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Music Abroad: Latin America

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by Cassie Singer

In the words of Leonardo Da Vinci, “Blinding ignorance does mislead us.” I believe this speaks to how many people in the United States are ignorant about international societies and cultures. American media tends to focus primarily on the events and culture of the United States, which causes Americans to lack a lot of knowledge about the different cultures around the world. After researching and interviewing different musical artists from Latin America, I realized just how blind I and many other Americans are to other parts of the world. Originally, I had the idea that music scenes in Latin American countries were drastically different from those in the United States. However, after speaking with different artists and music fans from Central and South America about their local music scenes, concert environments, and prejudice in the music industry, I quickly realized that music from those regions isn’t all that different from the United States.

Despite the common belief that reggaeton and mariachi are the only kinds of music people listen to in Central and South America, popular United States music artists are also big in Latin America. According to singer and songwriter Cindy Arguello from Saltillo, Mexico, “Mexico’s music has been greatly influenced by American musicians, especially in the north. The most popular American artists are the same as in the United States, like Katy Perry, Beyonce, Guns N’ Roses, Green Day, Foo Fighters, etc.” On the other hand, when speaking with my friend, Fran, from Chile, she said that one way music in the U.S. differs from South America is that in countries like Chile, they listen to a combination of popular artists from the United States and Latin America, like Camila, Nicky Jam and Daddy Yankee, as well as European artists like James Bay and Jess Glynne; whereas in the U.S. we primarily listen to artists that became popular here. Although we listen to a lot of the same American popular artists in the United States and Latin America, in Central and South America they are a lot more open to internationally popular artists.

After learning about what kinds of music people listen to in other countries, I was curious as to how similar or different live music is in Latin American countries compared to in the U.S. Argentinian power-metal band Renacer commented that they imagine “American crowds are more indifferent” than those in Latin America, but the band has never actually been to or performed a show in the United States. Renacer also explained that other than that, shows are virtually the same in these two regions and “the gap between music culture in these two regions is closing,” meaning that Latin America and the United States are becoming more culturally similar. Cindy Arguello also stated that there seem to not be many differences between concerts in Mexico and the U.S., but described that some unique characteristics of concerts in Latin America are “that you don’t need an arena or big stadium in order to have a huge concert, they can be in fields or plazas.” Although stadium concerts in America do tend to have higher attendance rates, I have been to several packed shows held at smaller local venues or in fields and they were just as fun, if not more, than many arena shows. Similar to the way Americans are not very conscious of customs outside of the country’s borders, it seems Latin American society may also lack some knowledge about music in the United States. However, when we look beyond our limited perspectives of how our cultures compare, it can easily be seen that there are not necessarily significant differences between concerts in Central and South America versus the United States.

With sexism being an issue in the U.S. and many other countries around the world, I also thought it would be interesting to explore what role that plays in the music industry in Central and South America. It seems that in the United States, gender equality is a prominent issue that society is trying to address, including in the music scene. Before talking to a few Latin American musicians, I incorrectly assumed that sexism and discrimination against women would be a problem, but it turns out that even in countries dealing with this kind of prejudice, gender equality seems to not be as significant a problem in the music world. According to Renacer, “There are a lot of successful bands with women in them, that’s how it’s been for a long time. Even though us Latinos tend to be very sexist here in Argentina, such prejudice against women in music does not exist.” I found this very surprising to hear, especially since here in America we have segregated music genres like “female-fronted” and are far from attaining gender equality. To get another perspective on this topic, I spoke to Cindy Arguello about her personal experiences as a female in the Latin American music industry. Arguello explained how when she started singing in her first band, there were times when she was the only female musician at some festivals or shows. Even though at first the promoters would give Aguello’s band the worst playing times or would give them too short of sets, she explained that they always treated her with respect, and stated that the other musicians did as well. When I asked Arguello what advice she would give a musician to combat sexism in the music industry, she responded, “I believe what’s important, whether you’re male or female, is your talent and respect for others. That will open all of the doors that you need to continue making music.” There is definitely less sexism in music than there used to be in the United States, but it still seems as though there is even less in Latin American countries. This is particularly interesting because it contradicts the general trend of gender inequality decreasing as a country’s level of development increases.

All in all, the main lesson I have learned throughout researching this article is not to make assumptions about life in other countries. It is important to realize that in other regions around the world, such as Latin America, the music scene and other cultural characteristics may not be as different from the United States as we think. Though Latin America’s popular music comes from international artists, popular music in the Unites States primarily consists of artists from this country.

All quotations were translated to English from interviews conducted in Spanish.

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