Chavez, Alt Primera and Venezuela: The Politics of Music in Latin America.

Author:Mcsherry, J. Patrice
Position:LATIN AMERICA - Book review

Marsh, Hazel. Hugo Chavez, Alt Primera and Venezuela: The Politics of Music in Latin America. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Hazel Marsh has written a thought-provoking and original analysis of how popular song and folk musicians can generate unforeseen and rippling impacts for years to come in the politics of a changing country. Her case study centers on Ali Primera, a musician, best known for his song "Cardboard Houses," who was an integral part of the Nueva Cancion [New Song] movement in Venezuela. Primera died in 1985, long before Hugo Chavez emerged as a central political actor in the country, yet the singer's musical legacy reverberated among the poor and excluded sectors [el pueblo] and subsequently was incorporated within Chavez's political campaigns in the 1990s. Marsh's work demonstrates how cantautores [singer-songwriters] can become symbolic and beloved figures when they challenge unjust social hierarchies and defend the interests of the dispossessed.

La Nueva Cancion was a continental movement. In many countries across the region in the 1960s a new generation was politicized by the Cold War, the Cuban revolution, United States intervention, and national struggles for liberation. Tired of imported rock music from the global North, which they saw as a cultural invasion supplanting local and national music, young musicians drew from, adapted, and renovated traditional Latin American folk rhythms and forms to create original and innovative music. Some songs expressed a commitment to revolutionary political change, social justice, and el pueblo; others simply highlighted the rich cultural heritage of the region.

Marsh's key argument is that music "embodies political values, memories and feelings, and it constitutes a realm within which political ideas and social identities are asserted, resisted, contested, negotiated and renegotiated" (3). She contends that Primera and his songs provided a wealth of cultural resources for Chavez to draw upon, allowing him to link Venezuela's historical traditions (such as the liberating role of Simon Bolivar) to contemporary struggles, and to demonstrate his commitment to el pueblo. Chavez often quoted, sang, and referred to Primeras songs, showing his allegiance to the common people and their struggles. Marsh is the first scholar to examine this phenomena indepth. She shows how Chavez presented Primeras legacy as the embodiment and forerunner of Chavez's political thought, Bolivarianism, which...

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