In his research and teaching, ethnomusicologist Fernando Rios examines how musical expressions engage with sociopolitical projects, from nation-building to protest movements. His first book, Panpipes & Ponchos: Musical Folklorization and the Rise of the Andean Conjunto Tradition in La Paz, Bolivia (Oxford University Press, 2020), illuminates how Bolivia’s preeminent “national music” ensemble tradition, the Andean conjunto, obtained this canonical status. Rios’s current book project focuses on the local Latino/a communities of the DC Metro area and how DC-based activist musicians fostered public support for the 1980s Central American Peace and Solidarity Movement.
In the years of the Central American Peace and Solidarity Movement (1980-1992), a variety of US-based musical acts fostered support for the movement’s goals (ending US military intervention in the region, and offering sanctuary to Central American war refugees), by recording solidarity-themed selections, and performing at events coordinated by solidarity organizations. The Salvadoran-led nueva canción (new song) groups Izalco and Itzqueye represent the musical acts that most avidly participated in these types of activities in the Washington DC area—which since the 1980s has been home to one of the largest Central American (especially Salvadoran) populations in the US. Based on interviews with members of both ensembles, and close readings of Izalco’s 1988 album Going Home and Itzqueye’s 1990 release Songs of Struggle and Freedom, this presentation examines the highly contrasting yet ultimately complementary artistic approaches that these groups adopted, and how they aligned with the broader political strategies and priorities of the Central American Peace and Solidarity Movement.