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

By Perry, Mark E. | Notes, June 2007 | Go to article overview

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


Perry, Mark E., Notes


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 nguillipún, a fertility ritual practiced in southern Chile and Argentina by the Tehuelche, Pehuenche, Günuna-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 Kwépani and Pudáli, two separate ceremonial activities of the Wakuénai, indigenous people of the Venezuelan Amazon. In the Kwépani, 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 Pudáli 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 Pudáli 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 Kwépani and horizontal nature of the Pudáli within the broader cosmology of the Wakuénai.

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. …

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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
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