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Music in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Encyclopedic History: Volume 1: Performing Beliefs: Indigenous Cultures of South America, Central America, and Mexico.

Music in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Encyclopedic History: Volume 1: Performing Beliefs: Indigenous Cultures of South America, Central America, and Mexico. Edited by Malena Kuss. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2004. [xxx, 416 p. ISBN 0-292-70298-1. $60.] Index, bibliography, illustrations, music examples, compact discs.

Malena Kuss, musicologist and professor emeritus of the University of North Texas, has edited an informative volume that explores the role of music and worldviews of the indigenous peoples of Latin America. The editor notes that the initial volume of the series "focuses on the inextricable relationships between worldviews and musical behavior in current and relatively recent practices of indigenous groups" (p. xix). The work marks the first installment of a four-volume study of the music of Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, the latter being excluded from this volume.

Symptomatic of an edited work with multiple contributors, the book contains chapters that vary significantly in scope, length, and method. While the central theme of the volume is not entirely cohesive, the diversity of the authors' approaches and backgrounds guarantees no privileging of a single perspective, and skillfully captures the complexities of the subject. Kuss argues that by "[adhering] to the principle that these [musical traditions] have to be studied at the local level," this work "can contribute in some measure to eradication of essentialisms and to critical reassessments of the infinite ways in which cultural representations still relies on criteria and conceptual frameworks developed within the Eurocentric sphere of influence, including some models of cultural criticism stemming from vastly different historical experiences" (p. xix).

Following this approach, Carol E. Robertson composed numerous chapters of the book, also contributing a brief epilogue. In her first essay, she provides an overview of the intricate and diverse history of Latin America that complements the editor's prologue. Robertson goes on to discuss the nguillipun, a fertility ritual practiced in southern Chile and Argentina by the Tehuelche, Pehuenche, Gununa-Kena, Huarpe, Ranquel, Puelche, and Mapuche to heighten the fertility of livestock and crops. In later chapters, Robertson surveys broad themes in a more generalized nature, including myth, cosmology, and the healing powers of music.

Jonathan D. Hill examines the Kwepani and Pudali, two separate ceremonial activities of the Wakuenai, indigenous people of the Venezuelan Amazon. In the Kwepani, initiated men assemble wild fruits, lash each other with ritual whips (essentially becoming living drums), and play sacred flutes and trumpets. In this male-dominated ceremony, social continuity and regeneration occur as exchanges transpire between ancestors and their descendents. The Pudali is a ceremony that involves both sexes, with trade occurring between guests and a host village. At the beginning of the ceremony, an evident separation between the two groups exists; however, as the Pudali progresses and exchanges of smoked meat for vegetable products take place, social boundaries between the two groups slowly dissipate. The author connects the vertical dimension of the Kwepani and horizontal nature of the Pudali within the broader cosmology of the Wakuenai.

Max Peter Baumann similarly discusses the role of panpipe ensembles and their relation to the worldview of the indigenous inhabitants of the Bolivian Andes. In their conceptualization of music making, the rural population conflates music, dance, song, and ritual. The annual cycle of religious rituals--a combination of the agricultural cycle, Inca calendar, and Gregorian calendar--provides the context of their contemporary musical behavior. Panpipe ensembles of the Bolivian Andes exhibit symbolic dualism, a primary feature of the Andean worldview. The interlocking technique employed to play panpipes, which requires pairs of panpipes ira/arka, serves as a manifestation of this duality. Following his analysis, Baumann concludes his insightful essay with a list of relevant hypotheses concerning pre-contact musical practices.

Dale A. Olsen also provides a lengthy and detailed cross-cultural and geographical examination of Central American and South American indigenous wind instruments. His analysis takes into account the function and construction of the instruments, as well as their aural and physical symbolism. Olsen favors sound production and construction as the primary criteria for classification. In his study of aerophones, Olsen strives to avoid strictly Eurocentric terminology, also warning against the assumption that the evolution of an instrument reflects the cultural advancements of a given society.

Thomas Turino compares two rural musical cultures of the Peruvian highlands: the district of Conima in the Aymara-speaking province of Huancane, Puno, and the Kechua-speaking province of Canas in the department of Cuzco. Among the rural Kechua and Aymara-speaking peoples of southern Peru, ethnicity and class are not primary factors in the creation of social identity; rather, such a determination occurs at the level of localized communities and regions. Correspondingly, musical styles are shaped by local and regional aesthetics. According to Turino, highland music functions as an emblem of identity for many migrants in the major cities of Peru. While these communities may share musical traits, such as a preference for dense sound, high tessitura, and discreet repetition of motivic material, they also differ in the use of musical instruments and genres.

Ronny Velasquez examines two Central American groups: the Miskito of Honduras and Nicaragua, and the Kuna of Panama, describing the pronounced role of chant and song in the enactment of their core beliefs. Both groups also share the practice of shamanic song, and have developed ways of explaining their separate musical worlds. The two disparate groups, furthermore, share other cultural practices. The author hypothesizes that "although many facts remain unknown concerning the Miskito-Kuna relationship, the subjacent layers of symbolic behavior exhibit striking similarities" (p. 194).

Maria Alonso Bolanos examines the connections between ancient Mexico as a historical memory of indigenous peoples and contemporary indigenous societies within Mexico. She cautiously reminds readers that "present-day indigenous societies in Mexico are distinct historico-cultural entities that do not merely represent coexisting historical epochs (the old and the new). Rather, they are dynamic social groups constantly engaged in the procreation of beliefs" (p. 234). She further notes that "although we can identify certain linguistic, social, and cultural continuities between present-day groups and ancient Meso-american civilizations, it is important to keep in mind that the nature of such links is the result of highly complex historical processes" (p. 231).

Additional chapters attend to the historiography, description, or survey of other diverse musical traditions. Elizabeth Travassos provides a detailed historiography of Brazilian indigenous music with particular emphasis on the Xavante, Kamayura, and Suya. In another essay, Rafael Jose de Menezes Bastos intricately describes the Yawari, an intertribal Xinguano ritual, also providing a case study involving the Kamayura, a Brazilian indigenous group. E. Fernando Nava Lopez provides another detailed account of the musical traditions of the P'urhepecha, an indigenous people living in the Mexican State of Michoacan. More generally, Maria Ester Grebe surveys four contemporary musical traditions of indigenous groups of Chile: the Aymara, the Atacameno, the Mapuche, and the Kaweskar, while Irma Ruiz examines indigenous societies of Argentina.

The book is suitably accompanied by two compact discs. Because aural examples are vital for complete musical understanding of the societies under investigation, the quality recordings convey another dimension of the study that cannot be described in mere words. In addition to references made to the recordings within the text, the book contains an appendix of insightful liner notes. The comprehensive bibliographies that follow every chapter are also indispensable, and many of the essays expertly review the literature in their areas of specialization. With a dearth of comprehensive writings on music and society in Latin America and the Caribbean in the English language, this series is a welcome addition to such publications as the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, vol. 2 (1998), which is also dedicated to the music of South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

While the numerous authors of this volume are conscientious in representing perspectives of the indigenous peoples under investigation, the largely etic perspective of the book contradicts the editor's statement that the "work was conceived to empower Latin Americans and Caribbeans to shape their own musical history, privileging their modes of representations and traditions of scholarship.... As such, [it] highlights the meanings that traditions carry among practitioners, as seen mostly through the lens of cultural insiders" (p. ix). While the contributors of the volume may not be "cultural insiders," they are, nonetheless, leading experts in their respective specializations, and exhibit masterful command of their field.


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Author:Perry, Mark E.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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