The fox trot in a nation of cosmopolitans : music and race in early twentieth-century Guatemala

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2013-08

Authors

Amado Pineda, Andres Roberto

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Abstract

In this dissertation I explore musical importations in early twentieth-century Guatemala, particularly the fox trot, and their relationship to notions of cosmopolitanism, race, and national identity. Although Guatemalans may boast that the son is their national music—a genre often associated with local indigenous traditions—examination of the national marimba repertoire reveals that its most predominant styles derive from foreign music and dances that circulated transnationally in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Such a realization raises questions about the role of indigeneity in national discourse. I argue that Ladinos (non-indigenous or mixed Guatemalans) imported the fox trot and other musical forms to construct a national identity predicated on racialized notions of modernity and cosmopolitanism. The fox trot, a dance derived from African-American ragtime traditions, enjoyed worldwide popularity for nearly two decades due in part to its ability to mediate constructs of whiteness and blackness that fit presentist ideas of modernity: blackness represented a primitive alterity while whiteness evoked a modern and civilized society. Analyses of racial discourse among Ladinos and its implications for the national instrument (chapter 2), the stylistic features of Guatemalan national repertoire (chapter 3), and the subjects that locally-composed fox trots reference through titles, cover art, and musical styles (chapters 4 and 5) demonstrate that many elements of the fox trot, along with their connotations of modernity and race, resonated with the cosmopolitan sensibilities of Ladinos. Their preference for international as opposed to local forms suggest a fundamental ambivalence towards indigeneity and its centrality to national culture.

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