Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Articulations of Locality: Portraits and Narratives from the Toronto-Cuban Musicscape1

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Articulations of Locality: Portraits and Narratives from the Toronto-Cuban Musicscape1

Article excerpt

In her article "Localizing Sound," ethnomusicologist Sara Cohen states: "We are all multiply placed with multiple identities but that does not necessarily mean that we are well-placed."2 This idea of placement, both good and bad, underlies Cohen's notion of "locality" which she suggests might be used in popular music studies to imply two things: (1) "a methodological orientation that is concerned with the particular rather than the general, the concrete rather than the abstract;" and (2) "a particular relationship between the spatial, the social, and the conceptual."3

Cohen's notion of locality is compelling for it raises the possibility that music be considered as a means of actually articulating "locality." However, it seems to me that Cohen's portrait of Jack-the concrete character whose narrative voice she uses to articulate a particular musical locality, namely, Liverpool Jewish-is perhaps too thickly drawn on the side where Jack feels a well-placed and secure identity through music and too thinly drawn on the side where he does not feel well-placed. Thus the methodology and the "particular relationship between the spatial, the social, and the conceptual" that Cohen represents through Jack, is, for me, overly bounded by a somewhat ethnically and individually too-tight coherence.

With Cohen's article in mind, the purpose of this paper is to extend ethnomusicological approaches to locality by investigating the ways in which the more negative, troublesome, and less coherent sides of placement-what Christopher Waterman might refer to as "alien spaces"-are articulated.4 For this purpose, I have gathered together as a sort of "mini-ethnography," a collection of portraits and narratives from a locality I refer to, following Slobin, as "the Toronto-Cuban musicscape."5 Drawing from interviews, conversations, program notes, song texts, liner notes, and media reviews, as well as from my own experiences in Havana and Toronto, my methodology has been eclectic, including media and discourse analysis, co-listening activities, life stories, and participation as an audience member at a variety of Cuban music events.

The ethnographic details I present below have been selected with attention to a major concern current among a growing number of ethnomusicologists and popular music scholars. Although that concern has been spelled out by various authors in various forms, it might be generally summarized as a movement away from, to borrow Will Straw's terms, "an investment in imaginary unities."6 This movement requires new and renewed questioning of concepts such as "community" and "ethnic identity." Further, it requires an expansion of research focus so that listeners, fans, and other consumers of music generally, are seen to have as significant and effective a place in the music-making, or "musicking," phenomenon as musicians, performers, and other sorts of music producers.7 Finally, it requires an examination of these identities in terms of the ambiguities of their relationships to one another; the particular and concrete relationships among "musickers" must be appreciated and understood not only at the points where they cohere spatially, socially, and conceptually within a locality, but also at the points where they conflict, and at all the shifting points of in-and-out-of-placeness in between.

In an attempt to fulfil some of these requirements, I have expanded my own research focus here to include a wider variety of voices than might conventionally be expected to appear in an ethnographic study of the Toronto-Cuban musicscape, i.e., people who are self-defined as "Cubans" and "musicians." Why have I incorporated these additional voices into my study? Because it seems to me that what is often forgotten in much of the ethnographic literature focusing on locality and the musical construction of space is the fact that (as Charles Keil recognizes in My Music and Music Grooves, for example) music counts on the participation ("participatory discrepancies" might be an even more apt term here) of non-musicians as much as on that of musicians. …

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