With detailed musicological analysis of six different genres of music, three dozen audio examples on an accompanying CD, and engaging interdisciplinary discussion of a variety of historical and contextual issues, the ambitious book La música folclórica dominicana is a tremendous achievement in the study of Dominican folkloric music. Literature on African-influenced music and religious practices in Dominican culture is severely lacking when compared to studies based in Cuba, Haiti, and Brazil and among U.S. black populations. Dominican coauthors Josué Santana and Edis Sánchez devote their 450-page text to a fascinating diversity of Afro-Dominican music and religious practices that are fundamental to the creole culture of this island nation. Traditions discussed—including los congos, los cocolos, salves, palos, gagá, and sarandunga—are unique expressions of the Dominican Republic's majority black population, and yet they also share important characteristics with other traditions in the African diaspora, thus making the book a good resource for comparative study.
Santana and Sánchez based their collaborative book on more than twenty years of research, dialogue, and musical performance related to [End Page 122] Dominican folklore. Both are accomplished percussionists and music educators, and as a team they combine academic perspectives on music with practical experience performing and teaching folkloric music from the Dominican Republic.
The first several chapters reflect the authors' deep intellectual engagement with their subject, as well as their personal commitments to stimulating a multidisciplinary discourse that intends to tie interests in musical aesthetics, religion, trance, African art, and the history of slavery together with Dominican folkloric music.
In the introduction and the first chapter, Santana and Sánchez frame their subject with reflections on how different concepts of time and space in European, African, and indigenous Caribbean cultures are fundamental to the character of traditions in the visual arts, music, and religion. These ideas lead to discussions of aesthetics based on linear, nonlinear, and circular modes of thought and perception, which in various ways underlie the creation and experience of music in Dominican folklore. The familiar dichotomy the authors set up between "linear" Western cultures and "nonlinear" African cultures seems unnecessarily reductionist, yet in its application to an analysis of Dominican music, it offers potential to discover the parallel layers of African and European influence. Still, while the isolated musical examples are helpful, the reader is left yearning for more and feeling that the concepts introduced remain underdeveloped.
In roughly sixty pages (chapters 2- 4), Santana and Sánchez provide a broad overview of the slave trade and the cultural and political histories of various African ethnic groups affected by it. Conventional Dominican discourses have disregarded the cultural and historical significance of Africa in Dominican folklore, so although this synthesis of existing research will be repetitive for some readers, in the Dominican context it is an important prelude to the presentation of the music. That they have culled details on the distinctive characteristics of Dominican slavery and race relations in the colonial period is also helpful for their broader readership, as these conditions may suggest reasons Afro-Dominican religion and traditional music are different in many respects from Cuban santería, Brazilian candomblé, and Haitian vodou. The authors don't attempt to make the connection between social history and music explicit, however, so readers will have to draw their own conclusions.
Santana and Sánchez also offer their own approach to the issues of syncretism and acculturation in the Americas. Drawing from a concept in cellular biology, they suggest methods of analyzing acculturation and religious syncretism that focus on the cultural transferences occurring between different social classes within specific domains of life and conditions of interaction. Noting an astounding variety of traditions in the Dominican Republic all emerging from similar African, European, and [End Page 123] indigenous roots, the authors wish to lend specificity to acculturation studies by accounting for different circumstances by region, historical period, and social...