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January 2005
Juan Pablo González, musicologist:
"The cultural elite has prejudices against the masses"

He's an investigator on Chilean music. Juan Pablo González, musicologist, has just opened the study of Latin American popular music of the 19th and 20th Centuries to a rich and rarely-explored world of social, historical and cultural relations. His new book, "Historia social de la música popular en Chile", covers from 1890 to 1950, focusing mainly on popular and urban musical expressions.

By Rosario Mena

Book Historia de la Música Popular en Chile. 1890-1950 ("History of Popular Music in Chile. 1890-1950").

Juan Pablo Gonzalez is already working on the second volume of Historia Social de la Música Popular en Chile (1890-1950), a recently published illustrated book that contains an exhaustive work of recovery, investigation and register made by an interdisciplinary team. The book is sold with a special CD that compiles recordings of the 20th Century's first half.

In other words, it was a group-effort led by a man who's passionate about music and has always worked somehow around it. The work for this book included related activities, such as the production of the show From the hall to the cabaret.

"I'm looking for financing to organize an orchestra, a group of singers and actors, and all what's needed for a show that travels through time —from the boites, the 'quintas de recreo', radio audiences...".

The show will be presented on March at the Universidad de La Serena, and has already been airplayed by Cooperativa radiostation and Televisión Nacional. It was also compiled for a record edited by Warner Music, the same label which took care of the record that is now sold with the book.

"To rescue a forgotten heritage that has to do with the urban/popular world, in a country where most of our identity has been defined from a rural perspective" was the main goal of this professor. "One sees that all of the elements of urban identity are usually denied as parts of national identity". Gonzalez believes that the urban "cueca" [National dance] and other expressions that were born from mixtures have been considered as "an attack against a so-called purity of the national soul and folklore".

To stop prejudices and open the spectrum of national identity is an urgent need, he says:

"The whole Chilean 'postcard' has to integrate new elements, so this sound-space becomes more diverse. We have to face the fact that we have been dancing tango for more than a century; and that it's been sixty years with the bolero and the Peruvian vals, and fifty with tropical music. What sells the most in Chile is Mexican music. And that is a phenomenon that is not valued from a heritage perspective. Those same musicians may play fox trot, urban 'cueca', Peruvian vals. What comes from abroad has helped us to build our subjectivity. So this is an effort to provide of a heritage level all that music usually branded as 'popular', 'commercial' or 'foreign'".

The urban context of this cultural industry, with all of its elements of communication and mass-consumption, defines a field in which oral tradition was changed by the mediatization of social expressions.

"People know Violeta Parra's and Victor Jara's music because both of them made records. They didn't live in the country. Inti Illimani learnt about Ecuadorian folklore because they listened to records, not because they are Quechuas. We have to understand that the cultural industry does exist, as well as the media and mass-culture. The cultural elite and those who study the folklore are full of prejudices against mass-culture. If we talk about rural singers and cueca it is because of records or theater, which is how the typical citizen learns about that during the 20th Century. The pure oral part, which has been the most studied, we do not include".

From this memory-recovery and the archives of other specialists, the heritage value of this book is based. Its main thesis is that there's a recyprocal dialogue between music and society; one that, according to Gonzalez, "assumes the existance of mutual conditions, interactions. It's an intent of the Latin American song to influence daily life and carry modernity. So, music has been a way to make modernity more democratic".

The impact of Mexican music in our rural world, during the 30s, and the connection that that gives us to the rest of the world (same with the development of tango in Valparaiso) is a good example of the former.

"Chileans are very astute: they have chosen the world's best music. There's no country in which you cand find bolero, tango, jazz, Peruvian vals... played with such intensity. That's why what makes an impact about Chile is folklorical fusion music. Violeta [Parra] was the one to start with the fusion of the folk roots within a national trend. She is the concrete proof of this phenomenon".

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