Latin American Music Review 23.2 (2002) 223-229
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Debating the Past:
Music, Memory, and Identity in the Andes
Romero, Raul R. Debating the Past: Music, Memory, and Identity in the Andes. Oxford University Press, 2001, 171 pp. 18 halftones, 2 maps, 14 music examples, discographies, glossary. $35, cloth.
Inspired by the views on cultural mestizaje developed by the well-known writer and anthropologist José María Arguedas and based on a wealth of ethnographic and bibliographical research on the Mantaro Valley (Peru), Raúl R. Romero has written a book that is a must for those interested in the complexities of musical and identity creation in the Andes and elsewhere. In Debating the Past: Music, Memory, and Identity in the Andes, the people of the Mantaro Valley, whose musical production has dynamically mixed the old and the new, are actively engaged in the creation of a strong cultural pride which reworks purportedly homogenizing transnational and national trends. Here music emerges "embodied," that is, as part and parcel of human beings working in the fields, migrating, dancing, making aesthetic choices, engaging with the market, responding to state promotion, and in general becoming part of larger sociocultural processes.
The book moves beyond the general trend of localized studies as Romero not only looks at the musical repertoire of a whole region known as the Mantaro Valley but also analyzes how this repertoire has emerged in relation to migration of the Valley's people from this area to nearby mines and to Lima, the nation's capital. Within this large scope, the author touches upon many important aspects of cultural and musical creation, some of which are only outlined. Therefore he leaves open paths for future research projects of a more local character. I shall indicate a few of them along the way.
The first two chapters serve as background for the richer analysis that is found in the three following ones. The Mantaro Valley is presented as a [End Page 223] region with a unique history that has allowed its inhabitants to elaborate a strong and dynamic regional identity, which in creative ways mixes continuity and innovation. This identity, rooted in the idea of the rebellious Wanka ethnic group who never completely surrendered to the Incas, may be seen as a "counterhegemonic endeavor" vis-à-vis the hegemonic models generated from Lima. Building on Arguedas and other authors, Romero suggests that the strength of Wanka identity can only be understood by paying close attention to the process of cultural mestizaje that has taken place in the region and which Romero defines as "the gradual appropriation of modernity by the Andean Indian peasant" (28). Around the turn of the twentieth century this process was consolidated in the area and the boundaries that separated "Indians" from "mestizos" or "mistis" became blurred and this ethnic terminology ceased to have importance in social differentiation in the area.
While I agree that in order to establish social difference the basic dichotomy "Indian" or "mestizo" may be less significant for the people of the Mantaro Valley than for those of other areas of the Peruvian Andes, I believe that terms that have ethnic or racial connotations are still important among the inhabitants of the Valley. While I was doing research in the area and among migrants from the Valley in Lima in the 1980s, people often used terms such as chuto, cholito, and decente, all of them carrying important social class and ethnic or racial connotations. In general I think the book would have profited from a little closer look at categories of social differentiation, among them the ones with ethnic connotations, to avoid giving too much of an impression of the Mantaro Valley as a homogeneous society.
Romero argues that "[t]he mestizo in the valley became not a group that denied its Indian heritage based on the destruction of its agents but one that blended both legacies in an uncommon mechanism for the Peruvian Andes." While it is true that the predominant culture of the Mantaro Valley can be considered...