26 May 2014

Traditional Music of Southern Laos

Between the time when French musicologist Jacques Brunet recorded the music of Southern Laos in the early 1970s and the re-issue of these recordings on CD in 1992, Laos (by that time having become the People's Democratic Republic of Laos) had experienced war trauma, the flight of great numbers of people, isolation, and the beginning of healing. During the Vietnam war the United States dropped unimaginable quantities of bombs throughout the south (along the so-called 'Ho Chi Minh Trail') and in much of the northeast. In some provinces, virtually every town and sizable village were destroyed. Economic and social development were also stopped or rolled back. Provinces which once had running water and electricity, at least in the main town, ceased to have either. Where tourists formerly visited (e.g., Vat Phu near Champassak), there were only abandoned restaurants and a little-used hotel. In 1991 modern tourist hotels remained under construction just as they had been when workers walked off the job in 1975. Travel within Laos by both Lao and non-Lao was strictly regulated by the government; consequently, few were able to visit formerly familiar sites such as Luang Phabang, Vat Phu, or the Bolovens Plateau. Therefore, this set of recordings has a strange air of nostalgia, especially since it had been re-issued with the same notes used in the original Phillips recording of 1973.

12 May 2014

Mass Media and the Emergence of Salsa

The music which came to be called salsa developed out of Cuban dance genres--especially the son, 'guaracha' and 'rumba'--which had evolved into a cohesive set of commercial popular styles by the 1920s. By the 1940ss, these genres, as promoted by RCA Victor (which monopolized the record industry in Cuba) enjoyed considerable international appeal, and Latino communities in New York had come to play an important role in the evolution of Cuban music. Puerto Ricans had so eagerly adopted Cuban music for decades (especially since the introduction of radio in 1922) that they had come to regard such genres as the 'son' and 'guaracha' more or less as their own (generally at the expense of indigenous genres like 'plena' and 'bomba'). Meanwhile, since the 1920s, New York City had become the scene of a lively dialectic blending and competition of diverse grassroots Latin American musics and commercialized version thereof. Many Cuban musicians had come to base themselves in New York City, where, together with Puerto Rican bandleaders like Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez, they established New York as a center for the music that would eventually come to be labelled 'salsa' by the record industry.