Roots and routes

JAN Cumbia COVERCumbia! Scenes of a Migrant Latin American Music Genre
Edited by Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste and Pablo Vila
2013, Duke University Press
302 pages, paperback, plates

IT IS always surprising to encounter a book that fills a gap that it seems, in retrospect, is fundamental to the proper study of a theme. Cumbia! Scenes of a Migrant Latin American Music Genre is one of those titles, applying systematic attention for the first time to the way one of the region’s most important musical genres has been transformed as it has slowly extended around the world. The contributors to this excellent collection about a musical form that originated in northern Colombia trace how it has spread and how it has been transformed as it has made its winding, rhythmic journeys. They examine the reasons for the popularity of cumbia – not least its stylistic flexibility that enables it to blend with local styles – and also the character of the many variants of the music this has given rise to. As they point out, cumbia is a different music among the working classes of northern Mexico, Latin American immigrants in New York City, Andean migrants to Lima, and upper-class Colombians. Perhaps more importantly, the style has come of age, and is now embraced in its country of origin as a source of national prestige. The contributors bring a range of specialist knowledge to their task, looking at cumbia through the disciplinary lenses of musicology, sociology, history, anthropology, linguistics, and literary criticism – and the result is a splendid book that will appeal to anyone who can’t get this haunting music out of their head or feet.