Pop! Music, Politics and Culture in the Caribbean (2012)
Panel 4, June 17, 2012, 2:30 pm-4:00 pm
Moderator: Richard Phillips (University of Florida)
Presenters: Dr. Louis Regis (The University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago); Guillermo Molina-Morales (The University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago); Gabriella Reznowski (Washington State University)
Rapporteur: Sarah Yoder Leroy (University of Pittsburgh)
After Richard Phillips welcomed everyone and introduced the speakers, Dr. Louis Regis began with his presentation entitled “The Day of the Gorgon: The Calypso and its Engagement with the Burgeoning Crime Menace.” Calypso, which now comprises 98 years of recorded lyrics, represents an archive of the social history of Trinidad and Tobago, originating in the African communities, and reflecting those perspectives. Dr. Regis introduced three figures that have evolved in Trinidad and Tobago, and which have appeared in calypsos: the kalenda batonnier, or stick fighter, who guards tradition, is a romantic figure, and participates in ritualized violence; the badjohn, or street fighter, who appeared in the late 19th century and threatened public security, but disappeared by the 1970’s; and the gorgon, the product, propagator and victim of a homicidal culture, sociopathic and amoral, who appeared in the final decades of the 20th century, and is much more violent. He then spoke of the calypso response to the gorgon, citing lyrics from numerous songs. These responses include descriptions of violence, the linking of the ethnic and political, lamentations and anguished cries, corrosive satire, and frantic appeals. There are appeals to end the current madness and return to a mythical time, appeals to prayer to stem the tide and return to godliness, appeals to the bandits and killers themselves. There are appeals to authority (counterbalanced by the questioning of authority), and appeals to strengthen the school system and to restore capital punishment. There are appeals to strengthen family and fathers. There are appeals for the sacrosanctity of Carnival (let us party in peace!). There are rhetorical threats aimed at the bandits and warnings from policemen calypsonians. Unfortunately, there is no database of all the song examples that would facilitate needed research in this area.
Guillermo Molina-Morales followed with his presentation “La cultura popular latinoamericana en la era de ‘YouTube’: El Caso de ‘Wendy Sulca’, ‘Delfín Quishpe’ y ‘La Tigresa del Oriente’.” He discussed three Latin American artists who are well-known because of their presence on YouTube, and showed clips of each. La Tigresa del Oriente is well known in both Spain and Latin America, her YouTube videos having more than 12,000,000 visits. Her videos are unsophisticated, her voice ordinary at best, she is kitsch and campy, and intentionally humorous. She is well known not because of her quality but because her videos are on YouTube. Wendy Sulca, on the other hand, is more serious. She is a Peruvian child who dresses in traditional garb and sings traditional Andean songs, and she has become known and has toured internationally. In Spain, however, due to the cultural differences between her and the class of people viewing her on YouTube, she is seen as amusing and a little freaky. Delfin Quishpe is harder to interpret, perhaps. He sings a song about a girlfriend who died on 9/11 (a serious theme), yet his manner of dress and the presentation of the video makes it less clear whether he is serious or not. It is like baroque art--here the events of 9/11 are in the background, whereas the singer, along with his contact information, is in the foreground. These kinds of artists have become very popular, and there is a question of how the culture industry has taken advantage of them, for example, using these artists to promote a cause, such as a pro-Israel campaign.
Gabriella Reznowski's presentation was entitled "Hip Hop Mundial: Hip Hop’s Latino Roots and Global Appeal", and she spoke of the culture of hip hop over 35 years, since the 1970’s when it spread around the world. Reznowski was in middle school in Winnipeg when it started, and for her, hip hop ushered in an era of cultural exchange. Hip hop has now come of age, and is analyzed and studied. Some major universities now have archival hip hop collections, and artists are collaborating with the research being done at those institutions. Reznowski spoke of the contribution of Latinos to hip hop, especially their participation in underground hip hop, giving many examples. Latinos influenced hip hop in all four of its elements—MCing (rapping/rhyming), DJing, breakdancing, shopping graffiti. They expanded the genre worldwide, adding to its many varieties with innovations from their own cultural heritage, enlivening it by fusion with the Latino culture. The underground artists in hip hop often make use of autobiographical lyrics (joys and sorrows, dreams, etc.), are skeptical of its commercial aspects, show allegiance to the roots of hip hop, use social networking to disseminate their music, form networks and cooperatives with other artists, and tend to be less boastful and more able to laugh at themselves. Their themes include comments on economic realities, the blue collar struggle (famous nights and empty days), and the struggle of keeping hip hop real in spite of the commercialization of the genre. She then gave examples of several individuals and groups active in latino hip hop today, particularly latinos in the diaspora.
Questions & Comments:
Seth Markle (Trinity College) asked about the differences in hip hop in the Latin American diaspora versus in Latin America. Reznowski is interested in this topic but hasn’t had time to research it fully yet. Certainly each community will interpret hip hop through its own lens.
Phillips asked Dr. Regis what the word “cutlass” referred to. It is a machete. He wondered whether there were gun laws in Trinidad and Tobago. Yes, there are laws against the possession of firearms, but no one is willing to surrender their guns. Police officers and military servicemen have even been known to rent out their firearms, although it is against the law. He also asked where La Tigresa and Quishpe were from. La Tigresa is Peruvian; Quishpe from Ecuador.
Joan Osborne (NALIS) spoke of databases for calypso. The National Library started a database of calypso lyrics, but with the long history of calypso, it is pretty overwhelming, and she wondered if other libraries are doing similar projects with other types of music, and how to approach such an undertaking. Cornell has over 7,000 hip hop records, a good base for research, and has institutional support. It is harder for scholars that have to use their free time for research.
Phillips wondered how much of calypso, hip hop, etc., was copyrighted. Copyright is automatic, but many underground artists give free downloads in order to get their music disseminated.
John Wright (Brigham Young University) wondered if hip hop artists feel that their music is as temporary as graffiti is, and whether having copyright means they are entering the established commercial world, which could cause conflict for the artist.