Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures (Music/Culture)
Frances R. Aparicio
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For Anglos, the pulsing beats of salsa, merengue, and bolero are a compelling expression of Latino/a culture, but few outsiders comprehend the music's implications in larger social terms. Frances R. Aparicio places this music in context by combining the approaches of musicology and sociology with literary, cultural, Latino, and women's studies. She offers a detailed genealogy of Afro-Caribbean music in Puerto Rico, comparing it to selected Puerto Rican literary texts, then looks both at how Latinos/as in the US have used salsa to reaffirm their cultural identities and how Anglos have eroticized and depoliticized it in their adaptations.
Aparicio's detailed examination of lyrics shows how these songs articulate issues of gender, desire, and conflict, and her interviews with Latinas/os reveal how they listen to salsa and the meanings they find in it. What results is a comprehensive view "that deploys both musical and literary texts as equally significant cultural voices in exploring larger questions about the power of discourse, gender relations, intercultural desire, race, ethnicity, and class."
it possible to unite individual conscience and a desire for social change.7 Some years ago, when I first taught a graduate course on popular music and contemporary Puerto Rican literature at the University of Michigan, a Latina student came to my office to inform me that she was going to drop the class because the feminist perspectives and critiques of salsa music that we discussed in the classroom were beginning to cause too many conflicts in her relationship with her fiancé. He was angry at her
powerful enough to contribute to charity and to the church, developing, as a result, a sort of social status and visibility rarely or never alloted to prostitutes. Yet it is also a fact that the church did not accept many of Isabel’s donations because of her past and because of the illicit nature of her profession. As Vera Kutzinski has analyzed in the context of nineteenth-century Cuba, visual representations of the mulatta were consistently associated with prostitution and concubinage, and the
that have been erased through what Ngugi wa Thiong’o has deemed “colonial alienation,”42 is a plausible political and productive framework for reading these two short stories by Ferré. Locating pleasure in a racial Other also implies a process of eroticizing language—the word and the text. In “Maquinolandera,” the final short story in Papeles de Pandora,43 Ferré experiments with the pleasure of a text t h e d a n z a a n d t h e p l e n a / 58 imbued with Afro-Caribbean rhythms and language.
deploys the soneo as a liberatory literary structure that allows readers to “improvise” the ending of the story to best fit their own needs. The story is prefaced by “La vida te da sorpresas,” the refrain of a Rubén Blades song, “Pedro Navaja,” a refrain that signals a commitment on the part of musicians and writers alike to deconstruct social conventions reified by class, race, and gender boundaries.8 “La vida te da sorpresas, sorpresas te da la vida” (Life is full of surprises, surprises make
environment . . . and I won’t give it up now nor when I get older. . . . dancing is part of my identity.”43 Also revealing is the testimony of a middle-aged Mexican-American woman who viewed dancing as a cultural practice that differentiated her from her husband, an Anglo man who did not like to dance: “Cuando tengo un chance me escapo al Diamante Azul y ahí bailo. Antes de mudarme . . . Oh! sí . . . iba más seguido a los bailes. Sin mi marido, porque él es americano y no baila. Cuando voy a