- 1 . For a discussion on the problems that heterogeneous social formations poses for analysis see Mary (...)
- 2 . The issues considered in this article are further discussed in my Master’s theses : A Cor e o Som (...)
1This essay deals with the question of defining national identities in « racially » heterogeneous societies, and the role of cultural discourses within that process1. The analysis that I develop here is part of an on-going research that began with a basic concern: the lack of appropriate and operational concepts to define the dynamics of cultural exchanges in the context of Latin America and the Caribbean2. I examine, particularly, the idea of mestizaje that has had a fundamental relevance in cultural debates in the region, but which I believe is a quite limited term for our contemporary debates. Even though recent social analysis on the Hispanic Caribbean and Brazilian societies has questioned the idea of a « racial democracy » that was based on an interpretation of miscegenation as a harmonic historical process, in the cultural sphere the notion of mestizaje is still paradigmatic. Moreover, I believe that the idea of mestizaje underlines other concepts of more contemporary use, like syncretism, transculturation (introduced by Cuban Fernando Ortiz in 1940), hybrid cultures (García Canclini, 1992) and the French word creolization. This essay approaches the theoretical and ideological implications of using the notion of mestizaje in studying cultural dynamics in Latin America.
2I will look at this general question concerning discourses on mestizaje particularly as it arises from debates around music in the Hispanic Caribbean and Brazil in the thirties and forties. This research is based on the analysis of writings about music by intellectuals such as Mário de Andrade (Brazil), Alejo Carpentier and Fernando Ortiz (Cuba), Tomás Blanco (Puerto Rico), Enrique de Marchena and Pedro Henriquez Ureña (Dominican Republic), among others. It is worth noting that these were intellectuals of great relevance, well known at a national and continental level for their activity in various spheres such as literary and artistic circles, social and political activity. The aim of this study is to analyze the connections between defining a characteristic « color » for the ethnic formation of the nation, and the search of an expression of sounds for that « color ». Therefore, it is an attempt to explore the relationships between perspectives on nationality and debates on culture, particularly on music.
3In 1922, when Alejo Carpentier sent from Paris an article titled « La consagración de nuestros ritmos », in a paraphrase of Stravisnky’s composition Le Sacre du Printemps (1913), he was envisioning a moment of transformation in the character of dialogues between the Occidental world and the so called « primitives » cultures. Carpentier’s article describing the reception in Paris of Cuban popular music, evidenced the emergence of a new order of cultural internationalization where the new world was not only a source of inspiration for European artists, but a producer of modern artistic expressions. Those were the times when Cuban son and rhumba, and of Brazilian samba, were spreading quickly, with interpreters such as Moisés Simons and Rita Montaner from Cuba or Pixinguinha and Carmen Miranda, from Brazil, among others. In the domain of art music Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and Cubans Amadeo Roldán and Alejandro García Caturla gained international attention for their combination of modern musical languages and indigenous traditions.
- 3 . By « popular culture » here I mean indigenous traditions, or what would be call nowadays « folklo (...)
- 4 . A crutial moment for Brazilian Modernismo was the celebration in 1922 of the Semana de Arte Moder (...)
4Latin-American avant-garde movements from the twenties reveal a new interest (or at least a curiosity) in popular culture3. This attention on the popular was related to the search of a national identity, in the context of the exacerbated nationalism that followed the end of the First World War. These movements (and I refer here particularly to Brazilian Modernismo, and Cuban Minorismo4, but we could also say this about others) synthesized two tendencies that were circulating in the European cultural world: 1) the interest in cultures considered primitive; and 2) the nationalization of the artistic expression. The combination of these trends represented a challenge to the eurocentrism of Latin American elites of the first decades of the century, the so-called « belle époque ». Alejo Carpentier described this process as follows:
- 5 . Carpentier (1988, p. 244). All the translations and emphasis are mine. However for some of the ci (...)
« With the presence of rythms, dances, rites, plastic elements, traditions, that were protracted during a long time because of absurd prejudices, a field for immediate action was opened. It offered the possibility of fighting for things that were much more interesting than an atonal score or a cubist painting […] The eyes and the ears were opened up to the living and the neighboring […] The possibility of expressing the criollo with new values was imposed in the minds […] Folkloric values were exalted. All of a sudden the black man was the center of every sight »5.
- 6 . See the use of this term by González Echevarría (1990). In Tzvetan Todorov (1991), this idea is i (...)
- 7 . I refer to the works of Nina Rodrígues, Sílvio Romero and Euclides da Cunha in Brazil, of José Ra (...)
5In this process of approaching the popular it is possible to examine the construction of an imaginary of what we might call the Other within6 – those groups inside the nation that are identified as different; in other words, blacks, mulattos, Amerindians, etc... Latin American intellectuals, engaged in the development of an indigenous art, undertook the project of discovering their own traditions as if they made part of a new and unknown world, the realm of that Other Within. Even though they valued the cultural expressions of those Others in new ways, breaking with the ethnological tradition of the turn of the century7, their discourse inherited a concern with progress. In the end, as Renato Ortiz poses, « How can one imagine a modern nation in countries composed by indians and blacks? […] How to forge a national identity in the tropics? » (Ortíz, R. 1993, p. 25).
- 8 . Peter Hulme defines colonial discourse as « an ensemble of linguistically-based practices unified (...)
6The question of difference inside a society has a fundamental role in the process of defining an image of the nation in the colonial and post-colonial world. Thus, I believe it is possible to address the analysis of intellectual discourses in the Hispanic Caribbean and Brazil as colonial discourses8. Approaching that Other Within meant for Latin-American intellectuals an effort of cognition, as the conquest of America had been for the Europeans. They created through discourse a repertory of metaphors to describe that « new emergent world ». Through the use of metaphors, as Homi Bhabha suggests, colonial discourse reveals its ambivalent character. Bhabha calls for the analysis of stereotypical discourse as an ambivalent way of knowledge, « a complex articulation of the tropes of fetishism – metaphor and metonym » – (Bhabha, 1994, p. 77). I will examine next the use of metaphors around music to represent a national identity.
- 9 . See, above all, the writings of Gilberto Freyre in Brazil, of Fernando Ortiz in Cuba and of Tomás (...)
7In the decade of the thirties, one can identify a trend to value the process of mestizaje in the Hispanic Caribbean and Brazil; process linked to the defense of a possible civilization in the tropics9. A positive evaluation of racial tolerance in these regions gained strength when contrasted with the reality of the United States or to experiences from the past, like the Haitian revolution. As a product made out of different elements through new processes of syntheses, Caribbean and Brazilian popular music was considered a mirror and at the same time a herald of the conformation of new mixed « races ». As a mirror it expressed the idea that the process of « racial » integration was still unfinished; and as a herald, it proved its capacity to synthesize differences. Hence, this discourses about music reveal the ambivalence of many Caribbean and Brazilian intellectuals in relation to the « racial » question. For the Brazilian case, Renato Ortiz observes: « When the mestizo is defined as the idiosyncratic trait of national identity, Brazilians, I mean, the intellectual elite, ended up conferring themselves a contradictory image. The ideal of mestizaje had some evident advantages. It allowed them to affirm their own specificity in relationship to the world. But the intellectual paradigm that was used, fundamented on the existence of unequal races, inevitably attributed a negative value to crossings between them. The Brazilians were what they did not like to be » (Ortíz R., 1993, p. 25).
- 10 . Pedreira (1934, pp. 206, 36, 22) : [« Se ha dicho muchas veces que nuestra danza es un disparate (...)
- 11 . Luis Padilla D’Onis, « El folklorismo antillano tal y como debe interpretarse, es algo común a to (...)
8Writings about music express, as I have said, a concern with the process of « racial » integration. Referring to the popular composer Marcelo Tupinambá in an article published in 1924, Brazilian writer Mário de Andrade declares that Tupinamba’s music « contains the uncertain heterogeneity of our race », « consecrates the undecided national soul », expresses the « time of ethnic foundation that we go through », and makes reference to the « suffocated and ephemeral character of our growing race » (Andrade, 1963, pp. 115-120). Likewise, in his well-known book Insularismo, from 1934, Puerto Rican Antonio S. Pedreira affirms: « It has been said that our danza is a musical nonsense […] but in that ‘nonsense’ I see the most visible affirmation of what we are. […] We are a racially mixed people, made out of whites, blacks and mestizos. From this fusion comes our confusion »10. Another example of this idea of music as a mirror of a still undefined ‘race’, appears in an article published in 1931 by the Dominican newspaper Listín Diario, where the author expresses: « We, Antilleans, constitute a racial conglomerate without ethnic unity: a mixture of races and pigments diluted without any order or arrangement. And our music and our folklore are exactly like us11 ».
- 12 . Ortíz F., (1965, p. 172) : [« Allí en la música se consuma ese mestizaje único que por las costum (...)
- 13 . Blanco (1953, p. 48-49) : [« La plena supera la burundanga ambiente. Sin renegar del medio selecc (...)
9On the other hand, we found texts in which popular music embodied the ideal of synthesis, where differences disappear in a harmonic construction of a new essence. According to Cuban Fernando Ortiz, for example, « music accomplishes that unique mestizaje that because of social conventions is still reproved by the bodies »12. Writing about plena, the genre that he considered more representative of the Puerto Rican soul, Tomás Blanco claims in 1934: « Our plena overcomes the burundanga [local word for confusion] of the environment. Without denying its surroundings, it chooses, doses and coordinates its materials. From heterogeneity it creates a homogeneity that is typical. It creates harmony between the most different racial influences »13. As these examples demonstrate, in facing the dilemma of national integration, Brazilian and Caribbean intellectuals have turned their attention to the dynamics of culture. Thus, we can say that music and culture have had a central role in the process of imagining a national unity.
10Another salient aspect in these writings about popular music is the reference to elements of the tropical climate – the sun, the rain, the sea, warm weather – operating in discourse a symbolic « naturalization » of mestizaje. We see an exaltation of fecundity, embodied in the figures of woman and land, seen as the locus for the fusion of the multiple elements that would create a nationalcolor. The soil of the new continent was seen as the ideal space for a racial and cultural synthesis. As we see in the following description of the plena, by Puerto Rican writer Tomás Blanco, music served as an example of a natural process of syntheses:
- 14 . Blanco (op. cit, p. 50) : [« La plena, es flor silvestre con hondas raigambres en el subsuelo. Re (...)
« The plena is a wild flower with deep roots in the soil. It is the result of a profound evolutionary process – crossing of pollen, mixture of germs, transmutation of secretions – it appears as a spontaneous mutation »14.
- 15 . Puerto Rico Ilustrado, June 4, 1938, p. 21.
11A common symbol in the repertory of metaphors of the nation contained in these writings about music is the mulatta. A link was made between the music, the soil and the woman, as we see in an article called « La Rumba », where Puerto Rican José S. Alegría declares: « there are contortions in the legs of a mulatta, in the notes of the bongo and in the trunks of a palm tree15 ». Likewise, in Tomás Blanco’s description of plena , that we have already quoted, the author creates an image of a woman completely in tune with the tropical climate.
- 16 . Blanco (op. cit., p. 52) : [« Mulatica de tez dorada como ron añejo ; de pelo lacio y ojos pícaro (...)
« Mulatrisse of golden skin like the rum, of strait hair and vivid eyes, […] agility in its step, as a small beast from the jungle. Serpentine like and full of vitality, has the smell of the soil and the taste of shellfish »16.
12As it is represented here, the mulatta is an ambivalent image; in the borderline between an uncivilized Other and an attractive indigenous element. It expresses the desire of ‘domesticating’ the Other. Like American nature, women are characterized metaphorically as a virgin territory, open to be discovered and fecundated. According to Homi K. Bhabha, « The construction of the colonial subject in discourse, and the exercise of colonial power through discourse, demands an articulation of forms of difference – racial and sexual » (1994, p. 67). A special instance to examine this connection in the Hispanic Caribbean and Brazil is the imaginary around mestizaje. As we have seen through these examples, the idea of mestizaje strengthens the link between nation and nature. It also created an illusion of communion, through the representation of an original inter-racial marriage. Describing music as a metaphor of the nation, these texts express the idea of a fraternal community, of an extended family, of the creation of a new and homogeneous « race ».
13The rise of a music industry, with the development of recordings and radio broadcasting techniques, took place in the context of an urban explosion, where the emergent masses, seen as an ambiguous social subject, became a fundamental concern for intellectuals. Writings about this new « commercial » music bring a whole set of new questions to the issues that we have been discussing here. As I will try to demonstrate, most of these writings reveal a negative vision of mestizaje. In Latin America, debates on urban popular music not only present some of the concerns that we can identify in the European cultural world – like the commercialization of Art, in Theodor Adorno, or the descharacterization of folklore in Béla Bartók – but also manifest a great uneasiness with the racial heterogeneity of the population and the dilemma of national integration. They reveal, as well, concerns with mechanical reproduction of music, the phenomena of vogue, the immorality of lyrics and dance, and the influence of foreign genres. Our analysis aims to point out the ways in which these writings, speaking about music, created images of the Other.
- 17 . Expressions from articles published in the newspapers Listín Diario (Dominican Republic) and El M (...)
14A first element that strikes our attention in these debates is the concern with morality and with the transformations in the public and private spheres, particularly the growing participation of women in public life. Criticism over these commercial musical genres did not place its emphasis in the rejection of certain aesthetic qualities, but in music’s appeal to sexuality. A link was made between music and sin, as it becomes evident in phrases like: « infernal screams » « epileptic orgy of deafening noises », « adulterated phrases », « bastard effects », « lyrics of a vulgar nudity », « rhythms dedicated to the omnipresent sex », etc17.An analysis of these debates around the immorality of music, make me believe that they convey an aversion to the idea of racial mixture.
15It should be noted that musical genres in vogue since the 1920 – jazz, fox-trot, tango, rhumba, guaracha, son, bolero, samba, plena, merengue, begine – were all influenced by African elements. This visible fact conveys a history of biological miscegenation. In an evolutionist conception of culture in which mestizaje was seen as a degenerative process, this visibility of the Other was a disturbing fact. On the other hand, characterized as lascivious, this music was also seen as an element that promoted the continuity of a process of miscegenation. We can observe, for example, the frequent use of adjectives like « bastard », « adultered », « impure progeny », referring to the music. As I have suggested before, we can read these metaphors as containing negative visions of mestizaje. Descriptions of these new dances emphasize a link between blacks, sexual freedom and barbarity, as we see in an article published in 1928 by the Dominican journal Listín Diario:
- 18 . « Notas de arte. El Folk-lore musical », Listín Diario, August 4, 1928, p. 11 : [« Los americanos (...)
« North Americans have the African melodies, that we found in one-steps, fox-trots, charlestons, black-bottons, and other extravagant dance genres, some kind of a crowd of dissonances invented to torture the ear and to transforme the couple of dancers in apair of monkeys »18.
- 19 . See, for example, Benítez Rojo (1989).
16The tension between unity and diversity is of fundamental importance to understand the Caribbean region, as many social studies have suggested19. In this context, the Hispanic Antilles, (Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico), share processes of social and cultural formation with significant parallels. However, the texts we have examined here about commercial popular music in the 30 and 40 draw a picture of the Antillean neighbors that represented an image of the Other. By opposing this Other, a definition of national identity was intended. This definition of the Antillean Other seems to be related to the racial question. Most writings reveal racist visions that underline national discourses in the Caribbean.
17Afro-Cuban genres dominated the new market of commercial music in the Caribbean from the twenties to the forties, and spread internationally with great success. However, in the intellectual circles of neighboring islands this music was object of debate and criticism because of the visible influence of African elements and its rapid dissemination and popularity, seen as a threat to indigenous traditions. Music traditions in Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico had great similarities, and the kind of rejection of Cuban genres that we find in numerous writings is an interesting element for analysis. The rejection of Cuban music by the intellectual circles of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico seems to have been related to a desire to whiten the image of the nation. It evidences the difficulty to recognizing the African heritage, an important part of their own traditions. By criticizing Cuban genres they strived to demonstrate that music of African influence was not « authentic », but that it was foreign, imported.
- 20 . Ernesto Arjona, « Juan Morel Campos : Biografía », Ponce, Puerto Rico : Tipografía Morel Campos, (...)
« It is impossible not to see the superiority of the Puerto Rican danza over the Cuban danzón and other Afro-Caribbean genres of popular music. The last decade has seen an artistic degeneration of the masses, who seem to have preference for these Negroid musical compositions; with the pretext of an impure traditional flavor, they attempt to hide and give prestige to a pure African scream »20.
- 21 . José Enrique Pedreira, « Buena y mala música », El Mundo, January 13, 1946, p. 20 : [« En época m (...)
18A long time ago, we could hear refined Cuban danzones, but then a different type started to circulate, like the one called « El Volumen de Carlota » and others of that kind. Afterwards came the Rhumba with vulgar lyrics that degenerated in the Conga, which denotes The Congo, an African region characterized by lack of civism and moral and intellectual development, savagery,no civilization, sensualismand nudity21.
19In the Dominican Republic we observe that the anti-Haitian discourse that gained strength during Trujillo’s dictatorship was also related to an uneasiness in accepting their own African heritage. An article that appeared in 1932 criticizing some carnival traditions, exemplifies this kind of argument that opposed the Dominican identity to the Haitian or Cuban Other.
- 22 . « Las mascaradas que no deben ser permitidas », Listín Diario, March 11, 1932, p. 7 : [« Entre no (...)
« Barbarism, scandalous liturgies, savage practices that in other places demanded sanitary campaigns, are unknown in our country. Here, sorcery, immolation of victims, black rituals, that were imported from Africa, are non existent. By fortune, in Santo Domingo, these things never created roots. We are free of these morbose and unsane influences »22.
- 23 . It is worth noting that these debates provoked a series of censorship policies against musical pr (...)
20With these examples I have tried to show the ways in which debates around commercial popular music define a repertory of Others whose presence was difficult for the construction of national paradigms in the thirties and forties. These debates reveal some of the contradictions of nationalist and populist projects (both in the political and cultural spheres)23. How to conciliate a paradigm based on exclusion with the metaphor of the nation as an extended family? From this analysis I would suggest that the tensions between music and power in Caribbean and Latin American societies have been marked by the quest for new hegemonic agreements and control of marginal groups, whose ethnicity has been a central element of these debates.
21The idea of mestizaje in the Hispanic Caribbean and Brazil, can be interpreted as a modern myth of national foundation. As a concept based on a positivist relationship between the biological and the cultural spheres, it legitimized in nature the historicity of a political and cultural institution which is the modern nation.
22According to Aníbal Quijano, modernity is a process which has been historically developed within a tension between a libertarian rationality and a dominating rationality. I propose that the idea of mestizaje is a modern symbolic construction in the sense that it contains that contradiction. On the one hand, it was appropriated by populist ideologies in their construction of social legitimacy. But on the other, it is also possible to read the idea of mestizaje as a herald or a promise of a new humanity. Using Quijano’s conception of utopia as a project of reconstruction of society, I would think that the notion of mestizaje as subversion had a central role in the Brazilian and Hispanic Caribbean avant-garde movements of the twenties. In this sense, mestizaje was seen as a revolt against the colonial order. As Cuban thinker Antonio Benítez Rojo writes of Nicolás Guillen’s poetry: « It is to construct – even though in a symbolic level – a space for racial, social and cultural coexistence. » The analysis of discourses on mestizaje in the cultural debates of the thirties and forties leads me to believe that it became a founding myth, anchored in subversive projects (like that of the avant-garde movements) as well as in the discourses of order (like the populist and authoritarian regimes of Getulio Vargas in Brazil and Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic). That probably explains its symbolic strength in the construction of the social imaginary in the Hispanic Caribbean and Brazil.