In Latin America, the encounter between what was, what is and what will be acquires different undertones: sometimes more sophisticated and deeply connected to the local identity, maybe more mystical, surely more active from a political perspective. For instance, talking about temporality, in article published on Frieze back in 2012, Clayton aka DJ Rupture analyses the music of Javier Estrada, Mexican producer, through a philosophical frame which suggests Estrada’s acceptance of a cyclical conception of time, as formulated by the Aztecs.
According to DJ Rupture, the lack of a linear development allows the dialogue between the two temporal dimensions to be more promiscuous and therefore more fruitful. Moreover, he concludes, abandoning linearity means getting rid of notions like ‘originality’ and ‘newness’.
Regarding the peculiar characteristic and development of electronic music in Latin America, I would like to pass the mic to DJ Raff – musician and producer from Chile, currently living in London – “I think that right now electronic music is looking more and more toward the roots and the traditions, toward musical instruments from Precolumbian age and the cities where musicians come from. In the beginning, people wanted to copy a sound that came from USA or Europe; during the last ten years they have started blending local sounds and there is nowadays a greater scene, with musicians traveling through the world. Unluckily, most local governments do not fund enough culture, and this is why musicians themselves and professionals deserve to be acknowledged as the main responsible for Latin American music being more and more appreciated around the world”.
The coexistence of past and present is here surely liberating and, perhaps yes, a symbol of modernity, though not free of paradoxes and interesting remorses. Not only when looking at the clash against Europe or the US, but also within each national context. With this regard, and keeping ZZK as a reference, we could discuss some of the issues related to cumbia.
Every subgenre of cumbia is historically connected to a specific social class: when it comes into contact with the digital world, and all it entails, it undergoes inevitably a process that can be seen, depending on the perspectives, as one of devaluation or of valorization.
So, either the nice and smart guys from the upper-middle class, who can afford a laptop, have fun appropriating of a world far from them, stripping it of any cultural meaning and of its popular and working-class identity, or they finally claim it as their own, getting rid of obsolete labels. In other words, either the digital abundance is something to be proud of, or it is simply another tool brought by the conquistadores.
A hipster neocolonialism
If the past belongs, as we said, to a shared memory constructed century after century, the present can, in many ways, be seen as some kind of a hipster neocolonialism, with wide and sophisticated horizons, wearing an overpaid poncho. It is the same story when the artists leave their homelands for London or Berlin (as Voodoohop from Brazil, for instance), and find themselves starting (almost) from scratch, even if they are well known in their own countries. And it is visible, when these musicians are forced to compose in a language that is not their mother tongue, because of the English (language) hegemony also in the realm of music.
Likewise, when the musical historiographies of half of the continent, are re-written from external and alien perspectives, different but at the same time uniform. Such perspectives, developing in more advantaged situations than the original ones, manage to get access to local archives and resources, and eventually bring the material back, adjust it and, finally, publish it in the form of a compilation or a collection of remixes.
I like to think that these dynamics happen in good faith, or somehow innocently; after all, they are often good opportunities to rediscover material that had not received enough attention when it first came out.
In an article published a few months ago on Norient, Holger Lund discusses the new models of colonialism in pop music. According to Lund, colonialism is far from gone: it has been transformed, changed, modernized, especially in cultural environments. Among the examples that he reports in the article there is the case of the Peruvian psychedelic music from the seventies.
Here the label hipster neocolonialism seems quite on point: through the archival practices by the New York label Barbes Records, Peruvian psychedelia managed not only to leave the country and gain a growing interest in NYC, but also it eventually returned triumphant to Perú, experiencing a local awareness that has never been there in the first place. Perhaps, Peruvians owe to the New Yorkers the recontextualization of their own music.
Besides, speaking about Brazilian hip hop, Lund shows how the situation has become somehow paradoxical. The growing number of connoisseurs and collectors, from Europe and the US, who fly to Brazil and buy records, has got to the point that they influence the trends of reissues and sales. The ultimate consequence of this situation is an actual obligation, for Brazilian audience, to reflect about their musical heritage and to reconsider it. There’s nothing new under the sun, indeed.Print