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Licia Fiol-Matta

Licia Fiol-Matta is Professor of Latin American Studies at CUNY. She is the author of A Queer Mother for the Nation: The State and Gabriela Mistral (Minnesota) and The Great Woman Singer: Voice, Gender, and Politics in Puerto Rican Music (Duke, forthcoming). Fiol-Matta is co-editor of the series New Directions in Latino American Cultures (Palgrave); “Las Américas Quarterly,” a special issue of American Quarterly (Fall 2014); and The Puerto Rico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (under contract, Duke).

“Roundtable: Voces in the Key of 1968”
When it’s not voices, but voces, when the study of popular music in the United States actually listens across languages, across borders, what pasts, what presents, and what futures do we hear differently? This roundtable brings together Latina/o American music scholars charged with a collaborative assignment: each panelist will bring in a meditation on voices in songs from 1968 and reflect upon the political, aesthetic, and technological transitions made lively in them. In much of inter-American discourse, the charged creative and political actions of 1968 are made to remove women protagonists. By tuning into the voice, this roundtable also makes a particular case for insisting upon nuanced listenings to women’s work across and between recordings—in the studio and elsewhere—to hear other activist modes that boldly reject masculinist equipment. The panel’s exploration of the differences and similarities between the voices will suggest other strategies of critical listening across cultural, political, and sonic geographies of the Americas. While the roundtable takes 1968 as a flash point, the panelists will also necessarily reveal and extend the compound results of previous decades of sonic and musical sediment. Together, we will ask: what do voices bring to life? How do voices bring us in contact with death? Where are these voices in the greater archive of inter-American life and history? What is the specific role that vocal performance plays in the formation of inter-American identities, performances, and politics?

Alejandra Bronfman will turn up the volume on the muted female voices of reggae, primarily Judy Mowatt, who was a producer and songwriter in addition to singing backup for Bob Marley with the Gaylettes, from 1967-70. 1968 was a multivocal year for Jamaica's Black women. As Louise Bennett, the Miss Jamaica pageant, the declaration of "The Year for Human Rights," and the Walter Rodney riots all jostled for attention, Mowatt and the Gaylettes wrote, sang, recorded, witnessed.

Licia Fiol-Matta will discuss Chavela Vargas, who was born in Costa Rica, but became Mexican out of choice, identifying with the presumptive universal Mexican sound of the bolero ranchera, which she perfected. She came to embody México’s “queer singer for the nation,” everyone’s darling during the 1960s. Fiol-Matta will briefly review the arc of her career, with the intention of debunking the common narrative of an unspecified “dark night of the soul” derailing her career at around 1970. Instead, she will examine how her turn to the political in song makes much more sense in accounting from her sudden absence from the performing and recording scenes until her comeback as a global icon in the 1990s.

Alexandra T. Vazquez will continue her to feel her way around the loose aesthetic category she calls “Gulf Stream Psychedelia” by way of some of its foundational composer/vocalists. Vazquez argues that artists such as Eloise Lewis, Julie Rufino, and Gwen McRae—and their discordant flow between late 1960s Miami, Nassau, and Havana—enlivens how we might approach a sense of the political through aesthetic experimentation.

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