Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Jazz Tinge in Dominican Music: A Black Atlantic Perspective

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Jazz Tinge in Dominican Music: A Black Atlantic Perspective

Article excerpt

Since its inception, jazz has developed in dialogue with Afro-Latin musics; as Jelly Roll Morton affirmed, "Spanish tinges" were integral to early jazz in the quintessentially Caribbean city of New Orleans (quoted in Lomax 1973, 63). The two world wars spread North American popular culture along with U.S. hegemony, and jazz was subsequently domesticated worldwide. Especially fertile fusions of jazz and local musics developed in African-influenced music cultures (see Averill 1989; Coplan 1985; Pickney 1989). Afro-Cuban jazz became internationally known in the 1940s under the influence of Cuban musicians Machito, Mario Bauza, and Chano Pozo and of bebopper Dizzy Gillespie. Gillespie once wrote about his rapport with Pozo: "Since Chano couldn't speak English, people always asked, `Well, how do you communicate?' `Deehee no peek pani, me no peek Angli, bo peek African,' Chano would answer [Dizzy no speak Spanish, I no speak English, but we both speak African]" (Gillespie and Fraser 1979, 318). Similarly, Machito once said that the merging of jazz with "the rhythms of Cuban music was not a conventional union--it was a marriage of love" (quoted in Waxer 1994, 154). But black Atlantic musics are a variegated constellation not a uniform soundscape; as Paul Gilroy (1993a, 109) affirms, "Race carries with it no corona of fixed absolute meanings." The study of music in the African diaspora thus "involves struggling with one question in particular. It is the puzzle of what analytic status should be given to the variation ... between black cultures which their musical habits reveal" (Gilroy 1993b, 79-80). While Latin jazz developed into a full-fleged genre in New York City (see Roberts 1979), jazz tinges became important in Dominican popular music. This article critically considers the history of the jazz tinge in Dominican music, tracing its reception and stylistic development.

The Dominican Republic's population is estimated at 80 percent mixed African and European, 15 percent black, and 5 percent white; Dominican sociologist Pedro Perez Cabral (1967, 75) aptly calls his country a "comunidad mulata," or mixed-race community. The African element in this mix is cardinal; as Martha Ellen Davis (1976, 2) attests, the Dominican Republic "without doubt, should be considered an Afro-American nation--that is, a New World nation in which the African cultural influence figures prominently, if not predominantly." Unlike Africans and the British, however, Africans and Iberians were not strangers when they met in the Americas; the two groups had shared lifeways for over seven hundred years during the Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula. The occupying forces in Spain came from as far away as Timbuktu (Ortiz 1952-1955, 3:64), and many of those who came to the Caribbean from Spain were "free settlers of partial African descent" (Curtin 1969, 31). By the end of the eighteenth century, black and mixed-race freedmen outnumbered both whites and slaves in colonial Santo Domingo.

The Spanish colony of Santo Domingo was founded in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. Its western third was ceded to France in 1697, and the Republic of Haiti was founded there in 1804 as the result of a successful slave uprising. With the ideal of ridding the entire island of colonialism and slavery, Haiti invaded Spanish Santo Domingo, unifying the island in 1822. Although Dominican slaves welcomed the Haitians, the Eurocentric ruling classes looked disfavorably on the Haitian occupation, repelling the invaders and proclaiming the independence of the Dominican Republic--from Haiti and not from Spain--in 1844. Since then, the Dominican upper classes have consistently propagated a Eurocentric notion of national identity that stands in stark contrast to the highly African-influenced culture of their country's majority.

The ensuing racial and cultural ambivalence is, as Frantz Fanon puts it, "inherent" to "the colonial situation" (1967, 83; see also Herskovits 1937, 295-296; Bourguignon 1951, 1969; Wilcken 1992; Austerlitz 1997, 7). …

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