Life in the Colombian city of Buenaventura is marked by racist exclusion, systemic neglect, and unprosecuted violence, but also by ubiquitous and odds-defying joy. As an ethnomusicologist, I examine this by attending to ludic practices using loud sound systems. If politics is unthinkable without a future toward which political action is directed, then the foreclosure of possible futures in Buenaventura exemplifies the end of politics, making of Buenaventura’s musical joy simple escapism. Or perhaps it reveals a new politics of the present tense, which relinquishes systemic change for fleeting but joyous solidarity, making it, like Roberto Esposito’s notion of the “impolitical,” less apolitical than politically agnostic.
In my previous work I found this analysis, arguing for a space for affective politics sequestered from the domain of formal politics, very compelling. Then, as often happens, the real world perturbed up my theorization when, in 2017, a surprisingly widespread, disciplined, and successful citywide strike took place, in which these same impolitical sounded practices of musical joy were moved firmly into the political sphere.
Nonetheless, after the strike, familiar necro-political exclusions returned in the form of widespread assassinations and intimidation of grassroots leaders, again shunting these sounded practices beyond politics, even as their affective ferocity persists. Whether this ferocity stands in reserve to formal politics or is again cast beyond it remains an open question.
This paper compares performative sound and listening practices at three moments in Buenaventura’s recent history — neighborhood musical gatherings circa 2012, the use of sound systems in police-occupied neighborhoods and road blockages in the 2017 strike, and the musicalized funeral of assassinated leader Temístocles Machado in early 2018. This paper aims to describe diachronically how the affective politics of music work across the waxing and waning of the horizons of the political.
Michael Birenbaum Quintero is Associate Professor of Musicology & Ethnomusicology. His work, mostly focusing on black Colombians, examines musical constructions of blackness, state cultural policy and social movement cultural politics, neoliberal multiculturalism, affective politics, black vernacular technology, musical circulation, violence and trauma, loudness, music streaming algorithms and the affect of late capitalism, Latinx/African-American interactions in Afro-Cuban religion, and ritual soundscapes in Havana, New York City, and Òyò (Nigeria). His monograph Rites, Rights and Rhythms: A Genealogy of Musical Meaning in Colombia’s Black Pacific (Oxford UP, 2018) was awarded a 2020 Ruth Stone Prize by the Society for Ethnomusicology.
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This event is part of the Spring 2021 Sounding Latinidades series, sponsored by the Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music,Latin American Music Center, Latino Studies Program, and Center for Latin American and Carribean Studies.