- The Sounds of Latinidad: Immigrants Making Music and Creating Culture in a Southern City by Samuel K. Byrd
Latino musical cultures in the United States are a relatively new area of study in ethnomusicology. Authors and scholars such as Madrid, Washburne, Sheehy, Pacini Hernandez, Ragland, Hutchinson, and Rivera have worked to establish Latino music studies as a serious area of inquiry with its own set of peculiarities that diverge from Latin American music studies as a whole. Studies on salsa, mariachi, regional Mexican music, Latin jazz, reggaeton, and other genres have explored issues of transnationalism, immigration, hybridity, cultural preservation, political disenfranchisement, interethnic collaborations, cosmopolitanism, and pan-latinidad, among others. Logically, the geographic focus of these ethnographies has tended to be on southwestern border cultures and cities with established histories of Latino cultural production, such New York, Miami, and Chicago. These sites provide an infinite wealth of diverse musical practices and continually [End Page 121] shifting social dynamics for ethnomusicologists to study for the next century and beyond.
However, demographic changes and new migration patterns in the past twenty years have also created emergent sites of Latino cultural production in unlikely places. The anthropologist Samuel K. Byrd identifies Charlotte, North Carolina, as one such site, and he sets out to study the emergence of an "urban, southern latinidad," conducting fieldwork in the city between 2008 and 2011. Byrd notes that Latinos in Charlotte account for just 10 percent of the city's population (approximately 95,000 people in 2015). However, in this relatively small population, he discovers a thriving Latin music scene that functions as a driving force in constructing Southern latinidad. Latinos of diverse national origins and social classes perform a broad spectrum of music, ranging from Latin rock to bachata to regional Mexican. Byrd finds that there are Latinos of various generations, but he prefers to focus mostly on the musical practices of recent immigrants and the issues they face.
Some of the themes explored in the book include the formation of musical communities, the negotiation of latinidad, the place of immigrants in a globalizing city, economic concerns of musicians, and the challenges of being an immigrant musician in an anti-immigrant time and place. Byrd draws on existing scholarship in cultural studies, ethnomusicology, anthropology, and sociology, with particular attention to theories of community, genre, and place making. Byrd's main arguments are that musical practice functions as a driving force in creating an emergent Southern latinidad and that Latin music is important to constructing Charlotte as a "globalizing" city, but that immigration policies and anti-immigrant ideologies impose limits on these projects. Audiences are rendered immobile by of fears of racial profiling and deportation, and musicians feel that they belong to the world and to their community, but not to a nation or to North Carolina.
The book includes nine chapters, with an introduction and conclusion. The first three chapters contextualize Charlotte as a musical community and trace the emergence of the Latin music scene (regional Mexican, música tropical, and Latin rock). The following four chapters discuss music as labor and leisure, ambivalent politics, and how immigration affects musicians and their audiences. Byrd finds that Latin bands in Charlotte abstain from political activism, yet the politics of everyday life informs their musical expressions and creates a "collective circle" between performers and audiences. While problematizing the notion of a dominant or unified latinidad, he highlights how immigration policies, enforcement, and discourses on the immigration "problem" affect musicians' and audiences' everyday experiences. In the final two chapters, he discusses music festivals as a site for marketing and producing latinidad. Byrd argues that [End Page 122] latinidad is contested and negotiated but also commodified for consumption, as indicated by interviews with musicians expressing concerns over the "corporatization" of latinidad.
The strength of Sounds of Latinidad is its nuanced exploration of how a new immigrant group in a city builds community through music, observing...