Between the 18th and the 21st centuries, the musical transatlantic space has profoundly changed,...
Popular music is frequently analyzed through national 'musical genres,' consecrated through specific aesthetic and socio-cultural conventions, and usually formed over various decades. It is enough to think of the most traditional music genres in the Americans, such as samba, jazz, rumba, bolero, and tango, for our cultural memory to relate them to their country of 'origin:' Brazil, United States, Cuba, Mexico, and Argentina, respectively. For some time, the historiography of music has been problematizing this approach based on a national focus, but in social memory and mass culture, the identification between musical genres and certain national identities is still very strong. Not by chance, the history of these large musical genres is confused with the process of modernization and cultural massification of the countries in which they originated.
Is it possible to construct another cartography of popular music from the Americas?
While literature and the 'fine arts' are artistic forms that are easier to be controlled or inserted in a determined socio-cultural hierarchy, demanding specific abilities and resources from trained artists, critics, and those who enjoy them, music has always been more open to an unpredictable and uncontrollable circulation of sounds, timbres, and rhythms. Neither in their initial formation and consolidation processes, like mainstream genres already consecrated in the musical systems of their respective countries, was any form or genre of dance, instrumental music, or singing exempt from intersections and transnational or transoceanic cultural transfers. Often these exchanges occurred on the margins of socio-cultural circuits approved by the elites, the established market, or official artistic institutions. In almost all national formations in the Americas and Europe, principally during the nineteenth century, there was a great separation between a culture considered a legitimate representative of countries, under the sign of civilization and progress, and a 'popular' culture which was caught between pure and simple exclusion and exotic appropriation by the educated elites. Music did not escape from the cultural struggle which frequently was pervaded by concepts of class and race.
This plurality of connections and hybridisms, multidirectional and polyphonic, does not impede us from trying to map these historic processes and suggesting parameters of analysis, even at the risk of some generalizations to be verified and problematized in future research. This is one of the objectives of this cartography, centered on intersected musical exchanges between Europe, the Americas, and Africa, responsible for the formation of the principal musical matrices in the Americas.
The musical phenomenon which we call 'popular music' can, in the cultural context of the American continent, be considered in two basic historic formats: one aimed at dance (on the streets and in ballrooms, in groups, or in pairs) and another format for individual or collective listening, without a direct appeal to dance, which is characterized by the combination between music and the 'sung word' (letra, parole, lyrics), interpreted by the human voice. Historically, the two formats coexisted and affirmed themselves, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the 'song,' the most complete example of the second format that popular music assumed, was affirmed in the twentieth century and intermixed with many of the genres of instrumental music which were concerned above all with dance. In other words, any classification which adopts as a foundation a dichotomy between music to dance to and music to listen to is merely didactic, and cannot be super-dimensioned for a broader and dialectical analysis of the history of music.
The circulation of various musical sonorities in the Americas, or between the Americas, Africa, and Europe is older than the colonization of the continent. This does not involve analyzing pre-colonial American music as 'autochthone' or 'static' in the time and space of Pre-Colombian America. Amerindians had complex networks of cultural exchanges, especially in the Andean and Mesoamerican macro-regions, as well as in the Atlantic and Pacific coastal regions, in the Pampas, and in the confines of the Artic and Patagonia.
It would be more appropriate to state that colonization instituted other patterns and materials of cultural transfers, with the result that European and African music established a previously unknown form of hybrid timbre and rhythm, a phenomenon from which popular music in various American countries originated.
In the case of Hispanic and Portuguese America, the presence of the Catholic church, particularly of the Jesuits, constituted the foundations of one of the first Transatlantic socio-musical experiences, which oscillated between the imposition of European patterns of harmony and the selective assimilation of these by Amerindian communities.
It appears that the relationship between music and catechesis at the beginning of colonization was much more structured in Spanish America than in Portuguese, as Fr. João Daniel showed in the middle of the eighteenth century:
"(...) In this way, the children and much less the adults cannot be taught either music or music instruments, because it is a lost cause: what is it worth for a missionary to teach their neophytes to sing at mass, to celebrate the divine office, to practice some instruments, if when they become capable of officiating in churches they are obliged to go and row canoes and to work for whites? [...] It is not like this in the Castilian missions, where Indians are stable, like in any settlement of whites in Europe, and for this reason their missionaries taught them, they learn music, they learn musical instruments, they celebrate in Churches the Divine Office with much solemnity, and they use the artes mechanicae, and finally they are successful in what they are taught1. "
Notwithstanding the importance of these Transatlantic musical exchanges, which go back to the sixteenth century, above all for the Amerindian music which would be made in the following centuries, this text will focus on the exchanges that emerged at the end of the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth and twentieth. It was these exchanges which molded a dynamic and mutable musical cartography, but with identifiable patterns and agencies of various ethnic and social groups, which molded the matrices of musical genres.
As a general rule, it can be stated that between the eighteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, exchanges between intellectualized mediators (travelers, artists, writers) and mass populational displacements, whether of enslaved Africans or emigrating Europeans, were central in the affirmation of these musical exchanges and in the assimilation of the musical genres which we call 'matrices' in local contexts.
From the middle of the twentieth century onwards the circulation of cultural products with a radiophonic, phonographic, or audiovisual nature, produced under the seal of mass culture, transmitted by electronic media, within a structure of a mercantilized cultural consumption, came to be the principal format of musical diffusion between countries, even though the physical movement of mediators and populations was still significant. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, digital media and products, distributed or formatted by large multinational corporations, assumed the principal protagonism in this system of cultural and musical exchanges. In other words, we start from the premise that experiences of musical exchanges in the twenty-first century, in principle, depend less on the physical movements of anonymous or authorial cultural agents than the experiences of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that these physical movements functioned in the twentieth century and at the beginning of the twenty-first, constituting particular experiences and specific musical forms, even if little visible in the musical market.
On the other hand, in relation to the historical phase when population movements were determinant in the constitution of transcultural musical experiences, we cannot underestimate the circulation of printed material and the action of cultural institutions linked to the national elites being formed, as elements which instituted the musical cartography of the Americas. Also in the eighteenth century, modinha and lundu, considered by a large part of Brazilian musical historiography as the 'matrix genres,' are examples of this complex network of migrations of people and printed material between Africa and Brazil, Brazil and Portugal, the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas.
The case of lundu, the first references of which date to 1760, is very paradigmatic of this standard of exchanges and cultural hybridisms, and also reveals what were perhaps the first great waves of musical migration to the Americas, coming from the Iberian Peninsula and Africa. The Brazilian lundu was danced to the sound of African percussion by people of mixed race who imitated the choreography of the Iberian fandango, in which the dancers put "a hand on their foreheads and on the other on their sides" (apud Tinhorão, p. 52). From Portugal, according to Vasco Martins, the lundu reached Cape Verde in Africa in the eighteenth century, giving rise to the country's national genre, morna.
In Hispanic America, the most influential musical format in the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth was the habanera (or havanera), whose history reveals one of the most complex musical migrations and influential Transatlantic cultural transfers in the musical area. As in the case of other matrix genres of music, there is no consensus among researchers about the 'origin' of this form, which in fact is no longer a question for historiography or contemporary musicology. Nevertheless, the two most accepted explanations to explain the arrival of this rhythm in Cuba are related to transcultural and transatlantic experiences. According to Alejo Carpentier (La Música en Cuba, 1946), the Cuban habanera derived from the French contradance, brought to the island by French who fled the Haitian revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. According to Natalio Galan, the contradanza arrived directly from Spain after being formatted in the English and French courts of the ancien régime.
Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the habanera was the principal musical form, sung and danced in Cuba. It returned to Spain through sailors and, in addition, to becoming popular in some regions of the country, such as Andalusia, it was adopted as a ballroom dance and motif by composers of erudite music, including Maurice Ravel, Bizet, and Camille Saint-Saens.
While there is no consensus about the routes by which contradanza came to Cuba, all researchers agree that there was a particular assimilation of European dance in the new Cuban cultural and racial environment, with the introduction of the tresillo (considered by musicologists as the basic rhythmic cell of Sub-Saharan Africa) and the rhythmic variation (a weak marking of time in the musical beat).
However, the musical journey of the habanera and its tresillo was not only in the direction of Europe. Although initially formalized in Cuba, where tresillo was transformed into the habanera rhythm, it was also present in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires, leading to the birth of the first musical forms of dancing and playing which composed the foundations of jazz (cakewalk, ragtime), samba (maxixe), the Platina milonga, and the Porteño tango.
Statement of Jelly Roll Morton to Alan Lomax (1938), Complete recording for the Library of Congress – about the 'Spanish tinge' of the first jazz (habanera / tresillo)
The tresillo might not characterize just a case of migration, but also of simultaneity, as defended by Carlos Sandroni. According to this Brazilian musicologist the tresillo simultaneously appeared in the "music of many other parts of the Americas where slaves were imported, including Brazil of course"2.
In this line of argumentation, wherever there was a massive African presence, meter (the regular structure of musical times) and rhythm (the different temporal connections of music through a given metric structure) overlapped. This point is important, because many American musical formations, or at least those where the Eurocentric ear identified a dominant 'syncope' or rhythmic variation, are fruits of this encounter between a musical practice based on oral tradition and the imposition of a sheet music market which needed to be written down in accordance with European canons.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, a new genre of dance would leave Central Europe, cross the Atlantic and cause a furor in the Americas: the polka. It is worth noting that the waltz, one of the matrices of paired ballroom dancing, had already reached the Americas, becoming favored in the aristocratic ballrooms of the new continent through its assimilation in the Viennese courts and the English aristocracy at the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, the 'polka fever' appears to have been wide-ranging and quite influential on American musical matrices.
Between 1835 and 1840, the polka left the region of Bohemia, arriving in Prague and finally Vienna, Paris, and London, formatted as ballroom dancing. In 1844, it finally reached the Americas. The great European immigration into the United States spread the genre among the poorer parts of the population, alongside European dances. The polka perhaps became the most disseminated of the European ballroom dances which landed in the Americas in the nineteenth century, such as English set-dancing, the schottish, and the mazurca.
The polka spread throughout Latin America. There are records of the genre becoming an important part of the musical scene in Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, and Paraguay. Generally speaking, the map of social dissemination of the polka follows the same route as the other genres: it arrived through the most refined ballrooms and musical theater, to be assimilated by the poorer elements in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In South America, the popularity of the polka was due to presentations in theaters by professional musicians and dancers who embraced the new musical fashion. In Brazil, the polka first arrived in 1845, and was assimilated by various social groups in a differentiated manner. In the richest groups, it was assumed as a fashionable dance. According to Sandroni:
Linked pair dances appeared in Brazil in the 1840s, with the waltz and the polka. Modern novelties, they were enthusiastically adopted by rich families from the principal coastal cities, but it took a lot for them to be accepted in the interior, in the small cities and by the people in general (...) The problem, it seems to me, is that from the 1870s onwards, the question of popular dances in Rio de Janeiro would be placed in completely new conditions. New musical forms were created which were not the dances imported directly from Europe, nor they did not correspond to the popular forms of entertainment inherited from the colonial epoch3.
Thus, in the poorer sectors, even in the largest coastal cities, the polka took about 20 - 30 years to be assimilated. Around 1880, the polka danced in pairs with leaping movements of the feet gave way to a dance in which the hip was the basic movement: the maxixe. A little before, as improvised instrumental music, played in a syncopated manner by street musicians using the flute, ukulele, and guitar, it gave rise to the famous choro carioca. Choro and maxixe inaugurated modern urban Brazilian music, in a large erratic and not at all linear path which would lead to samba, in its meeting with Afro-Brazilian traditions which remained active throughout the nineteenth century.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the maxixe crossed the Atlantic and achieved some success as a dance in Paris.
A variant of the polka, the schottish, also spread at the same time through the Ballrooms of Central and Western Europe, in the United States, the north of Mexico, the interior of Argentina (chamamé), and the northeast of Brazil (xote).
Notwithstanding the importance of European musical migration for American musical matrices, African musical migration is what was determinant for the final formatting of popular music on the continent, at least in genres which became the musical mainstream in various countries, such as jazz, samba, and rumba. The musical sounds from Sub-Saharan Africa made an essential contribution to American musical hybridism.
In the musical map of Afro-America, three large regions stand out. The great Atlantic coast of South America, including almost all the Brazilian coastline and the mouth of the River Plate River; the region of the Caribbean and the Antilles; and the South of the United States. These were the macro-regions where Afro-American music formatted its first sonorities between the seventeenth and nineteenth century, creating various modern genres in the twentieth century. Obviously, the musical history of Afro-America is inseparable from the Transatlantic black slave trade and the various slaveholding societies which were formed on the Continent.
2) ENTRANCES INTO THE AMERICAS
Brazil (Pernambuco, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro)
Spanish America (Cartagena, Veracruz, Portobelo, Hispaniola, Porto Rico)
Cuba and Santo Domingo
During its colonial phase and the post-independence period until 1850, around four million African slaves, above all from Central Africa, arrived in Brazil. The Caribbean as a whole, understood as all its English, French, Spanish, and Dutch colonies, received around six million slaves. Continental Spanish America received around 1.6 million and the region of the United States (colonial and independent), around 500,000. Most of the slave trade was concentrated between the eighteenth century (60%) and the middle of the nineteenth (30%).
The traumas of the Atlantic crossing, as well as the real and symbolic violence of slavery, did not manage to destroy the African cultural matrices of many of the slaves in the Americas, which served as the basis for numerous fusions, assimilations, hybridisms, syncretisms, and intermixing with Amerindian and European culture. The combination of these African cultural elements in their various ethnicities with other European ethnicities and 'autochthones' varied from region to region. It is no exaggeration to say that, in the matrices of popular music formed in various countries along the Atlantic coast of the continent from the beginning of the twentieth century, the African element was primordial.
The exception to this African preponderance was the vast Mesoamerican and Andean zone, where the music of the Amerindian base was predominant: carnavalito, taquirari, huayno. These traditional Amerindian dances, alongside other dances and genres with important Iberian and African influences (zamacueca, cueca chilena, zamba, vals peruano), were important in the formation of the popular musical heritage of the Andean and Pacific region, a focus outside the scope of this article. These genres present in the vast South American hinterland, from the Argentinian pampas to the Andean highlands, received special attention from engaged folklorists in the 1950s, and formed the musical foundation of the Latin American Nueva Canción, with a strong political meaning, one of the matrices of the protest song on the continent.
Percussion, above all drums of different timbers and sizes, the concept of the 'music-event' (Kazadi Wa Mukuna), and the structure of the song-response (in a complex interaction between the single singer and the chorus), markedly African elements, were maintained as a legacy of the continent of origin, lost forever, but evoked as an ancestral memory, and impacted various Afro-American musical assimilations and fusions. It is worth noting that in various parts of colonial English America, such as Georgia and South Carolina (Negro Act of 1740) and Jamaica (1696), African drums were declared illegal and prohibited because they were related to communication strategies in moments of slave rebellion. The banishment of drums, known to be an effective variable in various slaveholding regions in the Americas, was greater in the south of the Thirteen Colonies which gave rise to the United States of America. Only in Catholic Louisiana, which had a large creole (mixed) population who had reached superior social strata, did percussion run loose in the streets. The musical matrices accompanied the historic maturing of American colonial slave-holding societies, marked by the large-scale importing of slaves from Africa (with a peak between 1750 and 1860) and the emergence of a local elite who built new independent countries on these social foundations. The structuring slaveholding framework was strongest in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States, not by chance the important musical factories of 'Afro-America.'
New research has demonstrated that the increased slave traffic in the first half of the nineteenth century, above all in Brazil and Cuba, had a profound impact on American musical life. In this line of investigation, it can be argued that until around 1880 the presence of African musical culture (not necessarily Afro-American and mixed) was determinant as a point of fusion of musical experiences which formed the foundations of urban music and the national genres formatted at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, the changes in the treatment of the 'African question,' in various American countries, repressed the sonorities which remembered the African continent, above all in relation to the timbres of percussion. While the prohibition of 'drums' in the eighteenth century had a pragmatic and political nature, aimed at preventing rebellions, the exclusion of 'batuques' (drumming and drum based music) at the end of the nineteenth century by the musical culture of the middle classes and the white elites who sought to constitute a national Eurocentric identity, was more strictly cultural.
Between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, this process of the creation of Afro-American music appears to have become more identifiable and delineated, in terms of aesthetics and culture. As well as the previously mentioned habanera, the fundamental conventional matrix for various types of music from the Americas, there emerged musical configurations which can be conventionally grouped according to genre: spirituals (first found in 1860), jongo from South-Central Brazil, candombe from the River Plate region (both identified by writers at the beginning of the nineteenth century). In truth, the formatting of many of these matrix genres cannot be separated from their functions in religious or profane festivities, exercised in collective rituals over centuries. For example, in Brazil the Congadas and Bumba-meu-boi, called 'dramatic dances' by Mário de Andrade, despite possessing Iberian and Amerindian cultural elements, were catalyzed by African musical traditions.
Although the African music practiced in the Americas was not the object of careful notation in the nineteenth century and disappeared from sheet music and phonograms until the beginning of the twentieth, it was present in the daily life of society, albeit in an oblique and repressed manner. It was generically called by the press and travelling writes as batuque. However, it is worth noting that there is also a strong line of Afro-American musical expressions which do not have the 'batuque' or beat of drums and percussion at the center of their expressivity. The various work songs, practiced above all on the plantations, as well as ladainhas (kyrielles) and songs of a religious nature, had a fundamental role as musical matrices of various modern genres, such as spirituals and blues in the United States
The great trap in this generic nomenclature is that, above all in Eurocentric reports disseminated through the perspective of educated nineteenth century travelers, the words which designated musical sounds did not have precise shapes, above all in relation to popular dances. In the case of sounds which had come from Africa, the difficulty was greater still, due to prejudice in listening and the technical difficulties of capturing rhythmic forms of the Eurocentric ears of writers and travelers.
While there is no sheet music, there is abundant documentation in the form of reports and iconography which allows researchers analyze types of instruments, their genealogies, the way they were played, and their social function.
Especially from the last quarter of the nineteenth century onwards, the sheet music industry consecrated the obsession for the classification of popular musical genres through conventions in which 'rhythm' was the central point. Sheet music thus indicated to the person interpreting it, usually a pianist, the 'beat' and the rhythmic division of the melody, already suggested in the name. In its initial phase the record industry continued this obsession with classifying popular music, contributing to the construction of performance and listening conventions which helped define national genres in the Americas. This process of the invention of market orientated urban music coincided with the silencing of ancestral African sounds in the countries where this presence was fundamental, such as Brazil.
At the end of the nineteenth century, even in regions where Africanness was very present and African sounds tolerated, such as Brazil, Cuba, and Louisiana, percussion was excluded from the music consumed by the middle classes, such as formatted in the sheet music and phonographic industry. However, this does not mean that this silencing actually existed in the musical experiences of Afro-Descendants in their communities and festive sociabilities.
In Brazil, percussion would only return with total force in the Brazilian phonographic world between the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1950s, despite having been recorded since the end of the 1920s. Nevertheless, until the middle of the 1940s when samba was being formatted as 'typical Brazilian music' and African sounds were already well diluted in national genres, there was still a strong prejudice against the excess of percussion in popular music, synonym of 'atavistic Africanness.'
In this process, many musical matrices were being forgotten, assimilated, diluted, or reiterated, forming the modern cartography of popular American music in the first half of the twentieth century. Ancestral forms, such as habanera, modinha, and lundu, practically disappeared from the musical map of the twentieth century. Others such as Brazilian choro and maxixe underwent alternative periods of revival and ostracism, becoming incorporated into the generic field of samba, the principal national Brazilian genre during the twentieth century. The Argentinian tango, delineated as a type of dance and song around 1920, became mainstream music in the region of Buenos Aires, at the same time that candombe underwent a process of ghettoization which was only questioned in the 1980s. In the Caribbean, rumba (Cuba), mambo (Cuba), cha-cha-cha, calypso (Trinidad), merengue (Dominica), amongst others, constituted the base of dance music in the region, widely diffused from the middle of the twentieth century by the phonographic industry in the United States. In the latter country, from the proto-jazz of New Orleans, such as cakewalk and ragtime, and the blues of the Mississippi Delta, there emerged an entire line of modern popular music, such as jazz itself, fox-trot, bebop, swing, rhythm 'n blues and rock 'n roll. Alongside the songs of operettas, European dances, and Music Hall, it constituted the base of the US record industry, which spread widely around the world.
Finally, it is worth remembering that the musical migrations which are at the base of American music did not occur on a one-way street. Due to the strength of the record industry, (especially, but not only, in the US), in the second half of the twentieth century it underwent a reverse movement. Popular American music (above all in the United States) crossed the Atlantic back to Africa and Europe, pollinating the continent above all with US (pop, soul, and jazz), Jamaican, and Cuban music, but also Brazilian.
Obviously, we cannot forget that much before this, between 1910 and 1920, ballroom dances from the Americas, such as fox-trot, Charleston, tango, and maxixe, were very successful in Europe, especially in Paris and in Berlin during the Weimar Republic.
However, it is undeniable that the return musical migration, from the 1950s and 1960s, ended up generating much more than a frenzy in ballrooms. In Africa, it generated a vigorous movement in the field in dialogue with pop, Caribbean music, and jazz (for example, Ethiopian jazz, Mulatto Astatke, Miriam Makeba, and Salif Keita). In Europe, US blues and rhythm 'n blues often brought by sailors and soldiers off-market and acquired for young people in British industrial cities, were at the heart of the English blues revival, without which the British rock which changed forever the history of the genre from the 1960s onwards would not have existed. Even Brazil, country of sophisticated musical traditions, but without the capacity to format phonographic markets on a global scale, exported its popular music, principally samba and bossa nova, to Europe and to Africa, between the 1960s and 1970s, generating a series of cultural transferences which need to be better researched. The Latin American Nueva Canción and the Cuban Nueva Trova equally crossed the Atlantic, achieving great success, especially in Spain, French, and Italy.
Like cartography, this text is only a provocation, an invitation to dive in, a 'journey' through the musical territory of the Americas, one of the most instigating products of the cultural history of the Transatlantic.
JDT, 1757-1776, Vol. 2, pp. 210-211. Apud: HOLLER, Marcos. A música na atuação jesuíta na América portuguesa. XV Congresso da ANPPOM, 2005.
Sandroni, C. Feitiço Decente, p.28.
Sandroni, C. Feitiço Decente, p. 65