Drum Proposals: Making Time for Place

Alexandra T. Vazquez |Associate Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University

This talk considers the work of two contemporary drummers in anachronic relation to Zora Neale Hurston’s 1939 “Proposed Recording Expedition into the Floridas.” For Hurston recording Florida is not about compiling data but a way to hear its back then and not yet, together. She writes, “The drums throb: Africa by way of Cuba; Africa by way of the British West Indies; Africa by way of Haiti and Martinique; Africa by way of Central and South America.” I bridge this complete yet unrealized proposal to analyze drummers’ work as instructional manuals for feeling out time, and as alternate relays to what can be done to and in it while working across idioms, geographies, generations.

When confronted with a given musical structure, the drummer Obed Calvaire suggests that we “find the cracks and make it sound full.” Alongside Calvaire, I will listen closely to the work of the percussionist Dafnis Prieto to hear the non-circuitous techniques of making time, and what other than technique might be involved with articulating, anticipating, and finally allotting space to another time and times in recording.  This paper will burrow under the beats without losing what they establish to terms such as “syncopation” or “polyrhythm.” Instead, this exercise asks: how do drummers offer other kinds of approaches to the time and place of the archive? How do drummers help us in hearing fullness between the fractured lines of place?  The “place” I hope to take up here is somewhere in the scalene triangle of Haiti, Miami, and Havana.

 Sounding Vintage: Cultural Memory, Latinx Futurisms, & the Cumbia Polyhymn

Alex E. Chavez | Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Fellow of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame

In this paper, Dr. Chávez discusses how the aesthetic mandates of contemporary Latinx sound and visual artists in Chicago are shaped by processes of globalization remaking the city in the guise of both transnational migration and residential gentrification. Specific attention is given to the music of cumbia and how the visual-sonic nexus of its public performative enactment sounds out as a “vehicle for collective witness” (Lipsitz 2007). Dr. Chávez specifically asks: how is cumbia—as sonic index of Latinoamérica (in all its multiple spatial, geographic, and cultural entanglements)—leveraged as a means of transgressing the contemporary physical divides of segregation and cultural divides of politics in the City of Chicago? While a variety of postures in relation to race, culture, gender, and class are always at play in mitigating the assimilative closeness and distance to the United States among Latinxs, the subjectivities expressed in the semiotic display and circulation of cumbia, Dr. Chávez suggests, must be considered in specific relation to the institutionalized distantiation central to urban renewal, migration, and their multiple displacements. For, these “vintage cumbia sounds” don’t merely offer up symbolic commentary regarding displacement, but are themselves dramatic expressions at the heart of struggles over the claiming of space and thus the future and agentive placement of Latinxs in the “global city.”

Three Peasants Fight for Freedom: Radio and The US Cultural Cold War in Latin America

Yeidy M. Rivero | Professor in the Department of Screen Arts & Cultures and American Culture and Director of the Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Michigan

This presentation examines the 1961 adaptation of the highly successful 1940s Cuban radio series Los tres villalobos and the socio-political and industrial circumstances that shaped this radio product. Produced by the Miami-based company America’s Production Inc. for the United States Information Agency’s Voice of America and authored by the scriptwriter of the original series, the new edition explored the evils of communism and pitched the economic, political, and social benefits of John F. Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress” plan for Latin America. With Los tres villalobos and other America’s Production Inc. productions, Cuban exiles/media creators initiated a new geographically and politically situated media relationship across Latin America. If in pre-revolutionary Cuba, writers, producers, and directors spread U.S. modes of radio and television production throughout the region, during the early 1960s a group of Miami-based scriptwriters and creative talent used its experience in entertainment programming to convey a U.S. Cold War vision of anti-communism, capitalistic democracy, and modernization.

Listening to Immigration on U.S. Spanish-Language Radio

Dolores Inés Casillas | Associate Professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and a Faculty Affiliate of Film & Media Studies and Applied Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)

Accompanying the rotation of romantica, ranchera and banda music, vocal utterances of immigration and the immigrant experience are repeatedly heard over the southwest airwaves of U.S. Spanish-language radio.  Trade magazines credit the exponential growth of Spanish-language radio to booming Latino population numbers. Yet, I argue that the conversation around immigrant experiences and immigration politics is an important and overlooked facet. For instance, health programs encourage listeners to advocate for bicultural and bilingual health providers; pop-psychologists counsel immigrant parents on the challenges of raising children in the U.S.; finance related shows stress the benefits of setting up bank accounts; and live Q & A sessions with guest attorneys answer time-sensitive questions about immigration timelines, paperwork, and fees. Here, I discuss how U.S. Spanish-language radio serves as an acoustic ally for listeners, specifically its most legally vulnerable immigrant listeners, to help “navigate” newfound homes and U.S. institutions. A look at dialogues from such shows argues that the format of sound, the low cost of radio sets, and its real-time capabilities all lend themselves to fostering a sense of intimacy with immigrant listeners.

Afro Roots/Latinx Routes:  The Sonic Realms of Freedom

Gaye Theresa Johnson | Associate Professor of African American Studies and Chicana/o Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)

The sonic realm is not merely a matter of frequency and vibrations, but also entails the construction of social “soundscapes.”The imaginaries and epistemologies of Afro- and Latinx diasporic people have shaped significant sonic traditions of resistance across both movements and disciplines, yet those knowledge traditions are often marginalized and suppressed.  Johnson’s talk will reflect upon the role of Latinx soundscapes in the creation of new paradigms for freedom seeking and interdisciplinary research. 

Voice in the Archive: Listening to the Counterintuitive

Licia Fiol-Matta Visiting Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University (NYU).
My remarks focus on the methodology I employed in writing the book The Great Woman Singer: Gender and Voice in Puerto Rican Music. I address the pursuit of voice in the archive, recounting some of the hurdles I faced, circumstantial and theoretical, when seeking to analyze women singers as musicians and thinkers.