Popular Musics of the Hispanic
and Lusophone Worlds

Conference Report

July 26, 2006
Janet Sturman
University of Arizona

Hearty congratulations to Ian Biddle and Vanessa Knights of the University of Newcastle on Tyne, and to Mark Sabine from the University of Nottingham, for organizing a most extraordinary and enjoyable congress that brought together more than 70 participants from eleven different countries: England, United States, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Argentina, Ireland, France, Venezuela, Brazil, and Canada. Most of the congress presentation sessions took place on the campus of the University of Northumbria, which provided comfortable meeting space, excellent audio-visual facilities, and easy access to the resources of the picturesque city of Newcastle.

Several features distinguished this conference. First, the gathering represented a rare and valuable chance for scholars from Europe and the Americas to come together and share their research on Hispanic and Lusophone music. Repeatedly participants commented on the strong, and sometimes surprising, parallels between research on musical processes and practices in Spain and Portugal as compared to Latin America, and to other diasporic locales such as India and Cape Verde. Frequently scholars on different sides of the ocean were grappling with very similar problems.

Second, the trilingual nature of the conference, with papers delivered in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, established a supportive and respectful atmosphere, permitting participants to articulately express themselves and connect with others in the language that best suited the situation. It also seemed that the demands of having to negotiate three languages ultimately encouraged more generous and open discussion than often takes place at academic conferences. The relatively small size of the gathering also facilitated interaction, making it possible for each participant to meet and talk, at least once, with virtually every person in attendance.

A third signature strength of the conference was the interdisciplinary nature of the contributions, nicely represented by the three distinctive plenary lectures. Salwa El Shawan Castelo Branco presented a riveting overview of the relationship between musical practice as shaped both directly and indirectly by political policy in Portugal. Timothy Mitchell proposed a provocative theory of aesthetics for evaluating Andalusian Gypsy cante jondo, in past and present performance frames, which includes a consideration of ethics and recognition of a legacy of trauma. David Treece offered a lecture and musical performance of Bossa Nova, to illustrate how an analysis of musical structure, with particular attention to characteristic harmonic and melodic patterns, reveals a music identified by the quality of suspended time. He then argued that this distinctive musical quality connects this special movement in Brazilian music to an important moment in history.

Fourth, the participation of these and other distinguished scholars was complemented by the inclusion of scholars at various stages in their careers, including graduate students. The inclusive atmosphere promoted the sharing of new and developing investigations as well as fresh connections with established research and theories. Congress presentations addressed 1) genres and styles -- with flamenco and bossa nova receiving particularly rich treatments, but also including treatment of regional popular music, traditional folkloric or indigenous practice, as well as semi-classical forms like zarzuela; 2) the interface between music and social movement -- such as: migration, political repression, propaganda, resistance, reform, globalization, and integration; 3) conceptual frames that guide performance and social meaning such as: gender (resulting in a nice confluence of research concerning conventional expectations and new roles in Cuba, Spain, and Brazil), identity, historical and collective memory, tradition and modernity; and 4) the impact of new technology and media on all of the above.

The event included festivities as well. On the first evening attendees were feted at the opening reception held at the Newcastle Civic Center where the Mayor and other government officials formally welcomed each participant and all gathered were treated to lively singing by Voice Quad. Prior to and throughout the congress attendees were able to take advantage of special events provided by the simultaneously occurring ¡VAMOS! Latin and Lusophone arts festival, such as the concert presented by flamenco maestro Paco Peña that followed the congress banquet at the elegant new Sage Gateshead Arts Center.

Many participants voiced their enthusiastic satisfaction with the success of the event at the brief wrap-up meeting that closed the congress. Attendees also agreed that we should explore ways to publish the proceedings of this conference (via an internet volume, in special collections organized by topic, or as a special issue of an existing journal such as Popular Music). Ian Biddle agreed to compile and circulate an email directory of all participants to promote these developments. We closed by resolving that we should build on this auspicious union and convene more such meetings that bring together scholars studying music of the Hispanic and Lusophone world.