Music, blackness and national identity: three moments in Colombian history

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‘Blackness, Music and National Identity: Three Moments in Colombian History’. Popular Music, 17(1): 1-19, 1998.

Music, blackness and national identity: three moments in Colombian history

Peter Wade

Department of Social Anthropology

University of Manchester

Oxford Road

Manchester M13 9PL

Tel: 0161-275-3991

Fax: 0161-275-4023



The study of music and national identity has been limited, in my view, by some underlying assumptions. The first is connected to some influential ideas on nationalism, while the second has to do with long-standing ideas about the relation between music and identity. On nationalism, many approaches place too much emphasis on the homogenising tendencies of nationalist discourse, whereas these, in my view, are only part of a story in which homogeneity and diversity exist in a more complex and ambivalent relationship. With respect to music and identity, in several studies of Latin American musical styles and their socio-political context - for example, ones focusing on the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Brazil - I detect a tendency to set up a model of homogenising elites versus diversifying and more or less resistant minorities. This means that diversity always comes from outside official discourse on cultural identity and music and I think that this over-simplifies the situation - at least for Colombia and probably more generally.

In what follows, I examine assumptions about nationalism and then look at how I think they underlie some recent accounts of music and the representation of national identity in Latin America. I will then look at some styles of Colombian popular music in a way that I hope takes us further in the understanding of how music and nation-building fit together.

National identity

Anderson (1983) and Gellner (1983, 1994) both emphasize the importance of homogeneity in the ideologies of modern nationalism. The nation is characterised by its "community of anonymity" (Anderson 1983: 40), the identification of the citizen with other unknown compatriots in a common allegiance to the nation itself. This quality is created, according to Anderson, primarily by spreading literacy and print capitalism which allow people to imagine a community of nationals. A precondition is the emergence of a concept of "homogeneous, empty time" (Walter Benjamin, cited in Anderson 1983: 28) in which people can imagine their actions being simultaneous with those of others located elsewhere in the nation. For Gellner, "homogeneity, literacy and anonymity are the key traits" (1983: 38). Modernizing production systems needed educated people who could manage information (including instructions about production). Thus a literate "high culture", previously the prerogative of rulers, began to pervade the entire society, creating an identification with "an anonymous mass society" (1994: 41).

Segal and Handler criticise Gellner and Anderson for implying that the nationalist idea of homogenenity within a social unit pre-existed nationalism itself, but they still propose that the ideal-typical nation is "fundamentally constituted by a principle of equivalence" (Segal and Handler 1992: 3). Bhabha has also contended that the holism of which nationalism is an example asserts "cultural or political supremacy and seeks to obliterate the relations of difference that constitute the languages of history and culture" (1989, cited in Asad 1993: 262) and Hall has argued that "national cultures help to 'stitch up' differences into one identity (1992: 299). Gilroy's work on the British nation also focuses on representations of Britishness as, in essence, culturally and racially homogeneous (Gilroy 1987). Taussig has noted, concerning writings on nationalism: "much of anthropology ... from Victor Turner to Michel Foucault, for example, claims something like an organic unity between the seal of the symbol and the wax of the recipient, between the discourse and the citizen. The Romantic aesthetics of symbol, from Hegel to Goethe onwards, and the structuralism of de Saussure converge on this point" (Taussig 1992: 54; ref??). The analysis focuses on what nationalist discourse itself defines as ideal - homogeneity - with little attention to the evident paradox that total homogeneity would entail the obliteration of differences of hierarchy within the nation which even nationalist elites struggle to maintain.

This does not mean that heterogeneity is by any means ignored in many of these approaches, but it tends to be conceptualized in certain ways: either as the struggle of one potential nation within another nation - admittedly an issue of pressing importance - or more commonly as a series of resistant traditions or hybridities set against the homogeneity of the modern nation. The latter alternative is, in fact, the common oppositional paradigm that pits a homogenizing national elite against a heterogeneous popular or traditional subaltern culture, seen as more or less resistant. The recent literature on hybridity - for example, by Gilroy, Hall or Bhabha - tends to fit this mould by seeing new hybrid cultures or cultural elements as resistant, counter-hegemonic, or contestatory forces which challenge the modernist project of the nation-state.

Now, I do not, of course, wish to suggest that all these approaches are simply barking up the wrong tree. I do think that the analysis of heterogeneity is not adequate. There is a tendency to over-simplify the basic opposition between homogenising nation-builders and heterogeneous others, sometimes wedded to the implication of strategic intentionality on the part of the elite and/or the subaltern. There is also a tendency to romanticise resistance, although this is not my main concern here (Abu-Lughod 1990).

Bhabha's work, while fitting in some respects into the mould outlined above, also contains other, different lines of thought. Speaking of the "space of liminality" of the national discourse (Bhabha 1994: 149), he identifies a "double narrative movement", a "contested conceptual territory where the nation's people must be thought in double-time":

the people are the historical 'objects' of a nationalist pedagogy, giving the discourse of authority that is based on the pre-given or constituted origin in the past; the people are also the 'subjects' of a process of signification that must erase any prior or originary presence of the nation-people to demonstrate the prodigious, living principles of the people as contemporaneity: as that sign of the present though which national life is redeemed and iterated as a reproductive process. (Bhabha 1994: 145)

Bhabha is not referring here to the paradox noted by Nairn, Anderson and Gellner - and captured in Nairn's Janus-face metaphor (Nairn 1977) - in which nationalism looks two ways at once: forwards to progressive modernity, backwards toward the legacy of tradition. Both directions of gaze share a teleological temporality which Bhabha detects in "nationalist pedagogy". Instead, he is exploring a further ambivalence between this "continuist accumulative temporality" and the "repetitious, recursive strategy of the performative" (1994: 145). Bhabha is making a distinction between a historicist temporality - dependent on Anderson's empty homogeneous time - in which the nation is both timelessly ancient and moving forward, and a performative temporality in which the "cultural shreds and patches" (Gellner 1983: 56) of the nation are invoked. In the first mode, the nation and its people are moving through history towards a national destiny of coherent identity; they are a modern(ising), homogenising whole. In the second mode, deprived of this historicism, "the nation turns from being the symbol of modernity into becoming the symptom of an ethnography of the 'contemporary' within modern culture" (Bhabha 1994: 147). In this ethnography, the heterogeneity of "the people" necessarily comes to light because the focus is on the repetitive performances of their daily lives which effectively constitute the nation's culture. To rather over-simplify - the distinction is similar to looking at the nation from the inside out (when it is a whole, marching through historical time), as opposed to seeing it from within (when it is what people do with their lives). The point I wish to bring out is that, rather than creating an opposition between a dominant state or ruling class bent on homogeneity and a varied populace who, to a greater or lesser extent, vindicate their heterogeneity against this oppressive force, Bhabha shows that the nationalist narrative carries this split as a liminal space within itself, "sliding ambivalently from one enunciatory position to another" (Bhabha 1994: 147).

This gets us beyond an emphasis on the training and pruning of diversity that, although very useful - and reminiscent of Hall's idea of differences being "stitched" together into one identity - also suggests the antagonistic opposition between nationalist discourse and diversity which is too simple to capture the ambivalence Bhabha indicates. That nationalist elites may intentionally seek to discipline diversity is clearly true,1 but it might be more productive to say that, in doing so, they use heterogeneity by resignifying a diversity which they also partly constructs: ethnographic variety is not just "out there" to be represented and manipulated in disfigured form, its very existence in the nation is mediated by the official representations of it. In this sense, a nationalist project does not just try to deny, suppress or even simply channel an unruly diversity; it actively reconstructs it.

Asad has also recognised this in his recent work: "The claim that many radical critics make that hegemonic power necessarily suppresses difference in favour of unity is quite mistaken. Just as mistaken is their claim that power always abhors ambiguity. To secure its unity - to make its own history - dominant power has worked best through differentiating and classifying practices. India's colonial history furnishes ample evidence of this. In this context power is constructive, not repressive. Furthermore, its ability to select or construct the differences that serve its purposes has depended on its exploiting the dangers and opportunities contained in ambiguous situations" (Asad 1993: 17). There is more at stake here than just a recognition that official multiculturalism exists - for example, in Colombia (Wade 1995) - because such a situation can be reductively explained as a state strategy to coopt and contain troublesome diversity. My argument is that the diversity is part and parcel of nation-building, whether or not multiculturalism is an official stance, and that diversity is itself (re)constituted through nation-building and not just tamed or battered into submission.

Diversity is necessary to nationalist ideas, not only because it is vis-a-vis diversity that unity can be imagined, but also because diversity almost always involves power relations. Just as in colonial power relations the colonizer's sense of domination is fed by a narcissistic desire for the submission of the subordinate other (Bhabha 1994: 97), so the nation-builders define their own superiority in relation to the diversity they observe and construct - and desire.

Music and identity

When analysts come to examine the relation of music to national identity, I think that the ideas about nationalism criticised above often underlie the approach taken. This can be compounded by "the assumption that the sounds must somehow 'reflect' or 'represent' the people [who produce them]" (Frith 1996: 108). This is the theory of homology that Middleton criticizes at length is his assessment of the study of "popular music in culture" (Middleton 1990: 127-171). A central characteristic of many studies within this perspective, according to Middleton, is the idea of a relation of homology between musical form and social structure (which can be said to include the social positioning from which identity is held to arise). He presents a detailed argument which, in brief, concludes that many of these studies tend to overstate the tightness of fit between the two levels, may understate conflict over musical meaning within the social group whose identity is supposedly being reflected and, in the case of those studies which posit a counter-cultural music reflecting a subcultural group, may overstate the element of subversion. In general, there is a tendency to see social identity as a pre-formed thing which music simply expresses.2

In the context of my discussion of national identity, the problems Middleton outlines would be reflected in a tendency to see a "national music" as the homogenizing imposition of a nation-building (musical/intellectual) elite, with other groups trying to redefine that music and/or contesting the terrain with other musics. What might be missing would be a more subtle appreciation of the diversity contained within the nationalist music or discourse about music. The move that Frith (1996) and Stokes (1994) recommend towards seeing music as constituting, rather than simply reflecting, identity would clearly work against such a tendency, since both music and identity become more flexible and less reified. The move that Middleton (1990) suggests towards a Gramscian view of hegemony, in which disparate cultural and ideological elements are nevertheless held together by an articulating principle or set of central values, is also useful as it brings in the notion of a hierarchized diversity subject to a structuring hegemonic principle - although such a view can be distorted into an elite vs. masses opposition.

A look at some examples from studies of Latin American musical styles will help to illustrate my point. Pacini (1991) interprets Dominican merengue as a musical style controlled and appropriated by the Trujillo dictatorship as an expression of Dominican national identity. Contests have taken place between the urban, orchestrated form of merengue and other styles that express other social groups' values: salsa, rural merengue, bachata, nueva canción - the latter trying to redefine merengue itself as a more African-derived style. The analysis is penetrating and revealing of Dominican music and cultural identities, but diversity always comes from outside (below) the imposed national musical style; each social group has its musical style(s) that represent its values or interests and these groups and styles engage in a lucha sonora (sound battle).

Davis (1994) sees merengue in a similar light. Under Trujillo, the African roots of merengue were denied, although others contested this erasure of blackness (Davis 1994: 127) - again a relatively simple oppositional model is implied. Davis complicates this a bit by stating that merengue has a dual aspect: different aspects of Dominican identity (traditional and modern, rural and urban) are represented by traditional merengue and orchestrated merengue (1994: 136), but this insight is not theorized.

For Duany, in some contrast, the key to merengue's success as a national music was its evident Afro-European syncretism (1994: 74), even though Trujillo used it as part of his campaign against Haitian influences (which were seen as strongly African). Nevertheless, Duany sees merengue as "a symbol of the Dominican sense of peoplehood" (1994: 80) and does not really deconstruct the idea of "peoplehood", thus abrogating the problem of diversity.

Averill's analysis of Haitian music explictly adopts a homological approach (1994: 178). He sees music as a site for a contest over cultural identity by different groups: "ideologies of African descent help both to construct the nation ... and to deconstruct it" (1994: 158). Averill's approach is close to my own since different notions of Haitian identity and the musical styles associated with those notions all emanate principally from the intellectual and middle classes, so that diversity is constituted from within what could, very broadly, be called nation-builders. Nevertheless, Averill tends to set different groups of people, with their associated musical styles, in opposition to each other and also tends to set up a basic confrontation between a dominant ideology - which, although noiriste, was anti-Voodoo and Francophile - and subversive, more African-oriented tendencies which have gained ground post-Duvalier and are the "musical corollary to populist political movements" (1994: 178).

Reily's approach to Brazilian national identity and music is rather different in that she is examining musicological discourse about nationhood, rather than styles of music per se (Reily 1994). Focusing on the very influential Mário de Andrade, writer and musicologist among other things, she traces his search for a national music. This took place in the context of Brazilian intellectuals' attempts to overturn the negative images of race mixture implied by the scientific racism of the early twentieth century that saw miscegenation as a weakening and contaminating process. Mixture became a positive feature, heralding tolerance, democracy and integration, as it did to varying extents in Colombia and elsewhere (Wade 1993). Likewise, in Mário de Andrade's view, a national music, if such a thing could be said to exist, combined and synthesized: "the nationalist project required a discourse that woud allow for the integration of the various regional genres. Mário was to find this unity in the way the national psyche had transformed European, African and Amerindian elements" (Reily 1994: 83). Now it is undoubtedly the case that a nationalist project requires integration, at some level, but what is also interesting is the diversity that is constantly reproduced, invoked and actively constructed by Mário's writings on music: the "Brazilian psyche" that seems, in Mário's view, to have been the active agent in the process of incorporation and synthesis is simultaneously fragmented - and this is in a sense inevitable because that psyche was itself formed through synthesis and thus rediscovers the heterogeneity of its origins in the continuing diversity of musical styles.

It is not my contention that there has been no denial and disparagement of blackness in nationally popular music styles in the Dominican Republic or Haiti - these are not my area of expertise. Nor would I presume to criticise Pacini's or Averill's nuanced accounts of the relations between music, social change and politics. I am interested, however, in the evident tendency to interpret diversity as resulting principally from conflict - usually between an elite with a project of cultural unification and some oppositional others - or, in Reily's case, to emphasize the homogenizing aspect of the nationalist project. Denial or rejection of blackness certainly does exist in the Colombian material and, in my previous work on blackness in Colombian society (Wade1993), I was initially drawn to make sense of it as a nationalist discourse of cultural homogenization. Reference to mixture as a defining trait is common in Latin American discourse on the nation and has been seen by many academics - including myself - as invoking a history of homogenization (Wade 1993, 1995, Whitten and Torres 1992). Past diversity of race and culture - African, Indian and European components - is said to be supplanted by present or future homogeneity brought about by mixture.

But it is now my view, as outlined above, that this over-simplifies the ambivalences and complexities of nationalist discourse; researching music made this especially evident since in discourse about music, questions of origins and diversity were constantly foregrounded. Aside from the fact that to deny blackness or Africanness or diversity in general, it has to be inscribed in some form in the first place, I found constant reference to racial and cultural diversity in official, intellectual and elite discourse on the nation: it was by no means being simply denied, although it was often placed in a moral hierarchy. This was particularly evident in discourse about music and the nation. It is even more evident in the 1990s when, as we shall see, recent "post-modern" Colombian nationalism, invoking multiculturalism, tries very explicitly to relocate diversity as part of the modern nation. This, I argue, is not a radical departure, but a change rung on the same bells.

Music and national identity in Colombia

I want now to look at three moments in the history of Colombia's popular music: the late nineteenth century with the emergence of a national style; the mid-twentieth century boom of tropical music styles and the 1990s emergence of postmodern nostalgic revivals of (modernized) tradition.3


In urban areas during the nineteenth century, dances originating in Europe, such as the waltz, contradanza, polka and mazurka, were popular among "respectable" people in Colombia, played in their salons on piano and string instruments, although they would have been heard by a range of classes when played by military bands during public festivals. These European forms were sometimes "creolized" to produce new forms, such as the pasillo, a form of waltz popular in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. For the upper classes, regional variation in this sort of music was not very marked: the same music was listened and danced to in Bogotá, in the Andean interior of the country, and in Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast. However, there were also urbanized versions of more varied regional rural styles and here there was more diversity.

Colombia was and still is a highly regionalized country (Wade 1993). To the north is the Caribbean coastal region: a hot savannah region with a population of evident black and indian heritage, although the elite is mostly white. The rural peasant musical traditions show a good deal of African and some indian influences, alongside European influences. To the west is the Pacific coastal region: inhabited mainly by blacks and indians, the region has varied peasant musical traditions, showing mainly African and European heritage outside the indian communities. To the east lie the Llanos, or plains, (which merge eastwards into the Amazon jungle): peasant music there shares a great deal with the Venezuelan joropo style. In the middle of these diverse and peripheral regions, lies the centre in geographic, economic and political terms: the Andean interior, populated mostly by whites and mestizos, with small indian populations in isolated areas. In the interior, there was a variety of musical styles, mainly based on guitars of various sizes and mandolins. In this region, bambuco was already popular in Bogotá and other cities of the interior from at least the mid-nineteenth century (Restrepo Duque 1991: 126, 1988: 529).4

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, music in Colombia began to be integrated into discourses about national identity and it was bambuco of the interior region's string ensembles that took pride of place. The pasillo, which was actually more widespread, did not acquire the same nationalist overtones - probably because it was popular in several neighbouring countries. The author, journalist and politician, José María Samper (1828-1888), said of the bambuco that, "[There is] nothing more national, nothing more patriotic than this melody which counts all Colombians among its authors. It is the soul of our pueblo [people, nation] made into melody". According to Baldomero Sanín Cano (1851-1957), an educator, critic, journalist and politician: "Bambuco resounds with the heartbeats [palpitaciones] of the fatherland". In the words of the historian, Luis Angel Cuervo (1893-1954): "The history of bambuco is the history of the whole Republic, of its societies and its individuals". Writing in 1960, Eduardo Caballero Calderón (b. 1910), writer, journalist and politician, affirmed that "Without bambuco, the fatherland would not be conceived" (all cited in Perdomo Escobar 1963: 308). Not surprisingly, even today the term música colombiana is taken to mean bambuco and other styles characteristic of the Andean interior.

Bambuco, along with pasillo and other styles from the interior, provided the inspiration for nationalist art music by Colombian composers such as Guillermo Uribe Holguín (Béhague 1996: 317). Abadía Morales (1983: 156) notes how bambucos had as lyrics "select poetry, taken from a universal repertoire or sometimes from eminent poets". On the other hand, bambucos were performed by more popular musicians such as Pedro Morales Pino, Emilio Murillo, Alejandro Wills and Jorge Añez (Restrepo Duque 1991). Several of these recorded in New York between 1910 and 1930, playing bambucos, marchas, pasillos, waltzes - not to mention Cuban habaneras and boleros and Mexican rancheras.5

The nationalist image of bambuco has to be seen not only in the context of the music nationalism common all over Latin America at the time, but also in the context of the internationalization of popular music that the nascent recording industry immediately represented. With the establishment of Columbia Gramophone Company (1903) and Victor Talking Machine Company (1901), gramophones were soon widely available in Latin America - although their cost restricted purchase, they could be easily heard in public places. Radios soon followed and several Latin American nations, including Colombia, had their own radio stations from the late 1920s. From the very start, the US record companies recorded Latin American music for sale in the USA, Latin America and elsewhere. They would send agents with portable recording machines to Latin American cities and record in hotel rooms; later they set up their own studios and presses in urban centres such as Mexico City, La Habana, Santiago and Buenos Aires (Fagan and Moran 1986: 521). Conversely, their retail agents would send artists to the record companies in these cities or in New York.

The music directed at the Latin American market was exceptionally eclectic and included waltz, mazurka, polka, pasodoble, blues, one-step, foxtrot, tango, danzón, son, bolero, rancheras and so on. A single artist might record a wide variety of these, backed by a house orchestra made up of an equally wide variety of nationalities. The music industry, in effect, prefigured certain aspects of a globalized condition now associated with postmodernity: flexibility, eclecticism, collage, staging and so on.6 Nevertheless, just as recent globalization has not entailed the demise of the nation (Hall 1991), certain styles were associated with certain countries - bolero with Cuba or tango with Argentina. There were notionally "national" repertoires. For Colombia, a claim to national particularity rested on the bambuco, or sometimes on songs simply labelled canción colombiana (Colombian song). It is no accident that one of the first recordings by a Colombian was the Colombian national anthem, cut in 1919 by Emilio Murillo with the Lira Antioqueña (a string ensemble). In short, then, bambuco became a national music partly in response to the internationalization of the music industry.

It would be easy enough to see in the rise of bambuco a project of nationalist cultural homogenization which marginalised the musics of other regions and privileged the mainly white/mestizo Andean interior against the more black and indian peripheries. But things are not quite so simple. There have been long debates about the origins of bambuco. In his dictionary of Colombian music (1867), J.C. Osorio said the bambuco originally came from the bunde, held to be a black dance; the poet Rafael Pombo wrote of bambuco as a fusion of indian melacholy, African fire and Andalucian wit - a classic moral trilogy in discourse about the Colombian nation; the novelist Jorge Isaacs, in his famous novel María (1868), said it had a black origin; while Jorge Añez, one of its great exponents, asserted that its origins were firmly in the Colombian Andes, rejecting Isaacs' contention that the name itself came from Africa.7 So while bambuco was hailed as the musical essence of nationhood, discussions about it often foregrounded and indeed actively constructed diversity. This diversity tended to be located in the past - i.e., at the origin of the nation - but it might also be brought into the present, as in Pombo's pronouncement. This was all subject to contestation - Añez discounted an African origin, as did the frankly racist musicologist Daniel Zamudio who disdained black music as "simian"8 - and this indicates that diversity was always liable to placed in a moral hierarchy of power and racial identification. Nevertheless, blackness was often present.

Costeño music

From the 1930s, Cuban, Mexican and Argentinian music - via the international recording industry which was beginning to diversify into nationally-owned businesses in Latin American countries - had a major impact in Colombia. Although much of this music was initially frowned upon as vulgar and plebian by the elites, ensconced in their social clubs, it soon gained their acceptance, at least among the younger generation and especially when played by large dance orchestras in the North American fashion. This was partly because some of the record and communications industry were run, and sometimes owned, by the growing and rising middle classes, who tended to be less exclusive in their tastes.

From the late 1930s, dance band leaders in the Caribbean coastal region - la costa, as it is generally known - who were playing a mixture of Cuban, Argentinian, Mexican and North American music, began to orchestrate styles said to derive from the local wind band and peasant repertoires - porro, fandango, cumbia, gaita - and which did indeed retain certain of their characteristic elements, particularly in the rhythmic structure and the percussion section. This music was, as usual, initially despised by local elites in the coastal cities of Cartagena and Barranquilla, but soon made its way into their clubs. By the mid-1940s, the orchestra of Lucho Bermúdez, one of the most famous band leaders playing this type of música costeña, was playing in elite venues in the interior of the country and his success was emulated by other Costeño composers, bandleaders and musicians such as Pacho Galán, Antonio María Peñaloza and José Barros. At about the same time, the Colombian recording industry started up in Cartagena and Barranquilla, shifting in the early 1950s to Medellín, the major industrial centre of the country. Costeño music flourished in Colombia and to some extent abroad as well and by the 1950s it had become the major national popular musical style (although, of course, foreign styles continued to be as or more popular). Bambuco had lost its popularity although it still retained some status as the "original" música colombiana. A major shift had taken place: Colombia was no longer represented either at home or abroad by a style associated with the Andean interior, centre of power, wealth and "civilization"; it was now represented by tropical music from the Caribbean coastal region, seen as poor, backward, "hot" (climatically, sexually and musically) and "black" (at least by association, even if many of the musicians in the dance bands, even the Costeño ones, were whites or light-coloured mestizos).

The context for the emergence and rise of this music was, in broad terms, the rapid social change and process of internationalization that was going on in Colombia and elsewhere.9 Economically, Colombia was expanding internally as intensive colonization took place from central into more peripheral areas; coffee was becoming a major export and industry was beginning to develop on the basis of the profits derived from that and from mining. The Caribbean coastal region, while economically peripheral in many respects, was in certain ways and particularly on its coastline at the forefront of this process: the capitalization of agriculture and stockraising was pioneered there, for example. The port city of Barranquilla also laid claim to being the most modern city in the country at the time. Its position on the Caribbean, with relatively good communications with the USA and across the Atlantic, meant it had privileged access to the trappings of urban modernity and it was also full of immigrants from Cuba, Spain, Italy, Germany and the USA. Many of these were influential figures in the economic modernization of the city. They or their sons also set up the first radio stations in the city. The first recording company, Discos Fuentes, was actually started in 1934 by the Colombian Antonio Fuentes in Cartagena, but he had been educated in Philadelphia and the second company, Discos Tropical, was started in Barranquilla in about 1945 by the son of a French immigrant.

Immigrants were also very important musically in the region: in the late nineteenth century, they not infrequently started the provincial brass bands that were flourishing all over Colombia and they trained the musicians in them. These were often part of the formative milieu for the leaders of the subsequent "jazz bands" - big dance orchestras - that sprang up in the late twenties and early thirties. Central artists in the rise of Costeño music such as Lucho Bermúdez, Pacho Galán and Antonio María Peñaloza were all formed partly in provincial town brass bands, but were also influenced or trained formally by music teachers such as the Italian immigrant Pedro Biava, born in Rome in 1902, who directed the the Police Band in Barranquilla in the late 1930s, founded the city's philharmonic orchestra and opera company in the 1940s and taught music in the local School of Fine Arts.

The details of this history are, of course, complex.10 The point is that the coastal region, or more precisely its main cities, were linked very directly into the bubbling musical cauldron of the Caribbean and Atlantic worlds - via immigrants, radio broadcasts and visiting artists - and thus was a host to musical innovation seen as modern and fashionably up the minute. Local musicians in dance orchestras such as the Emisora Atlántico Jazz Band, the Jazz Band Barranquilla and the Orquesta Sosa played North American foxtrots, Cuban guarachas, rumbas and boleros, Brazilian maxixes and Argentinian tangos - not to mention pasillos and marchas - with an instrumental line-up common all over the Americas.11 Some among them wanted to put their own mark on the musical scene and so orchestrated local styles.

This music, generally under the label of porro, was received in the interior of the country in ways mediated by perceptions of national identity. Its impact came at a time that was important for nationalist sentiment, even though this did not constitute a "hyperbolic nationalism" (Bushnell 1993: viii). In the 1930s, a series of liberal and modernizing reforms under President Alfonso López Pumarejo endeavoured to open up the education system and incorporate the rural and urban working class more fully into state structures; "the national frame became a point of political reference for the 'oligarchies' as well as the popular strata" (Palacios 1986: 138-139). Intellectuals also pondered over the possibility of a national art: for example, the first congress of music was held in 1936 which aimed to "promote musical culture in Colombia, recognizing its great importance for nationalism" (Zamudio 1978: 398); there were also discussions about national values in art (Medina 1978: 185).

In cities such as Bogotá and Medellín, Costeño music was played in elite clubs and hotels, but also broadcast on record and live by radio stations. It could be heard on record in bars, brothels and cafés, and live at Sunday performances in public parks where middle class families strolled in the mornings, but maids and manual workers took over in the afternoon. But its presence excited a good deal of comment, some of it reactionary.

Daniel Zamudio, speaker at the 1936 conference on music, lamented that "the rumba and its derivatives, porros, sons, boleros, are displacing our traditional autochthonous airs, taking a favoured place in social dances and salons" and added that "although this is not of great importance from the artistic and aesthetic point of view, it is none the less certain that a process of purification is taking place which, if it is too late, will give rise to a new confusion, since 'fashion' may ruin the little truly genuine that we have". He links porro, a Costeño style, to Cuban styles, thus implicitly labelling it as foreign and also black. He clearly sees the music as a threat to national identity and this is doubtless due to his general views on black music. Rumba belongs, in his view, "to black music and is a faithful translation of the sentimental primitivism of African blacks" - "this music, which does not deserve the title, is simian". Hope lies, for him, in a process of purification and as far as black Colombians are concerned "culturally speaking, there is the possibility of desrumbarlos [de-rumba-izing them] despite their atavism" since, as North American negro spirituals demonstrated, "the black race has valuable musical representatives at the level of higher sentiments" (Zamudio 1961: Part I, 1; Part IV, 77).

A 1944 edition of the national daily, El Tiempo, carried an article entitled, "Civilization of colour" by José Gers who commented that "modernismo requires this: that we should dance like blacks in order to be in fashion and in line with the tastes of the latest people"; the culture best received "is that which has the acrid smell of jungle and sex". According to him:

the blacks have decided to avenge themselves of the bitter fate they bear on their shoulders [i.e., slavery] [...] and the attack is advancing against what the previous masters held most dear - against their art. [...] Pairs of blonds must dance with effusive movements of the belly, jerks, contortions, leaps and savage shouts. The Versalles waltz is dead. The dancer and his partner must jump, swivel their eyes while raising one leg, move their hips in lewd gyrations, cross their eyes and spread their legs like frogs ... Meanwhile, the drums beat, the gentlemen of the orchestra screech with a tragic fury, as if they were seasoning a joyful picnic of some "mister" [i.e., a white boss] in a jungle in Oceania.12

This piece was illustrated with a small cartoon of two young women in short skirts, dancing with "effusive movements" - it looks like a pre-figured version of the twist to my eye - which was actually not the way Costeño music was usually danced: generally, male-female couples danced together. As before, foreigness and blackness are linked to threat, confusion, lack of moderation - and sexual licence. Interestingly, modernism is connected to blacks and this seems to reverse the common tendency to associate blackness with primitivism. In fact, it is more complex: modernism is linked by Gers to a liberated - to him, threatening - sexuality and thus to a supposedly primitive black licentiousness.13 Thus primitiveness becomes modern - truly a sign of confusing times!

Not many Costeño musicians playing in the orchestras were black or even mulatto; but the occasional presence of a dark-skinned person simply reinforced the image of the Caribbean coastal region as a black place compared to the Andean interior (even though areas of the interior - including Medellín - had their own significant measure of blackness). The music was seen as sexually licentious, but this was more a result of its overall association with blackness and racy modernism than a direct result of, say, the lyrics. Much of the music was instrumental, but lyrics generally celebrated partying and having fun, or perhaps glorified the beauty of particular places, many of them Costeño locations. Not infrequently they referred to rural themes, for example to animals - cows, chickens, frogs, rabbits, etc. - and this was seen as rustic and vulgar by many.

These commentaries on Costeño music - and I have cited only a couple here for illustrative purposes - can easily be seen as part of a nationalist (indeed, racist) project of cultural homogenization: blackness is labelled as foreign and threatening to the "real" Colombia; the Caribbean coastal region is peripheralized in the nation. There is unquestionably a strong element of homogenization in these views, but as I have argued, diversity is not simply erased here - it is hierarchized in order to give value to whiteness and the interior region of the country. Also, even these ideas about Costeño music move in that ambivalent space between homogeneity and heterogeneity. Inevitably and despite themselves, they document the diversity and variety that exist within the nation: they cannot entirely exclude either blackness or the Caribbean coastal region; they act as a racist ethnography of the diversity of contemporary culture.

Other commentaries on Costeño music took a more tolerant view and, in these, diversity was an even more integral part of discourse about the nation. On the one hand, there were Costeño defenders of their own culture, although these were not numerous in print. One such was Antonio Brugés Carmona.14 For him, porro was so successful because it captured a variety of influences, while being at the same time definitively Colombian. Sexually speaking, it was "the song of the liberated Costeño man who shows to anyone who observes him a boastful demonstration of dionysian joy in the face of life". Porro "exalts happiness [and] laughs at those who do not know how to enjoy themselves" (Brugés Carmona 1943). This defence remained within essentialist representations of black, or more generally Costeño, sexuality and it purveyed the classic image of Costeño music as alegre (happy, joyful), opposed to the supposedly dour and reserved inhabitants of the altiplanos of the Andean interior. It also celebrated diversity and reaffirmed the place of the Caribbean coastal region in the nation.

Later commentators along these lines included Gabriel García Márquez, himself a Costeño. In the late 1940s and 1950s, his Barranquilla newspaper column carried several pieces about Costeño music in which he defended its integrity. He wrote mostly about a different style, vallenato accordion music, seen as more traditional, although it was also being commercialized at the time. In one 1948 piece he wrote: "The true, legitimate accordion is that which has become a national citizen among us, in the valley of the Magdalena [a river in the region]. It has been incorporated into the elements of national folklore ... alongside the tiples [treble guitars] of Boyacá, Tolima and Antioquia [regions of the interior]" (García Márquez 1981: 66). The right of Costeño culture to national citizenship was reaffirmed (see also Gilard 1986, 1994).

More interesting for the purposes of my argument, however, are other writings by non-Costeños on Costeño music - the stuff by the Costeños themselves can too easily be seen as "resistance" to nationalist homogenization, although this simple reading is belied by the fact that these Costeños saw themselves as defining a unified national culture. A prominent piece on Costeño music in a non-Costeño forum was a 1949 issue of the weekly magazine Semana (the equivalent of Time or Newsweek) on the cover of which Costeño band leader Lucho Bermúdez took pride of place. A long article dedicated mainly to Bermúdez explained aspects of Costeño music to its readers, noting that porro was "currently the most popular of the festive airs of Colombia", but that "many people in the interior maintain that it is the noisiest, and some that it is the most vulgar": none however denied its alegría (happiness, joyfulness). It ended with the hope that "the characteristic airs of the different regions of Colombia may achieve in the not too distant future something like a musical synthesis ... a certain artistic unity". Certain musical styles needed to be "nationalized" in order to be widely accepted.15 This portrays a view of Colombian culture as moving from traditional diversity to modern unity through a process of nationalization and synthesis - the classic image of cultural mixture which harmonizes with ideas of racial mixture. But it also represents Colombia as a varied, diverse nation: it again acts - this time somewhat more neutrally - as an ethnography of contemporary Colombia; its very existence inscribes diversity at the same time as it envisages unity. It slides between precisely the enunciatory positions that Bhabha describes, seeing the nation as a modern whole on the one hand and as a "symptom of an ethnography of the 'contemporary' within modern culture" (Bhabha 1994: 147).

Semana also published an article on Julio Torres, the leader of a vallenato group - ironically from the interior region - which had had a recent hit. According to this, music was "one of the means by which national sentiment is expressed". Moreover: "to despise the importance of popular music ... is a critical absurdity. To exalt so called classical music as suitable for the people and cultured minorities, is another sociological error. Art music does not have to forcibly exclude popular music, nor vice versa".16 This gets into a different high- vs. low-brow debate, but the point is that vallenato accordion music - of a particular regional origin - is accepted as a legitimate representative of national sentiment, even while that sentiment is assumed to be unitary in some sense.

Ideas about tradition and modernity were fundamental to different views about Costeño music and they related to homogeneity and hetoerogeneity in complex ways. Tradition is necessary to any nation, since it defines a singular identity in a global world of nations: history is one side of the Janus face of nationalism. In this case, tradition was seen as the distant past when African, American and European elements co-existed but were not mixed; mixture was in this view part of the progress towards a unified modern nation. Thus tradition could be invoked to explain current diversity. From one point of view this was mixture not yet far enough on, the elements were still not fused, the continuing presence of blackness and indianness, for example, was an embarrassment. From another, this was the lived reality of contemporary cultural diversity - each region had its "traditions" and these were a valued part of the nation.

Now, Costeño music worked between tradition and modernity in ambivalent ways - largely because tradition and modernity themselves form a very powerful but also ambivalent discursive pair. Because of its regional roots, the music could be seen as traditional and "bad" - primitive, irrational, undisciplined (and "black"), a symbol of difference and otherness; or traditional and "good" - giving a sense of rootedness of singular identity, of sameness. On the other hand, because of its association with "jazz bands", modern technology and cosmopolitanism, Costeño music could be seen as modern where, again, modernity had a double edge: modern and "good" - forward-looking, connecting with desirable foreignness, breaking out of old regimes, liberating (connoted partly through sexual liberation) and unifying; or modern and "bad" - conducive to the breakdown of morality, the loss of identity, the decomposition of established norms and social fragmentation. In this way, Costeño music could be read as always slipping between sameness and difference, tradition and modernity, regionality and nationality. Although the reasons for its success are complex, I think the possibility of reading it in these multiple ways was one cause of its popularity: it could, if heard and read a certain way, promise modernity without the loss of identity; it held up tradition, without the threat of backwardness; it celebrated the lived variety of the ethnography of the contemporary nation, without jeopardizing the possibility of a unified identity.

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