and sounds of the group evoke a controlled chaos, mixing sonic styles and lyrical flows into a tight soundtrack of everyday life in the urban landscape of this metropolis on the edge of the millennium. Ozomatli also represents a form of political possibility that inheres in post-industrial culture, a

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possibility that is specific to the current historical moment of globalization.

The very conditions of oppression and disenfranchisement that characterize the new economy have enabled (and required) a particular counter-response, a response that is necessarily different from older forms of struggle, Ozomatli is both the product of -- and a means for countering -- the impact of globalization on low-wage workers and aggrieved racialized populations. Not just a band with a new and eclectic repertoire, Ozomatli is an institution that emerged out of collective political mobilization, a repository of social memory about past struggles for social change, and a site for imagining and enacting new social relations.

The members of Ozomatli first encountered each other as worker/activists organizing for trade union representation in collective bargaining negotiations with their employer. They did not win union recognition, but they did secure an important concession from city officials - use of an abandoned building for one year. They used that space as a non-profit cultural arts center, as a space to incubate a band rather than a radical party or a trade union. The musical group they formed serves as a floating site of resistance, a mechanism for calling an oppositional community into being through performance.

Ozomatli links together diverse parts of a spatially dispersed community through the activities of live performance, listening to recordings and radio, and following the band to marches, demonstrations, and direct action protests. As a cultural phenomenon, Ozomatli occupies a luminal space, not quite fitting within the categories of commercial culture and yet not quite conforming to reigning definitions of 'folk' culture. They dissolve the binary oppositions between folk and commercial culture, between social movement culture

and popular culture, between assimilation and ethnic nationalism.

The music they perform echoes the dislocations and displacements endemic to global cities in the transnational era, but it also announces the emergence of new forms of resistance that find counter-hegemonic possibilities within contradictions. In culture and in politics, Ozomatli proceeds through immanent critiques and creative re-workings of already existing social relations rather than through transcendent teleology’s aimed at the establishment of utopian sites and subjects.

Rather than a politics of 'either/or' that asks people to choose between culture and politics, between class and race, or between distinct national identities, Ozomatli embraces a politics of 'both/and' that encourages dynamic, fluid, and flexible stances and identity categories. (Anaya 1997) Discussion As politically threatening as Hispanic voters would like to believe they are, research shows dissonance within the group. For example, Oboler (1992) discusses how different U. S. Latinos feel about the designation Hispanic.

In her interviews, she found working-class respondents wavering about the nature of American society but keenly aware of the negative social and racial connotations of the Hispanic label. She also found that middle-class respondents expected their class assets to be the basis for their integration and did not really identify with other Hispanics. These divisions illuminate the diversity within the presumed group, a fact rarely mentioned in the media.

Oboler offers insights from people who probably shared very little with the Hispanic leaders who agreed to the application of the term in the early 1980s. Her work is especially useful when studying media representations because she alludes to the dynamics of social class that do not appear in the media world. What does appear and has moved into the imagined

worlds of television programs is the perceived unity of people with apparent ties to Spanish-speaking Countries. Latina and Latino characters are contextualized by referencing some aspect of the symbolic Hispanic culture that has been preserved.

For example, playing salsa music in the background and having a preference for tacos are ways to give credence to representing Hispanics, even if tacos represent Mexican food and salsa is associated with places such as Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Representations of any other aspect of the culture have been reduced to symbols of difference from the American mainstream. Spanish language, the link to all Hispanics, is one clear way for stressing differences between ethnic groups, although as a foreign language, Spanish rarely appears as part of our media culture.

The few phrases that are known such as "hasta la vista, baby" and, more recently, "yo quiero "Have become common due to aggressive commercial marketing and not due to an increased affection toward the Latino population. The lack of Latino representation on television is but one example of a site where Latinos have not been embraced. (Anonymous 1997) By dissecting the created image, we can begin to see that it was constructed by each media system based on their respective conceptions of the audience. The ELM could not grasp who Selena was and what she represented. They had a story on a shooting that is tragic but familiar.

However, this story could not be dismissed as barrio gunfire because it involved a well-known victim of a certain segment of the population. Thus, their story on something popular yet unfamiliar was emphasized on the aspect that would bring Selena closer to the

middle: her crossover potential because she was getting ready to sing in English, her native language. We will never know if, in fact, she would have crossed the language border successfully. The SLM, which is founded on the idea of "Hispanicness," also needed to create bland generalizations for its audience.

Even if Selena's Spanish was far from fluent, the fact that she knew Spanish served as a symbol of the people she represented and her audiences for the Anglo media makers. For the SLM system, it has been important to capitalize on language as the least common denominator. This fact has created the audience as "panethnic" while dismissing differences and histories of diverse Latino groups. Univision has played a major role in validating the U. S. government's conception of Hispanic by actively working to promote the pan ethnic image (Rodriguez 1996). By doing so, they continue to make one product for all of the Spanish-speaking countries.

Culture, language, and commercial culture are systems made up of symbols that are related to a particular social order. The symbols have been shaped and throughout time have undergone historical transformations Through a two-decade career that has produced a dozen critically acclaimed albums and has taken her from Brazil's largest city to the jazz mecca of the world, pianist Eliane Elias has never strayed far from the inspiration of her earliest and most profound influences, the sultry bossa nova rhythms and haunting melodies of her homeland and the improvisational panache and surging energy of modern jazz.

Now, she's added a decidedly pan-American flavor to her repertoire, experimenting with styles from throughout the hemisphere on her recent album, The Three Americas. (Miyoshi 1993)

In conceiving the recording, Elias, now a resident of New York City sought to achieve an organic blend of music from North, South, and Central America. "I got into rhythms I hadn't really explored before," she admits. "For instance, this is the first time I've played a tango on one of my albums, although I had been very exposed to tangos and Argentine music because of extensive touring there when I lived in Brazil.

The song "Chorango," which started as a Brazilian chorinho before evolving into a tango, is the first tango I've composed, and it was really fun. " The pianist's fun was just beginning as she started to explore the stylistic riches of Brazil's Spanish-speaking neighbors. "There's no doubt that there is a tendency for musicians in Brazil to stay within the Brazilian culture," she reflects, "because there are so many different rhythms and such a variety of styles.

Indeed, the somewhat aloof attitude many Brazilians maintain about their culture is given credence by a surplus of world-class composers, musicians, painters, and writers. The somewhat haughty disposition of Brazilians is further enhanced by the singularity in the Americas of their Portuguese tongue, the sheer size of their nation, and the physical isolation of its major population centers from neighboring countries. "Yes, living in Brazil, it's easy to have a closed mind about most things that are outside of the country. Davis 1993b) So, The Three Americas was a refreshing change of pace for the pianist and composer. "After I wrote the first several tunes," she recalls, "I realized that the music was traveling within cultures from throughout the Americas.

But whenever I work in these other

styles," she adds, "I do it in a very careful way. My way of performing works based on styles other than jazz or Brazilian is to not reproduce the authenticity of those rhythms, but to create something new that represents and unites those styles. Born in 1960 in Sao Paulo, Elias grew up shortly after bossa nova had become firmly entrenched as a new national music idiom. At home, her mother, a classical pianist with a strong interest in North American jazz pianists of the day, helped her budding keyboard prodigy cultivate an interest in both the European classical tradition and the jazz stylings of such influential artists as Erroll Garner and Nat "King" Cole. By age twelve, the youngster was transcribing the technically intricate solos of such keyboard legends as Bud Powell and Art Tatum.

Just three years later, she was teaching master classes at Sao Paulo's prestigious Free Center of Music Apprenticeship, where she studied for six years with Amilton Godoy, leader of Brazil's renowned bossa nova group, the Zimbo Trio. (Davis 1987) Prophetically, her first professional engagement at the age of seventeen was as pianist in the bossa nova group of singer/lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, the renowned Brazilian poet, playwright, diplomat, and bon vivant who was one of bossa icon Antonio Carlos Jobim's most important early collaborators.

Throughout her career, Elias has been recognized as one of the late composer's most eloquent interpreters. The pianist's 1990 release Plays Jobim featured her distinctive keyboard renditions of the master songwriter's art while her latest recording, 1998's Sings Jobim, brings the talented Paulista's vocal skills to the fore. Seven tracks on the album, including such genre-defining works

as "Amor em Paz," "Ela e Carioca" and "Garota de Ipanema," are fruits of the Jobim/de Moraes partnership.

"His compositions are very familiar to me," she reflects. I didn't have to discover them. My musical vocabulary is well versed in Jobim, because that's what I grew up with. " (Doss 19990 Indeed, by the time Elias was born, Jobim was on the verge of achieving a global stature that had never been achieved by a Brazilian in any walk of life. His passport to world fame was his uniqueness as a composer and his critical role in defining bossa nova as a new musical expression, a samba-rooted rhythmic hybrid that invited a higher level of compositional sophistication and cool jazz-inspired interpretations.

The new beat and early Jobim classics like "One Note Samba," "Desafinado" and "A Felicidade"-all written before Elias was born and included on Sings Jobimcreated a revolution in popular music of such magnitude that bossa nova achieved worldwide acceptance virtually overnight. "I studied the piano; my career has been based on my piano playing and my writing," Elias acknowledges. "So, I would never say, `Oh, I'm a singer,' because I do not have the kind of vocal training or range of all the great singers out there.

However, at the same time, I am aware that being a musician, a musician's thinking is a little bit different, and that my way of interpreting a tune vocally is very similar to the way I would do it on the piano. " Singing a full program of Jobim's songs presented a variety of unique challenges. Although many of the songs are wellknown standards, as recognizable in Tokyo and Paris

as Rio, others had been previously recorded only a few times because their range made them imposing for even the most accomplished vocalists.

Songs like "Modinha," "Falando de Amor," and "Poise e" were, in Elias's humble opinion, "very difficult to sing. That's one of the reasons Jobim did recordings with a female vocal group, because of the wide range. He would do a part, and they would do their part. It's quite a wide range to reach, but I still went for it! " (Davis 1987) Analysis Moreover, while banda may seem to have little in common with hip hop, it shares important histories with rap music in America. Banda's cultivation has been developed in the same ethnic retail and distribution networks within the local economy of working-class America.

Like the early dissemination of rap music in the mid-1980s, the marketing of banda music was initially a grassroots strategy that took advantage of specific consumption spaces of the city's working-class lanscape. Quinones argues that for the initial artists of banda: Cracking the established L. A. record distribution system was nearly impossible, so the racks (or raquitas) at car washes, bakeries, butcher shops and above all, swap meets became the primary outlets. For most Angelenos, the dozens of swap meets dotting the Southland are places to unload unwanted junk -- or pick up someone else's.

But for many Mexican immigrants, who don't understand banking or have no hope for a business loan, swap meets are a shot at capital formation. They get the product directly to the public, without having to rely on advertising, big distributors or credit lines. The mix tapes of local DJs and aspiring producers like

Dr. Dre and the initial recordings of local rap pioneers like N. W. A. , King T, Ice T, and Mixmaster Spade, all from the working-class neighborhoods of South Central and southeast America, first sold their music in swap meets as well. (Dunn 1996)

Another significant similarity with hip hop is the development of narco-corridos within the banda style. Like the sub-genre of gangsta rap that America, with groups like N. W. A. and Cypress Hill, made internationally famous, narco-corridos are Spanish tales of the Mexican drug world that carry themes of violence, the treachery of police on both sides of the border, and the fearless heroism of drug smugglers. This type of music was originally produced by Chalino Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant from Sinaloa who settled in Paramount and played in bars and nightclubs throughout the southeast.

Quinones (1998) describes Chalino as 'the most influential music figure to emerge in America in decades'. After selling thousands of recordings of his music about the drug life in his home state of Sinaloa, an area notorious for drug cultivation and smuggling run by a local Mexican drug cartel, Chalino was murdered upon his return there in 1992 by unknown assailants. He was shot after his performance in front of a packed audience of 2,000 in the capital city of Culiacan, where Chalino's tales about drug running may have been considered too revealing.

Chalino's music recalls the rural Mexican experience in its own peculiar slang and accent. His music, as well as his growing legend, struck a nerve among the recent Mexican immigrant population of America, a significant number of whom came from similar rural backgrounds, and created an industry

for the recording of corridos about Mexican immigrant's former lives in rural Mexico. According to Angel Parra, the music engineer who recorded several of Chalino's albums, 'Without exaggeration, 50 percent of the [Mexican] music that's recorded in L. A. is based on his legacy'.

Several of the groups who perform the music Chalino inspired are young Chicanos who had grown up listening to rap music in the working-class spaces of the Greater Eastside. Indeed, some of the marketing of the music directly borrows from the strategies of gangsta rap. Lupe Rivera, who released an album called Corridos de Fregadera y Media (Bitch and a Half Corridos), draws the connection between the imagery of narco-corridos and gangsta rap, 'When Easy-E was coming out, he'd have a gun. I'd say, "Damn, I'm gonna buy it". That's the stuff I liked.

Plus, when you see a cassette that says "parental guidance", you want to get it'. Yet, it is also the rural roots of the music and the celebration of Mexican culture, albeit an outlaw culture, that has registered with both Chicanos and Mexican immigrants of working-class America. Yet banda music is only a part of the musical environment that is remaking Chicano culture. Banda is often played alongside hip hop, merengue, cumbias and house music at dances and private parties among the Mexican working class. Ozomatli's expression and production of Chicano cultural identity is rooted in these diverse traditions. (Sklair 1999)

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