I have never been able to understand Latin American ethnomusicology as a discipline with fixed boundaries. Studying under [End Page 256] the late Gerard Béhague, a scholar with vast knowledge of multiple ethnomusicologies, expanded my views in ways that were both overwhelming and inspiring. In their collection A Latin American Music Reader: Views from the South, Javier León—a fellow student of Béhague’s—and co-editor Helena Simonett recognize the multiplicity of approaches, styles, and canons that make up the field, and the sheer diversity of Latin American music and the studies of and approaches to it. Rather than try to encompass everything in detail, the editors identify general themes in the development of modern nationhood in Latin America that inform the performance, collection, research, distribution, and reception of music. The essays that appear in this volume were written within the last twenty-five years and demonstrate the constant evolution of this broad and rich discipline.
The book comprises an exhaustive introduction—which stands alone as a superb resource—and three parts. In the introduction, Simonett and the late Michael Marcuzzi—to whom this volume is dedicated—provide a dramatis personæ of sorts, describing the central musicologists, folklorists, composers, anthropologists, and activists who shaped the study of Latin American music over the last one hundred years. They strategically chose their starting point at the turn of the century, when young Latin American nations and would-be nations struggled with the very concept of nationhood in the wake of and in anticipation of conflicts. The authors succinctly couch the work of these scholars in historical terms, summarizing political and cultural movements that influenced the development of ethnomusicology and related studies in Latin America. Simonett and Marcuzzi work chronologically and geographically, carefully describing scholarly trends as they emerged in distinctly different circumstances throughout the region.
For each of the three major sections of the book, Javier León provides summaries that reveal the editors’ process of curation. The essay writers come from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and areas of expertise, including historiography, organology, ethnography, and criticism, among others. The editors note that scholars of Latin American studies in Canada and Europe have also contributed to the field. The result is a volume that exposes an awareness of circulation, scholarly discourse, and important trends that thread its contents together with precision.
The first section, “Academic Lineages, Disciplinary Canons, and Historiographies,” revolving around the canons of Latin American musicology, seamlessly transitions from Simonett and Marcuzzi’s introduction. This section includes sweeping essays on research on music in South America and the challenge of studying popular (commercial) music in that region. The editors include essays that draw from diverse examples, including the studies of traditional and vernacular music, the cultural construction of history through a very precise organology, and historical perspectives on nationalism in nineteenth-century music. The editors purposefully included Carolina Santamaría-Delgado’s meticulous and thoughtful analysis of coloniality in Latin American musical studies. She explores the inequities that are frequently intrinsic in ethno/musicological research, providing a critical frame to consider the production of knowledge from within and from without the region. The rhythm, as it were, of these essays moves smoothly, transitioning evenly both chronologically and thematically.
The second part, “Popular Music, Style, and the Social Construction of Genre,” digs into popular music and the challenges of genres as they develop and morph in distinct contexts. Too frequently, pop-cultural understandings of Latin American genres stand in for musical complexities informed by performers, recordings, circulation, reception, history, and analyses. Here, the editors curate a series of essays that explore genres as defined (and defied) through recordings (as in Rubén López-Cano’s exploration of mambo) to styles defined by a rhythmic through line (as in Carlos Sandroni’s brilliant work on early samba). León and Simonett tactically organize this section to...