Digital Cumbia and Folklore in Latin America

From 2011 to 2013 I worked on a project entitled “Music, Digitization, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies.” This research program, based at the Faculty of Music at Oxford University and led by Professor Georgina Born, examined the changes to music and musical practices afforded by digitization and digital media. I did nearly 9 months of fieldwork focusing on digital cumbia/folklore in Buenos Aires and, to a lesser extent, in Colombia.

I spent two and a half months in Buenos Aires at the end of 2011 working mainly with artists from the label ZZK Records, founded in 2008, which has grouped together a number of leading artists in this Argentinean scene. ZZK Records is recognized as a key creative centre in current Latin American electronic music and has been described as South America’s most exciting record label. I also looked beyond ZZK to other fusion artists with a more ancestral/roots streak like Lulacruza and Paloma del Cerro, and to DJ/producers like DJ Taz, Negro Dub, Che Cumbé, and Hijo de la Cumbia,  who had been making experimental dub cumbia for a number of years. During my period of fieldwork, laptop cumbia also became established in the commercial cumbia scene, thanks to pioneers like Macho y El Rey and the huge success of Los Wachiturros. DJ Krass and JR Producciones gave me a window onto this recent development.

In February 2012 I headed to Colombia for a month of intensive fieldwork on the digital folklore and new cumbia scene in Bogotá and digital education and activism projects in Medellín. In March I made a brief trip to New York City to meet a few people involved in Tropical Bass and Latin music there.

From September 2012 to August 2013, I was based at Oxford University, working on the collaborative aspect of the project with my five colleagues who had been researching in other countries. I have published some findings in the form of an article and a book chapter:

“‘Digital Indigestion’: Cumbia, Class and a Post-digital Ethos in Buenos Aires.” Popular Music 34, no. 2 (2015), 175-96.

“Digital Cumbia, Circulation of Music, and Music of Circulation: ‘El Alto de La Paz.’” In R. Harris & R. Pease, eds., Pieces of the Musical World: Approaches to the Study of Music in Culture, 249-64. London: Routledge, 2015.

Two further chapters are written and awaiting publication.

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