The Invention of Latin American Music: A Transnational History, by Pablo Palomino. Currents in Latin American and Iberian Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. xi, 272 pp.
"Latin American music" is such a widely used term that it would seem to be a "no-brainer": look for it in Google and you will find a ready definition. What it really means, however, presents a challenging issue for (ethno)musicologists like myself who, on a daily basis, work within the limits of such an undetermined field of study. In fact, what is Latin America? Who defined it? Why and when? The problematic nature of these questions emerges clearly when one considers that many universities in the United States have a center or an institute for Latin American Studies, and that these kinds of institutions are strangely absent from most universities located to the south of the Rio Bravo (or Rio Grande, as it is known in the North). Was Latin America a conceptual category built by insiders or by outsiders? The work of cultural historians such as Pablo Palomino reveals that it is "in fact the result of the sedimentation of projects--diplomatic, aesthetic, political--that 'invented' it" (p. 1). Palomino's book, therefore, explores in depth the role played by music in the history of that invention. His inquiry is thus framed in the history of the conceptual representation of the world as a sum of discrete geocultural regions, a process that began to take shape during the nineteenth century, was consolidated during the twentieth, and seems to be achieving a new life in the twenty-first with the new historiographic trends brought by a so-called global history. Palomino took on the challenge of searching for vestiges of convergent histories of great scope in terms of space and time, and has done so through a careful study of primary sources in five countries: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, the United States, and Germany.
Palomino begins his quest by exploring in chapter 1 the discourses built in the North and the South during the nineteenth century, and unsurprisingly finds that "Latin America" evolved as a geopolitical term in reaction to the United States' military expansion into Mexico and Central America. He approaches the issue through the compilation and analysis of numerous sources that reveal the role played by intellectuals of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking America in constructing the idea of a geopolitical area opposed to the United States, who tried to discursively resist the effects of North American imperialism. His narrative also describes the tensions created between "pan-Americanism," a term promoted by writers from the United States, and the concepts of "Hispanoamerica" and "Iberoamerica" promoted by Spain and Portugal, as well as that of "latinoamericanismo" promoted by intellectuals from Spanish-speaking countries resident in Paris.
The author's original focus comes to light in chapter 2, where he begins to display evidence of a hypothesis announced in the introduction of the book: namely that, as a conceptual category, Latin American music precedes other concepts related to the region's symbolic...