Musicians in Transit: Argentina and the Globalization of Popular Music

By Cough, Daniel | Notes, December 2018 | Go to article overview

Musicians in Transit: Argentina and the Globalization of Popular Music


Cough, Daniel, Notes


Musicians in Transit: Argentina and the Globalization of Popular Music. By Matthew B. Karush. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. [xi, 268 p ISBN 9780822362166 (cloth), $94.95; ISBN 9780822362364 (paperback), $24.95; ISBN 9780822373773 (e-book), varies.] Illustrations, bibliography, index.

Musicians in Transit is historian Matthew Karush's account of the international careers of seven Argentine popular musicians, ca. 1910-2000. The author examines how Oscar Aleman, Lalo Schifrin, Gato Barbieri, Astor Piazzolla, Sandro, Mercedes Sosa, and Gustavo Santaolalla found work in Argentina and abroad, composing and performing balada, folk, jazz, rock, and tango, among other musical styles. These global careers, and the identities they generated, are significant, Karush argues, not just for the history of music in Argentina, but also because "the ideological, aesthetic, and commercial maneuvers of Argentine musicians in transit enabled their fans to reimagine Argentina's relationship to the rest of the world" (p. 3). Globalization is the condition that makes this reimagination possible, and Karush understands the term "in its most basic sense as an increase in transnational interconnectedness and integration" (p. 3). He locates twentieth-century Argentine musicians in a "distinctive position" on the peripheries and yet "fully incorporated into" global cultural circuits, while also being leaders in music production in Latin America. In this context, the ways "Argentine musicians [navigated] the global music industry yielded aesthetic innovations ... [that] had unpredictable and transformative effects on identity formation both throughout Latin America and within Argentina" (p. 7). The mobile careers of these seven musicians thus help Karush "to understand how music circulates, how its meanings are constructed, and how it makes possible new identities" (p. 12). Argentina, the United States, Brazil, and France serve as the main contexts for these careers, with the rest of Latin America and Italy occasionally appearing in the narrative.

Karush's primary intervention is to decipher how these musicians strategically engaged some aspect of their identities in global cultural circuits as they experienced changes in location, fan bases, political regimes, and the music industry. For instance, the frictions between US and Latin American identity politics presented both opportunities and barriers to musicians shaping hemispheric careers, illustrated by Schifrin's assumed expertise in "Latin" (i.e., Cuban) music when he moved to New York in the 1950s. Moreover, while Buenos Aires-born Piazzolla claimed Italian ancestry in the 1930s as a teenager on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Barbieri (another white Argentine) embraced a "Third World" identity in the 1970s in order to participate in a transnational politics of solidarity ascendant among US-based free-jazz musicians. This strategic fashioning of identities also occurs at home, and Karush--whose scholarship has examined politics and media in mid-twentieth-century Argentina--skillfully positions the musicians among the political and class positions of taste communities in that country, where support for musical acts and styles shifted with the vicissitudes of political administrations and outlooks on cultural cosmopolitanism and international trade.

The musical, spatial, and temporal range of Musicians in Transit could be overwhelming, but Karush brings continuity to disparate geographies and histories by using each chapter to follow a musician's career arc chronologically. This focus on the individual also brings the instability of musical categories into focus, particularly those deployed by global cultural industries. Musicians end up in different stylistic communities over the course of their careers, owing as much to personal aesthetic decisions as to shifting ideas about musical style, politics, and race. For example, Karush describes the invention and marketing of "world music" in the North Atlantic as a boon to the career of Piazzolla during the 1980s and 1990s, expanding the reach of what had been a mostly Argentine career. …

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