Sometime in Fall 2003 I chanced to spend some time looking into the Putumayo Scandal, in the context of looking into the early history of rubber and rubber extraction in South America. I bought Michael Stanfield's Red Rubber, Bleeding Trees: Violence, Slavery, and Empire in Northwest Amazonia, 1850–1933 (University of New Mexico Press, 1998) ...and didn't get much further with that exploration. Picking it up again in another connection, I have several bits to integrate for the contemporary Putumayo:
Introduction To Putumayo: The U.S.-assisted war in Colombia By Cecilia Zarate-Laun...but what brought me back to Putumayo this time was an exploration of "world music" (a term coined as a marketing category as recently as 1987...), via John Connell and Chris Gibson's Sound Tracks: Popular Music, Identity, and Place (2003). A quotation from publicity for a CD caught my eye:
UNHCR map of Colombia-Ecuador border region
Massacres in the Peruvian Rain Forest
The Decimation of the Amazon Indians from Dispatches from the Vanishing World (Alex Shoumatoff)
The music of Gardens of Eden has an organic, ambient quality that conjures up images of a magical, tropical paradise where humanity's day to day stress disappears... a musical journey to the world's Shangri-La's. Be transported! (155)Now, on the face of it this prose is preposterous. It's marketing verbiage, so it doesn't have to be bound by the rules of truth or the conventions of ethnographic description. But even so, the ironies are overwhelming. The label, Putumayo, can be found in many places --Barnes and Noble checkout lines, sometimes coffee shops (notably Starbuck's) and gift stores. Among its other products:
Music from Coffee Lands from amazon.com ...and Vol 2 (these offer access to samples of the cuts on the CDs).
Looking further, it's pretty easy to find the Putumayo World Music Web site (google paid inclusions will do it)
Putumayo World Music was established in 1993 to introduce people to the music of other cultures. The company grew out of the Putumayo clothing company that was founded by Dan Storper in 1975 and sold in 1997. Over the last decade, Putumayo World Music has become known primarily for its upbeat and melodic compilations of great international music that are “guaranteed to make you feel good!” ...Putumayo is considered a pioneer and leader in marketing through non-traditional retailers and has built a network of more than 3,000 book, gift, clothing, and coffee retailers worldwide that play and sell its CDs. Putumayo is also sold in record stores in more than 50 countries. ...A member of Social Venture Network, Putumayo contributes a portion of its proceeds from many CDs to support non-profit organizations that do good work in the communities where the music originates.
...Putumayo is a river that begins in the South American country of Colombia and flows along the border of Ecuador and Peru until it reaches the Amazon in Brazil. Putumayo's founder, Dan Storper, was traveling through the region in 1974, and was so enamored with its beauty, he decided to name his new handicraft shop after it.
There's also a Putumayo World Music Radio Hour and Related Links take the browser to "Sites We Like"...
Consider substituting 'Putumayo' and 'music' in the sentence "Nike is not really in the business of making shoes: What it does is market shoes."
So this is one way in to an exploration of "musics of Borderlands, which we might think of as occupying hinges or folds in chronotopias", as I put it last week. My problem with this subject area is that the resources I have to juggle are simply overwhelming: my own collections of many thousands of hours of recorded sound, hundreds of books and articles, days and months and years of activity as a student of musics, scores of instruments, and many (mostly-)happy hours of teaching Cross-Cultural Studies in Music. I know too much to know where to begin...
But begin I must. And it seems appropriate to look first at evolving technologies for sound reproduction, each step of which changes the parameters of the individual experience of sound, including how music is/can be consumed, and how it can be marketed [addendum 1/iv: since this was written I've encountered Mark Coleman's Playback: from the Victrola to the MP3 (ML3790 .C65 2003), which tells the story in delicious detail]:
The Commercial Media remains dependent on a single, top-down, and decaying, model of "advertising dollars" (and the corresponding targeting of upscale consumers), investors, and corporate ownership to survive. The resulting damage to democracy is evident to most people on earth.
Now is the hour for journalists to pull our weight in the transformation. We understand the enemy's sanctum: the "control rooms," and how they operate. Four years ago, Narco News began reporting on the drug war and democracy from Latin America at www.narconews.com. By divorcing journalism from its jealous tyrant of capital we've already shown, from Mexico to Venezuela to Brazil to Bolivia and elsewhere, that through Authentic Journalism the conditions can be reconstructed for Authentic Democracy to flourish.
Yet journalists cannot accomplish this gargantuan task if we view ourselves as separate and apart from the people. We must earn the support and collaboration of workers in all fields. Toward that alliance and its goals, tonight we unveil The Narcosphere, where journalists and citizens come together so that journalism and citizenship can be born anew...
The Narcosphere - it appears online at http://narcosphere.narconews.com/ - is a participatory, online, forum, where readers and journalists come together to discuss, correct, add new information and relevant links, and debate the work of the journalists who publish on NarcoNews.com.
I don't have at my fingertips a musical blogworld with global intent, though rootsworld.com and cdroots.com are close (and provide me with a lot of things I need to know about...)
World Music history from fRoots (Ian Anderson)
World Music in Wikipedia
From rootsworld (a review of Ecos de Borinquen Jíbaro hasta el hueso: Mountain Music of Puerto Rico Smithsonian Folkways (folkways.si.edu):
Among the effects of globalization -- the accelerating transnational flow of people, culture, media and technology -- uneven processes of cultural separation, hybridization and social exchange have intensified the deep sense of linkage between cultural identity and particular forms of musical expression...
...a tension between music as a commodified product of an industry with high levels of corporate interest, and simultaneously as an arena of cultural meaning...and we could choose to emphasize either of those branches. Personally, I'm much more interested in 'cultural meaning[s]' of music[s], but it's important to recognize that 'meaning' involves us in how music is actually used, and how it evolves in reflection of people's experience[s] of the world.
(Connell and Gibson Sound Tracks: popular music, identity and place )
Keeping with the idea of "hinges or folds in chronotopias", and specifically with the trope of the Borderland, I want to explore several specific examples (lyrics of which are collected in a single document):
"Slackers," From *The Power of the Powerless,* may be less hummable than "Nothing to My Name," but it is fast becoming an anthem -- or an anti-anthem, perhaps -- for a new, more selective generation of Chinese. There's a hip-hop beat and a Funkadelic riff to the sound. A sax kicks in the melody line, and Cui, assuming the slacker persona, starts to rap. "No more iron rice bowl," he shouts in Mandarin. "I don't want everyone fussing over me, like all the kids today." Soon the drummer abandons his kit and seizes a megaphone. "Make more money! Make more money!" the two end up chanting together. "If I make enough, things will change by themselves!" At the bridge, the sax splutters and the Asian cymbals clang. In the space of a few bars, "Slackers" skirts from rap to funk to acid-Chinese folk, all with a -- you bet -- Miles Davis-meets-the Clash jazzy thrash feel.
The music is glorious, loud and disheveled and full of those "spaces of freedom" Cui talks about. If only a few Chinese are ready to occupy the spaces now, so be it. Cui Jian has the power of the powerless -- he can wait his country out. "What's happening?" he shouts between peals of percussive thunder. "Everything's OK" the crowd replies on cue.
Vastly more to do with this subject... wonder when I'll ever have the opportunity?