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Colombia serves as an ideal starting point in Latin America for exploring the movements and voices of dispossession for several reasons. In the latter part of the 19th century, the Western world bore witness to a series of internal and international conflicts that were intertwined with decolonization, the pursuit of national identity, struggles between state or local authorities and national governments, competition among elites for political and economic control, and class-based conflicts. Notable events included the Cuban war for independence against Spain, the Paraguayan War (1864-1870),  the Federalist war in Argentina,   and the war of canudos (1896-1897),    among others (“History of Latin America | Britannica”). During this pivotal period, Colombia gravitated towards a concept of nationhood rooted in mestizaje,   generally conceived in terms of race but also in terms of culture. This, in turn, played a crucial role in the creation of one of the most renowned musical genres on the continent—cumbia. 

It’s important to trace the roots of mestizaje in order to understand where and how this unique musical genre produced some of the most charged voices and movements across borders. From the 1400’s to well into the 1800’s, Spanish and Portuguese colonizers raped Indigenous populations, which led to the emergence of a new ethnic group occupying a distinct social and cultural position in colonial Latin America. Mestizos, neither viewed as "pure" Europeans nor fully integrated into Indigenous communities, faced various forms of legal and social discrimination.

Because of their separation from both Spanish and indigenous societies and the absence of a distinct cultural identity, mestizos frequently found themselves caught between different segments of the population. Indigenous communities often mistrusted mestizos because they acquired land in a manner similar to the Spanish conquerors. They would assert ownership without justification, control water resources, and frequently neglect to compensate the indigenous people for the lands they appropriated. In addition to the economic betrayal, many indigenous people believed that a significant number of mestizos had traded their cultural heritage in pursuit of individual prosperity. According to John Kicza, prosperous mestizos had the opportunity to be regarded as "Spanish" (Kicza 14). These individuals often lived without contact with their indigenous relatives (Kicza 13). Yet, the mestizos were never fully assimilated into or treated equally by Spanish society. As Lockhart points out, "the mestizos were often considered more part of the lower fringes of the Spanish social structure rather than as a distinct group themselves" (Lockhart 191)." Their bodies were the first to straddle the border. 

Mestizaje was common in nearly every country found in present day Latin America although today, the term 'mestizo' is rarely used across the continent, as representations of mestizaje have been subjected to intense manipulation by political figures and revolutionaries to further their own ideas of nationhood.

One notable example is that of José Carlos Mariátegui, a Peruvian Marxist thinker and founder of the Peruvian Communist Party. He played a significant role in shaping the discourse of the early 20th-century Peruvian left and was influential in promoting a vision of Peruvian identity that centered on mestizaje. His writings, particularly in his journal "Amauta," promoted his vision of mestizaje as a source of national strength. He called for the intellectual and political awakening of the mestizo population and their engagement in social and political change (Mariátegui).

Another example can be found in the context of post-independence Mexico. Political figures and revolutionaries, such as President Benito Juárez and later President Porfirio Díaz, sought to promote a unified Mexican identity that emphasized the mestizo population. This emphasis on mestizaje was driven by various political and social factors such as rejecting colonial hierarchy, fostering national pride, and moving towards modernity.

In this context, the concept of mestizo by political figures contributes to the construction of a particular vision of Latin American nationhood while marginalizing other aspects of specific countries' diverse cultural heritage. In 1991, Colombia was one of the first countries to have a constitution that officially acknowledged the country as a multicultural and multiethnic nation while enshrining specific rights for indigenous and black communities ('Constitutional History of Colombia'). This historic event gave rise to novel spaces, shaped by global democratization and movements advocating for the rights of ethnic and racial identities, which played a role in reshaping the concept of nationhood.

Music emerged as a predominant cultural expression and practice that, when viewed from an external perspective, played a pivotal role in shaping this multiethnic nation. Although music doesn't exhibit straightforward connections with national identity, one must be understood in relation to the other, just as both are intertwined with transnational circuits of cultural exchange. Through music, the voices and movements of mestizaje are seen and heard. 

In his book 'Music, Race & Nation: Musica Tropical en Colombia,' Peter Wade meticulously traces the dynamics of cumbia's mass circulation through the musica tropical phenomenon in Latin America. This genre encompasses commercial adaptations of various Colombian folk rhythms like cumbia and vallenato.   Over the years, Colombia's commercial popular music has asserted its dominance over Latin America, evolving into numerous sub-genres such as- cumbia villera,   chicha,   porro,   technocumbia,    cumbia rebajada  -influenced by a blend of non-Colombian and native sounds.

In Colombia, cumbia and vallenato became household genres, while in Mexico, hyper-patriotic ballads known as corridos held sway. In both countries, key proponents of new urban popular music styles often transcended the boundaries between small towns and big cities, working-class and middle-class communities, and home and abroad. The lyrics in these genres candidly addressed political, geographical, and social divides, offering a channel for the expression of grief and yearning.










13. Also known as the War of the Triple Alliance, this conflict involved Paraguay against the Triple Alliance of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Paraguay sought to maintain its sovereignty and resist foreign intervention

14. Argentina was plagued by civil wars during the 1870’s, as various provinces, led by caudillos, vied for autonomy and resisted the centralizing authority of the national government.

15. This conflict was sparked by the government's attempt to suppress a messianic movement in Canudos, a community in the arid region of Bahia.

16. The term mestizo refers to people of mixed European and Indigenous American ancestry and comes from the Spanish word "mestizar," which means "to mix.”

17. Vallenato is a popular folk music style from Colombia, particularly associated with the Caribbean coastal region of the country. It's characterized by its lively rhythms, use of accordion, and narrative lyrics.

18. Cumbia villera originated in Argentina and generated controversy due to its explicit lyrics, perceived glorification of crime and drug use, and its impact on social issues in marginalized neighborhoods.

19. Chicha originated in Peru in the 1960s and 1970s. Chicha music often features the use of electric guitars, synthesizers, and other modern instruments to create a unique fusion of sounds

20. Porro" is a style of cumbia music that originated in Colombia. Porro is known for its distinctive rhythms and instrumentation, often featuring brass and percussion instruments, including drums and maracas.

21. Technocumbia is a music genre that blends traditional cumbia music with electronic elements, creating a fusion of sounds that merges the folkloric and the contemporary. Technocumbia is known for its lively and dance-able rhythms and often features a mix of traditional instruments and electronic synthesizers and is popular in Bolivia.

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