Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Genres, International - The End of the Beginning.

Two years ago, I accepted a commission to write an entry for the international volume of Bloomsbury Academic's Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World (EPMOW). I finally submitted the first draft earlier today.

Two years might seem a long time, and most instances it is. But what experience I have, in coming into contact with the process of producing a print encyclopaedia, it isn't that long at all. It's a task of Herculean levels: commissioning, chasing, reading, reviewing, re-drafting, and most of all it can't be sent for publication until everything, and I mean everything, is in.

This is my second commission for the publication. Curiously my first commission was for this, the international volume. But having completed it, I was asked if I'd be happy to move it to the 'EPMOW Genres: Caribbean and Latin America' volume. Flattered to be recognised as a cultural insider, I said "yes". This left an unfulfilled entry in the 'International' volume, which once again I accepted.

What I failed to appreciate was how much more of a challenge it would prove to be.
  1. The international entry had to offer a complementary voice
    There were already two entries on salsa: one in the North American volume by Chris Washburne, and the other, mine, in the Caribbean and South American one.
  2. Most research was Latino-centric
    The vast proportion of publications in the field were by researchers in North America, some of whom were of Latin American extraction, which were re-workings of their postgraduate theses.
  3. International salsa is less explored
    The practice of salsa in the international field differs significantly to that in Latin American, and is an area of research which is currently under-developed.
My original approach proved too Latino-centric, based on tools in ethnomusicology and sociology developed for analysis in those communities. They failed adequately to explain what I and my peer researchers have observed in the international scene. I ditched five attempts at structure, each taking weeks of effort, until finally arriving at one which tells the story of how salsa is changing as it spreads across the international field. Two of the stand-out references, which I will review later, were highly informative: one on dance subcultures; and the other describing the much-contested development of the salsa dance milieu out of son, mambo and Latin hustle. Both of these I will review later.

I don't know how this will be received. The approach I took is novel (it had to be) based on the difference in context, and lack of suitable analytical tools. What is certain, is that there'll be lots of to-ing and fro-ing until publication.

Right now, I'm just enjoying the peace.


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