On Site, In Sound: Performance Geographies in América Latina

On Site, In Sound: Performance Geographies in América Latina

by Kirstie A. Dorr


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822368670
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 02/13/2018
Series: Refiguring American Music Series
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Kirstie A. Dorr is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

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On the Sonic Transits of "El Cóndor Pasa"

In 1913, Peruvian ethnologist, musician, and composer Daniel Alomía Robles arranged the orchestral score "El Cóndor Pasa," an eight-part musical accompaniment to the eponymously entitled zarzuela that promoted patriotic unification as an antidote to imperial interventionism. Knitting together a variety of regional aesthetics, rhythms, and instrumentations, the artist anticipated that the ordered aural amalgamation of popular traditions designated as "folklore" could be exploited to foment a collective if tiered sense of Peruvian national belonging. A century later, following a sundry of improbable musical transpositions and transits that Alomía Robles and his cohort could hardly have predicted, world music promoters and listeners have lauded "El Cóndor Pasa" as the South American sonic "crossover" par excellence. This dubious designation stems from the song's overwhelming commercial success, as to date it has received far more radio airtime, recording attention, and media renown than any other song from the Andean region. While many readers may not recognize this popular tune by name, most would recognize it by ear. For, the Peruvian National Institute of Culture estimates that between 1933 and the present no fewer than four thousand versions of the ballad — deemed "Peru's second national anthem" — have been recorded worldwide. Although the earliest copyrighted renditions of the melody were instrumental, over three hundred lyrical arrangements of it have been documented. Today, over 250 sonic variations of "El Cóndor Pasa" are available for download on iTunes(tm), interpreted by artists ranging from the Mariachi Masters, to Perry Como, to the Philharmonic Orchestra of London.

Both an archive and artifact of Peruvian national folklore, "El Cóndor Pasa" has "traveled" for nearly a century, traversing the boundaries of geography and genre, audience and aesthetics, language and signification. This chapter proffers a travelogue of sorts, charting three salient destinations among the ballad's innumerable geohistorical transits: the esteemed urban stages of early twentieth-century Lima; South American migrant musical communities of mid-century Paris and New York; and the nascent world music scene of the early 1970s. Tracking the dynamic interplay of cultural text and spatial context within each of these performance geographies, I advance several interrelated claims. In contradistinction to methods of musical inquiry that search for and/or valorize fixed, unproblematic geographies of sonic origin, I contend that processes of musical circulation differently and differentially produce, complicate, or reimagine collective perceptions of social space — from its commonsense ambits, contours, and borders, to its fundamental abstractions, contradictions, and exclusions. The enmeshed tales of musical transit examined herein effectively evidence how a single musical score can be effectively rearticulated across space, time, and genre to sound competing spatial imaginaries, social emplacements, and affective attachments. Given this, I propose reading "El Cóndor Pasa" as a geographic story — that is, a text that, through ongoing processes of aural transmission and transit, comes to sound both an emplaced and abstracted accumulation of political sensibilities, aesthetic encounters, and ideological claims. Lending an assiduous ear to the aural textures of instrumentation, arrangement, rhythm and artistry, I detail how "El Cóndor Pasa" has been mobilized by artists and promoters in distinct geotemporal contexts to imagine, consolidate, or destabilize social relations within different places, such as the nation, region, or hemisphere, as well as between different kinds of places, such as rural and urban, public and private, global North and global South. In so doing, I demonstrate how performance geography proffers a nonreductive method for apprehending the alchemic relations of space, sound, and difference that inhere in quoditian relations of musical production and circulation.


At the dawn of the twentieth century, limeño playwright Julio Baudouin published a polemical two-act zarzuela condemning the exploitation of Andean miners by U.S.-owned corporations. Premiering at Lima's distinguished Teatro Mazzi on December 19, 1913, the dramatic production promoted national unification via an appeal to the paternalistic sympathies and anti-imperialist fervor of the city's criollo intelligentsia. Set in the fictional highland mining settlement of Yápac, El Cóndor Pasa narrates the valiant travails of protagonist Frank, a mestizo miner critical of his "gringo" bosses for the physical and economic abuses they exact upon indigenous laborers. Frank's exploration of his hybrid cultural identity and the emergence of his anti-yanqui political consciousness allegorized for Peru's urban classes both the challenges to and benefits of constructing a modern, autonomous republic in the New World.

The operetta opens with a haunting chorus sung from the wings, accompanied by a mournful melody played by a wandering Andean shepherd on his bamboo kena (a notched, straight-ended flute):

Ya en la nieve de las cumbres comienza a brillar el Sol,
In the snowcapped mountains the Sun has begun to shine yet the day, the light of the heavens are not for us;
In keeping with Western theatrical traditions, El Cóndor Pasa's offstage chorus sounds the central polemic of the play, revealing insights of which the audience is presumably aware but the characters have yet to learn. Its poignant verses presage the unpopular views of Frank, an outspoken, light-skinned miner who publically decries the exploitative practices of the foreign-owned Cerro de Pasco Corporation. Known by el moniker el indio rubio (the white Indian), the protagonist's fervent incriminations are met with distrust by fellow indigenous coworkers who, in stark contrast, are depicted as meek and servile. During a casual conversation in the first scene, Native miners Tiburcio and Félix express their distrust of Frank owed to both his unusual appearance and his lofty ideals. In response to Frank's fervent assertion that "the masters treat us like beasts," Tiburcio dismissively replies, "This is how it should be, Frank. The masters were born to order, and us to obey them." When Frank then insists, "There is something in my mind that tells me that life shouldn't be this way," Félix crisply retorts, "You would think that the same blood as our imperious master burns in his veins."

Raised by indigenous parents María and Higinio, Frank's paternal roots have long been the speculation of Yupac's denizens, including his own father, who alludes to a possible affair between his wife and his boss: "The last condor that passed through here, I saw him flying above my hut one evening, losing himself in the heavens. ... Mr. Mac King was inside, your mother, María was there too ... but I do not know if that condor took our love with him on that tragic flight." But Frank balks at his father's suspicions, postulating that his fair hair and complexion are not the product of his mother's indiscretions, but rather, a physical manifestation of his political beliefs: "The red hair on my head is a reflection of the burning hatred that is in my blood. ... I hate the masters, because from the moment they bought the mines they also bought us as their beasts of burden."

However, following a heated confrontation with the company's head, antagonist Mr. King, Frank learns from his cohort the shocking truth about his heritage: the ruthless "yanqui" coproprietor of the foreign corporation, is, indeed, his biological father. Amid this revelation, community tensions mount. At a wedding that takes place shortly thereafter, a drunken Mr. King physically and emotionally brutalizes Higinio, who retaliates by following his boss home and crushing him to death with a large boulder. A shepherd who witnesses the incident informs the other miners, who fear physical and economic reprisal. Mr. Cup, the other owner of Cerro de Pasco, arrives soon thereafter and threatens Higinio and his comrades at gunpoint. In a final act of selfless heroism, Frank faces off with the mine owner and kills him in self-defense. Tiburcio and Félix are stunned by this dramatic turn of events, as is María who sobs inconsolably for the loss of her yanqui lover. Yet apprehensions are quelled and spirits lifted with the sudden, auspicious sighting of a condor in flight — the first to be glimpsed since the establishment of Cerro de Pasco in the region. A long-standing symbol of Andean power and resistance to Spanish colonization, the miners greet the revered bird in song. Frank joins the chorus, and together the miners proclaim in jubilant unison, "todos somos condores" (we are all condors).

A critical reading of this social drama reveals the strategic portrayal of a heterogeneous republic that, buttressed by the bonds of a shared biocultural past, encounters a common destiny in the expulsion of foreign influence and capital. Baudouin's zarzuela thus echoed the political strategies and narrative tropes of early twentieth-century Peruvian indigenismo, a cultural movement that debated questions of socioeconomic modernization and national belonging in relation to what social critic José Mariátegui dubbed "the Indian question" — the marginalization of indigenous populations within the national imaginary. Through its empathetic portrayals of an exploited "Indian other," El Cóndor Pasa promoted a vision of postcolonial unification rooted in an asymmetrical geotemporality of national belonging. In it, Peru's exploited yet guileless indigenous peasants of the rural highlands come into consciousness via contact with their heroic mestizo counterpart, Frank. Frank represents indigenismo's ideal national subject, one that embraces a uniquely American model of social and economic development that seamlessly integrates the mythical past traditions of the indigenous countryside with the modern political thought that predominates in Peru's urban coastal capital. It is Frank who is conscious and critical of entrenched colonial hierarchies, and it is he alone who possesses the courage and reason to defy and ultimately defeat Misters King and Cup — characters who symbolize foreign influence and exploitation.

With its indigenista ethos and anti-imperialist directive, El Cóndor Pasa held enormous appeal for Lima's largely criollo-identified middle and upper classes. Critics lauded the social drama's artful capture of a unifying "mestizo spirit" born of the "energetic dreams, voices, and characteristics" that coalesced in the "forging a 'New Homeland.'" The overwhelming domestic popularity of the drama is well documented. Debut attendee Juan Sixto Prieto, an established historian and critic of Peruvian theater, affirmed that "[El Cóndor Pasa] was a true success," noting that its social commentary regarding Peru's provincias (rural provinces) deeply affected Lima's urban audiences. The cultural historian Jorge Basadre Grohmann estimated that in the five years following its release, the operetta was performed over three thousand times by more than three hundred theater companies. Indeed, El Cóndor Pasa would eventually become Peru's most frequently interpreted national drama, and Baudouin a celebrated architect of national culture. In the words of literary critic José Vallarnos, El Cóndor Pasa would come to represent "a classic drama of the indigenismo genre or, better yet, of new Peruvian theater."

Interestingly, numerous critics have argued that El Cóndor Pasa's domestic sensation was owed in no small part to its auditory allure. Arranged by composer, musician, and folklorist Daniel Alomía Robles (figure 1.1), the drama's musical score echoed Baudouin's indigenista orientation, exposing urban audiences to an orchestral adaptation of little-known rhythmic traditions from Peru's highland regions. Alomía Robles was an avid student and compiler of indigenous musics, and was anxious to introduce these to Lima's cosmopolitan classes: "At that time, Italian music predominated [in Lima]," Alomía Robles retrospectively recalled. "There was absolutely no familiarity with Native music." Alomía Robles's sonic script lent an "authentic" air to the social drama while demonstrating how indigenous musical traditions could be effectively "modernized" through the introduction of European instrumentation and symphonic arrangements. This bold aural experiment was "enthusiastically received" with "repeated ovation" by Lima's urbane public, and celebrated in the popular media as "prodigal art." As its press coverage emphatically intones, Alomía Robles's "El Cóndor Pasa" sounded for many a uniquely Peruvian modernity — one that looked to ostensibly "disappearing" indigenous lifeways as the raw materials for the construction of an "autochthonous" yet modern national culture.

A century later, Baudouin's revolutionary drama continues to command national repute as a key literary contribution to Lima's early twentieth-century indigenista movement. Yet, remarkably, its sensation and circulation have been utterly eclipsed by Alomía Robles's musical score, which has remained in exhaustive international transit since the 1930s. To date, the celebrated play has only ever appeared in Spanish, and remains relatively obscure among non-Peruvian audiences. Fragments of El Cóndor Pasa's musical score, in contrast, have enjoyed innumerable stylistic and lyrical arrangements, interpreted and popularized by artists throughout the globe. In 2004, the homonymous ballad was designated a "national cultural patrimony," and it continues to be celebrated by domestic and international listeners alike as a hallmark of Peruvian cultural production.

As an aural icon of both Peruvian patriotism and of world music, how does this musical text — an overdetermined amalgam of geohistorical traces, ideological mobilizations, and aesthetic significations — index multiple, overlapping interrelations of place, sound, and difference? And, what can we learn from tracing "El Cóndor Pasa"'s numerous geographies of transit? I begin the subsequent section by contextualizing Alomía Robles's arrangement of El Cóndor Pasa's musical score within a broader discussion of two related historical trends: first, the invention of folklore as a nationalist project of modernity in Latin America; and second, the emergence of what Ana María Ochoa Gautier has called "an aural public sphere" across the southern continent. I then turn to the controversy that surrounds Alomía Robles's sonic work in order to tease out the relations of coloniality, race, and nation that informed the positioning of indigenous cultural production in Peru as a national resource infinitely available for extraction and abstraction. Finally, I turn to "El Cóndor Pasa" itself, reading the aural logics that informed its strategic transformation from symphonic score to nationalist anthem. Here, I foreshadow how Alomía Robles's early twentieth-century practices of musical worlding set the stage for internationalist appropriations of Peru's regional soundscapes.


The introduction of Alomía Robles's acclaimed musical score to Lima's urban public coincided with the centennial eve of Peru's postcolonial sovereignty. This was a significant moment of national reflection for the artist and his contemporaries. Despite a near-century of independence from the Spanish Crown, the combined effects of governmental and economic instability, civil and interregional armed conflict, and provincial fragmentation thwarted the effective institutionalization of political agendas popularized during the independence wars. Moreover, Peru's settled oligarchy remained remarkably intact. In lieu of fostering economic independence, this smattering of patrician families continued to broker neocolonial arrangements that, as dramatized in El Cóndor Pasa, privileged foreign investment over national development, and foreign corporate interests over those of the domestic proletariat.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Thinking Site in Sound  1
1. Sounding Place Over Time: On the Sonic Transits of "El Cóndor Pasa"  25
2. Putumayo and Its Discontents: The Andean Music Industry as a World Music Geography  64
3. (Inter)national Stages, Mujeres Bravas, and the Spatial Politics of Diaspora  95
4. "You Can't Have a Revolution without Songs: Neighborhood Soundscapes and Multiscalar Activism in La Misión  145
Epilogue. Musical Pirates, Sonic Debts, and Future Geographies of Transit  175
Notes  189
Bibliography  217
Index  236

What People are Saying About This

Dissonant Divas in Chicana Music: The Limits of La Onda - Deborah R. Vargas

“For Kirstie A. Dorr, geography is never a stable site or a fixed idea that merely marks the imagined place of musical production and circulation. Dorr's nuanced engagement between musical sound and geography shows geography to be the site and sound of the transnational and transgenerational. A rare work in Latina/o studies that concentrates on Andean and Afroperuvian music, On Site, In Sound is a unique sonic force that contributes critical questions pertaining to blackness and Latinidad in the field of Latina/o studies as well as a critical signpost for reimagining sound studies through sexuality, race, and gender.”

Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music - Alexandra T. Vazquez

“Boldly investigating the post-1960 rise of political and social economies of South American music that anticipated and responded to the past, present, and future of colonial discipline, Kirstie A. Dorr works with populations that are too often left out of the narratives of hemispheric cultural activism. Dorr's interventions are necessary and provocative, making On Site, In Sound a crucial and vivifying touchstone for the future horizon of U.S. Latina/o studies.”

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