Colombia has the largest black population in the Spanish-speaking world, but Afro-Colombians have long remained at the nation’s margins. Their recent irruption into the political, social, and cultural spheres is tied to appeals to cultural difference, dramatized by the traditional music of Colombia’s majority-black Southern Pacific region, often called currulao. Yet that music remains largely unknown and unstudied despite its complexity, aesthetic appeal, and social importance.
Rites, Rights & Rhythms: A Genealogy of Musical Meaning in Colombia’s Black Pacific is the first book-length academic study of currulao, inquiring into the numerous ways it has been used: to praise the saints, to grapple with modernization, to dramatize black politics, to perform the nation, to generate economic development and to provide social amelioration in a context of war. Author Michael Birenbaum Quintero draws on both archival and ethnographic research to trace these and other understandings of how currulao has been understood, illuminating a history of struggles over the meanings of currulao that are also struggles over the meanings of blackness in Colombia.
Moving from the eighteenth century to the present, Rites, Rights & Rhythms asks how musical meaning is made, maintained, and sometimes abandoned across historical contexts as varied as colonial slavery, twentieth-century national populism, and neoliberal multiculturalism. What emerges is both a rich portrait of one of the hemisphere’s most important and understudied black cultures and a theory of history traced through the performative practice of currulao.