The Sounds of Mexico: Music in the OCIAA Documentaries [full paper]

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During the early 20th century, U.S. American perceptions of Mexico were shaped by images of violence and social upheaval due in part to the armed struggle of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). These images were perpetuated in silent films in which Mexicans were consistently portrayed as villains and thieves. These negative perceptions began to shift at the beginning of World War II, after Mexico allied itself with the United States and joined the war effort. This shift in perception is evident in the propagandizing film project initiated by the U.S. government’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs: a series of documentary films, narrated by Hollywood actors, intended not only to educate U.S. Americans about Mexico but rectify past negative representations of Mexicans and showcase a Mexican culture with both cosmopolitan and folkloric dimensions. Generally speaking, film scoring practice dictates that music deemed traditional to a narrative subject’s geographical backdrop be used to provide the appropriate atmosphere. These documentaries however, present a musical potpourri of re-arranged Mexican canciones and sones; they repeat a sonic reinforcement of general Mexicanness regardless of the regional location and culture depicted. Although attempting to shift from stereotypes, the documentaries—enforced by the compiled underscoring—replace negative representations of Mexico with a romanticized and exoticized version of Mexican culture aimed at U.S. tourists. Through these films and their music, we can see a transnational bridge developing between the United States and Mexico, and an attempt to strengthen diplomatic relations.
Cultural Counterpoints, Cultural, Musical, Interactions, Latin America, United States, Music, Latin American Music Center, Fiftieth Anniversary, 50th anniversary, Conferencia, Música, Música Latinoamericana, Mexico, Film, Documentary, OCIAA
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