Mapuche Soundscapes in the Argentine Folklore Movement: From Winka Ventriloquism to Neo-Liberal Multiculturalism

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 3:10 PM
Liberty Suite 4 (Sheraton New York)
Oscar Chamosa, University of Georgia
This essay contrasts the careers of Argentine folk singers Marta Pirén and Beatriz Pichimalen, who exemplify different approaches to Mapuche traditional music. The term ‘ethnic ventriloquism,’ applies to the phenomenon of Argentine folk musicians of European descent who lend their voices to indigenous rhythms and themes. Such was the case of Marta Pirén, born Marta Ghione, a Buenos Aires musician of Northern Italian ancestry who, in the 1970s, moved to Neuquén province to study Mapuche culture. She adopted a Mapuche stage persona, last name included, to perform an all-Mapuche repertoire. In 1982, at the height of the military dictatorship, Pirén performed at the Folklore Festival of Cosquín where she critiqued the Conquest of the Desert, the extermination campaign against the Mapuche whose centenary the military profusely celebrated two years before. She consequently gained recognition as one of the few indigenous voices in the música folklórica scene, despite the fact that she was a Winka, or non-Mapuche. The case of Beatriz Pichimalen is quite different. She was a Mapuche person, and moved to Buenos Aires to become a professional musician. She based her repertoire on traditional Mapuche music, and her songs were entirely in Mapudungun. Though Pichimalen could be easily depicted as more authentic than Pirén, her case presents a different type of problem. As Pichimalén developed her career during the neoliberal turn of the 1990s, she became ascribed to the broader World Music movement, and adjusted her compositions to the distinctive sonic conventions of that genre. Her ascription as World Musician allowed her to reach specialized audiences beyond the borders of the Southern Cone.  I therefore examine how these female musicians negotiated national and ethnic identities to create two different sound signatures that assumed the representation of Mapuche cultural legacy in the changing political and cultural context of modern Argentina.
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