Rock Music

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Rock Music

Known variously as Latin rock, rock en español (rock in Spanish), rock nacional (national rock), and rock en tu idioma (rock in your language), rock music is an integral part of popular culture throughout the Americas. Yet rock's history in Latin America has been contentious, involving issues of cultural imperialism, modernity, and national identity. In part this is because the term "rock" is itself somewhat problematic, referring as it does not only to a broad range of musical styles (rock and roll, metal, progressive, punk, rap) but also to ideas about youth, fashion, politics, and social identity.

Beginning in the late 1950s, recordings by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and others made their way south and had a tremendous impact, especially among middle- and upper-class urban listeners for whom rock represented a direct connection to international modernity. In contrast, critics of rock tended to view it as just the latest example of U.S. cultural imperialism, a form of capitalist consumerism with little connection to local, more "authentic" musical practices. This view was supported by the fact that much of the early rock produced in Latin America was little more than a direct copy of U.S. models. In Mexico, early 1960s bands such as Los Teen Tops, Los Locos del Ritmo, and others produced a style known as refrito (refried)—Spanish language versions of American hits—while in Brazil, artists associated with the jovem guarda (youth guard) movement popularized a clean-cut style of pop music known as iê-iê-iê (from the Portuguese transliteration of the Beatles-inspired "yeah, yeah, yeah").

In addition to critical attacks, in a number of places the state attempted to limit rock's influence by imposing tariffs on record imports (as Mexico did in 1961) or ban it outright (Cuba prohibited the broadcast of English-language rock on radio and television from 1964 to 1966). Ironically, these and other steps to protect indigenous music often led to the development of local rock scenes, many featuring artists who wrote their own material, which, like that of their North American counterparts, engaged in a political and social critique of middle-class life. By the 1970s Latin American rock musicians were mixing blues and other U.S. rock forms with local and regional styles to create sophisticated pop music that moved away from slavish imitation and toward a more distinctively indigenous creation.

In the 1980s and 1990s, authenticity in rock throughout Latin America came to be defined as much by the individual artist's attitude and political stance as by musical form and instrumentation. Rock groups such as Mexico's Café Tacuba, Colombia's Aterciopelados, and Argentina's Los Fabulosos Cadillacs freely mixed rock, ska, reggae, punk, cumbia, tango, bolero, and hip-hop. For an ever more diverse fan base throughout the region, international styles such as punk and rap are now seen as universal, hybrid musical styles that embody a wide range of social identities. Artists such as those mentioned above enjoy international careers and a critical reception that no longer views rock in Latin America as simply a music based on U.S. and English models but instead as a collection of distinctively national musical genres.

See alsoMusic: Popular Music and Dance .


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Esterrich, Carmelo, and Javier H. Murillo. "Rock with Punk with Pop with Folklore: Transformations and Renewal in Aterciopelados and Café Tacuba." Latin American Music Review 21, no. 1 (Spring-Summer, 2000): 31-44.

Hernandez, Deborah Pacini, Héctor Fernández L'Hoeste, and Eric Zolov, eds. Rockin' Las Américas: The Global Politics of Rock in Latin/o America. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004.

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Magaldi, Cristina. "Adopting Imports: New Images and Alliances in Brazilian Popular Music of the 1990s." Popular Music 18, no. 3 (1999): 309-329.

Vila, Pablo. "Argentina's 'Rock Nacional': The Struggle for Meaning." Latin American Music Review 10, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1989): 1-28.

                                         Andrew M. Connell