For me, Latino music has been in my life since I was six years old. When my mother remarried a Nicaraguan man, I was exposed to a different side of the world. There was so much that I had never known about, but now loved. It is for this reason that I tend to notice where and how many people are listening to Latino music, particularly within the context of music from one’s own home country. I decided to find out how much this music has been integrated into the typical life of an FSU student in Tallahassee, within a group of friends. This music defines Latino culture through sound, behavior, and concept.
To begin with, I had to ask my friends
what they listen to. The group that I am focusing on contains seven members. Of
those seven, five are Latino and two are “white”; I, Sarva, am half
French and half of descent from the British Isles, and the other
“white” person, Evan, is of descent from and . The other five are
from (Carlos), (Daniel), (Andrea), (Leslie), and (Tony).
I found through interviews that all of the Latino members of our group listen to music from their homeland on, at the very least, a weekly basis. That means that once a week, they are connecting back to their cultural identities through music. When I asked Evan if he listens to music from or , he said that he doesn’t. “It isn’t because I don’t like it,” he said. “It has just never been a part of my life the way it has been for my girlfriend.” Evan and Andrea have been dating for three months, as Carlos and myself have been dating for nearly three years.
I find that the way things are run in Carlos’ house are different from the way they’re run in my maternal mother’s family’s house. In his house, his father is the “alpha male”, and everyone else in the house falls under him. The concept of being head of the household is very important. His father is a stern man who demands respect, but is noticeably affectionate with his younger children. There is always music and laughter and cooking in their home. In the homes of my mother’s sisters and her parents, there is a different order of things. My grandfather and grandmother were equals, and if a decision had to be made, it was to be agreed on by both of them. As a result, each got less respect and there was a higher rate of “talking back”, and “smart alecks” than in Carlos’s house. In their home, music was rarely played and saved for times like Christmas. The TV was always on, however. Evan had similar experiences in his family.
I wondered if all Hispanic households are like this, so I asked my friends how things work in their homes. All of them gave the same description as Carlos. I wondered about how much it had to do with the music being played. I asked each of them about why music was important to them. Leslie summed up the general sentiment best; “It isn’t so much about the music itself, but more about what it represents. When your family is all together cooking and singing and dancing, it makes them remember where they came from and gives you a sense of solidarity. When you have music, you have a connection to your past and to each other. That’s what it’s about; the concept, not the thing itself.”
This made perfect sense to me. There had to be some kind of link between family members, and music became that link. I wondered what the difference was between the typical Latino family’s link and the link between “white” family members. I asked Evan how his family bonded. “We all sit down together at dinner, but there isn’t much conversation there, other than ‘How was your day?’ We generally tend to watch TV together so that we can all laugh at the same things. Other than that, we lead pretty separate lives. That doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, we’re just not that close.”
The difference seemed clear. In each of our homes as we were growing up, there was music in some and not in the others. Music as a concept was missing in Evan’s home, and in my mother’s home as a child. The concepts of togetherness, family, respect, and heritage were missing because music was not present.
This was all very interesting to me. I wanted to find out how each of them had brought their music with them. Tony and Carlos are both musicians. Tony creates beats and Carlos creates acoustic melodies. I asked them if and how they incorporate their respective heritages into their music.
Tony said, “When I make beats, I try to be as creative as I can. I don’t like to use canned sounds. In the past I’ve used clips from Star Wars, old movies and songs, and recordings of my mother yelling at me. Recently, I’ve started using bits and pieces of my dad’s old guitar recordings in my beats. I like them because they give the beats a more… ‘homey’ sound? I don’t know, I like for my beats to sound like they incorporate me and what I represent. If my beats sound cool, they reflect me being cool. If they have sounds from , then it’s perfect because I’m from .”
Carlos said, “Well, I play a lot of instruments, so that makes it really easy to make exactly what I want. I play piano, guitar, bass, violin, some Chinese string instruments, and a little bit of drums. I also have a synthesizer.”
“So do you incorporate sounds from into your music?” I asked.
“Yeah, all the time! My uncle taught me a bunch of traditional Ecuadorian songs when I was little, so I like to play traditional songs in an untraditional way. For example, I laid down a track the other day that was a traditional Ecuadorian melody, but I played it with Chinese instruments and added piano. There is a huge range of things I can do to make different sounds with a certain base, in this case music from my country.”
This was interesting to me. FSU students brought their music from their homes to Tallahassee with them in such a way that allows innovation and creativity. For a different spin on this idea, I asked Daniel and Andrea how they use music in their lives to connect to the idea of home and tradition.
Daniel: “I don’t play anything, but I have a huge music collection. My brother and my mom both play guitar, and so my sister, my dad and I would always sit and listen to them. I have a horrible voice, but we always sang right along anyway. I was born in , but we moved to Florida when I was in sixth grade. My mom would always cry and cry, so my brother taught her how to play [guitar]. From then on she always felt better because she had a way to connect with her home again. I guess in that way I find connection, too. I always play my Colombian music from my childhood, especially when I first got here. It made me feel less homesick.”
Andrea: “When I first got to Tallahassee, I hated it. I immediately wanted to transfer back [to Miami] where there was more diversity. Well, not really diversity, but more Latinos and Peruvians. I missed it so much that I formed a little “festival” one weekend. I called my Hispanic friends, some that play instruments, others that cook, and we all got together and talked about what we missed the most. I know that sounds like it would make me miss it more, but it was really comforting. I had found a little piece of in the midst of ‘Hicktown, .’ Now we do it about once a month, and anyone is welcome. You don’t have to be Hispanic to come, either. You don’t even have to contribute. Just come and see why it’s so great to be Peruvian!”
Finally, I found a lot of different ways that Latino music, representing the sound itself, the behavior of the culture, and the concepts tied to that culture, has made its way into Tallahassee. There is a little subculture within FSU, and I think that it can only expand as long as the music and ideas remain as important to Latino people as they do now and have in the past.