Interdisciplinary Teaching: “Music and Race in Latin America” Seminar Course

This interdisciplinary topics course brought together my training as a historian and my study as a musician. Though I am not an expert in music history, I found using works from this field very effective in engaging students from Latin American Studies, History, and History Education programs. The course explored how people have deployed, defined, or deemphasized race through music in Latin America. Examining processes of migration and exchange, we compared the influences of musics with roots in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe on present and past understandings of race in the region.

The format of the class prioritized a group experience of the music and an analysis of the readings and other primary sources. We started each class by listening to some of the assigned musics, like politically charged calypsos by Sparrow, Indian fiddle music published through the Smithsonian, or popular tracks by Tego Calderón, Ivy Queen, and Calle 13. The books for the course included Bryan McCann’s Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil  and Zoila Mendoza’s Creating Our Own: Folklore, Performance, and Identity in Cuzco, Peru, along with titles from Temple’s Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music, edited by Peter Manuel. Some of the other works I used proved overly theoretical, but most were accessible and pushed our discussion in interesting directions. Short documentaries (around 30 minutes) worked well in the classroom, among them Chutney in Yuh Soca: A Multicultural Mix and Waila! Making the People Happy: Contemporary Dance Music of the Southern Arizona Indian Tribes (available on Kanopy).

The assignments resulted in some very cool projects by undergraduates. They produced reviews of archives and library collections, podcasts, and an online exhibit. The online project was especially useful in promoting students’ analyses of the nonverbal and musical texts. The students posed their own questions for podcasts and web sites: Do distinct genres of “Latino rap” or “Chicano rap” exist, and how have Latinx musicians influenced rap? What are the purposes of obscenity in the baile funk music scene? How are gendered roles and expectations in reggaetón and rap changing? Students used the flexibility in the assignment to make challenging and insightful presentations. I am happy to share some of the work (with permission) on race and ethnicity in rap music, Latina rappers and women in rap, and the politics of Rio de Janeiro’s funk scene. Below you can see screenshots from some of the web pages created for the course.

 

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Author: Norah L. Andrews Gharala

I am Assistant Professor of History at the University of Houston.