African Diaspora and Colombian Popular Music in the Twentieth Century

Article excerpt

In this paper I argue that the concept of disapora is problematic insofar as it implies a process of traffic outwards from an origin point (usually seen as geographical, cultural and/or "racial"). This origin is often seen as being a key to the definition of diaspora--without it, the concept descends into generalized incoherence (Brubaker 2005). I want to argue for the continued usefulness of a concept of diaspora, in which the "origin" is understood as a space of imagination (which is not to say that it is imaginary, although it may also be that) and in which the connections between the "outlying" points of the diaspora are as important, or more so, than the connections between the outliers and the origin.

Analytically speaking, diaspora has to be distanced from simple concerns with uni-directional outward dispersals from a single origin point (which may also carry certain masculinist connotations). Specifically, I think the concept of diaspora points at a kind of cultural continuity but one where "cultural continuity appears as the mode of cultural change" (Sahlins 1993, 19). For theorists such as Hall and Gilroy, diaspora serves as an antidote to what Gilroy calls "camp thinking" and its associated essentialism: diasporic identities are "creolized, syncretized, hybridized and chronically impure cultural forms" (Gilroy 2000, 129). This is an important perspective, which is both analytic and descriptive: the analytic term refers to the everyday phenomenon of identities as they exist in the world. But the emphasis on hybridization runs the risk of sidelining continuities. Hall is right to say that the rich cultural roots from Asian and African aesthetic traditions that feed U.K. black experience are, in a diasporic context "re-experienced through the categories of the present" (Hall 1996, 448), but this does not entirely capture the sense of continuity that is often accorded those roots by the people who are interpreting their own lives.

For Brubaker (2005), diaspora as "thing" does not really exist as an analytic concept; instead the analytic term should be used in adjectival form to refer to the phenomenon of the diasporic stance or attitude adopted by people who seek to maintain or create identities that refer to a homeland. This is also important because it reflects the notion of cultural continuity or sameness, which may persist alongside (or rather because of--in the sense of mutually constituting) cultural change. The point about diaspora as an analytic concept is that it reflects that continuity, both in terms of an insider perspective of people who (as one might expect) interpret cultural change in a selective and appropriative way, and in terms of grasping that continuity as something that, partly as a result of these interpretations, creates a real cultural complex of interconnections. Tradition is a term that Gilroy deconstructs fairly comprehensively, but, rather in passing, he gives it some residual room that I think is worth repeating here:

[I]t may make sense to try to reserve the idea of tradition for the nameless, evasive, minimal qualities that make these diaspora conversations possible ... as a way to speak about the apparently magical processes of connectedness that arise as much from the transformation of Africa by disapora cultures as from the affiliation of diaspora cultures to Africa and the traces of Africa that those diaspora cultures enclose. (Gilroy 1993, 199)

I think the very concept of diaspora should refer to what Gilroy admits as tradition here: rather than conceiving of a tension between routes and roots, the roots constitute the possibility of existence of routes.

As the history of Colombian popular music that I will present here indicates, musical processes are characterized by a seiles of multilateral exchanges, which are dynamic and often unpredictable. However, these exchanges are always being read and interpreted in specific ways, by different sets of audiences and commentators, who are interested in constructing certain narratives, often ones in which origins play an important role. …