My hat goes off to Mark Brill for his Herculean effort in writing Music of Latin America and the Caribbean. The amount of detail and the historical and cultural swath it covers are impressive. As Brenda Romero rightly points out in her foreword, the strengths of this undergraduate college text include "its candid reporting of historical and political processes," "the author's excellent selection from among a field of Latin American and Caribbean music," and "emphasizing processes of musical development in the Americas" that "helps students to grasp the big picture and gain larger understanding that they can apply to their specific research projects" (xi). Brill's writing is clear, engaging, and appropriate for undergraduates as well as for more advanced students. For these reasons alone, I will keep this book on my library shelf for easy access.
The opening twenty-seven-page chapter, "Music of Latin America and the Caribbean: An Overview," adroitly sweeps across more than five centuries and the entire region. Brill strategically elected to include language groups and cultures beyond the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking regions. A strength of this approach is that it enables the author to more thoroughly paint a picture of the overarching, confluent, and contrasting historical, social, and political contexts and processes that have shaped the cultures of the region. The book's remaining eight chapters slice the subject matter by art music, nation-state, language, and cultural affinities: "The Classical Tradition," "Mexico," "The Spanish-Speaking Caribbean," "The English- and French-Speaking Caribbean," "Brazil," "Colombia and Venezuela," "The Andean Region," and "The Southern Cone Region." Overall, this approach, following the terrain of cultural and musical stylistic currents within and across national borders, works well for an introductory text. The book's geographical, top-level view offers convenient entrée from which to zoom in to close-ups of styles, genres, trends, and other specific topics.
All chapters except the first include black-and-white images, song texts with English translation, references to the tracks on the accompanying compact disc, and recommendations for further listening. In this fashion, the forty-three tracks on the two compact discs that accompany the book are augmented by a treasure trove of references to recordings for further listening, thus elaborating the text's narrative. Given that many of these recordings are not readily available for purchase, I assume that they are likely to be found on the Internet, for example, YouTube.
A few shortcomings dampened my unreserved enthusiasm for the book. Any attempt by a single author to cover dozens of diverse musical [End Page 114] worlds spread across multinational regions, countries, cultures, styles, and genres is a major challenge, to say the least. When the narrative gets into the weeds of detail, it occasionally falls short. Non-emic terms for musical forms, such as "Mexican norteños" (2) instead of polca, canción-polca, cumbia, or other genre of music played in the style of Mexican música norteña, and jarocho (85) used to mean a son from the jarocho musical style, strike me as uncomfortable fits of terminology. A few general statements seem outdated. Saying that scholars have ignored Afro-Mexican music (68) ignores the past three decades of exploding scholarly interest in Mexican music and Mexican culture of African descent. To say that "traditional forms of currulao are in danger of disappearing" (275) omits mention of the recent decade of striking revivification of traditional currulao, both in Colombia's Pacific coast and in the capital city of Bogotá. Incorrect or marginally correct details occasionally appear. For example, it is misleading to say that it is typical for two harps to play together in the Mexican son jarocho tradition (85)—it is possible, but not normative—and the corresponding musical track ("La bamba," 86) is mislabeled as having two harps playing, though it has only one. The Guty Cárdenas song "Nunca" was not the "first important Mexican bolero" (84); it is not a bolero. The Puerto Rican plenero Marcial Reyes was not known as a...