In 1994, on the eve of his appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzer-
land, the Argentine rock star Fito Páez was asked to consider the place of Latin
American pop u lar music in the world. In response, he claimed that musicians
from the global South had a distinct advantage over those from the North:
“I could enjoy the Beatles, but they never heard [Chilean folksinger] Violeta
Parra. They have missed out on a part of the world.”1 Páez’s wry observation is
a reminder of the in equality that structures global cultural exchange. Popu lar
music produced in the United States and Britain has been elevated to uni-
versal status, a cultural product that is consumed and emulated everywhere
in the world. By contrast, the music of other socie ties is of more par tic u lar,
local significance; when it circulates internationally, it is often packaged as a
novelty. North American musicians can indulge a taste for the exotic or they
can simply ignore the music of the rest of the world, a choice that is typically
not available to musicians from elsewhere who want to attract even a local
audience. In other words, while Latin American musicians like Páez have been
forced to compete directly against Elvis Presley, the Beatles, or Michael Jack-
son, the reverse has never been true. Páez interprets this apparent weakness as
a strength: Latin American musicians have greater resources at their disposal.
They can and do draw on local, regional, and global styles in order to forge
their own music.
Yet most revealing about Páez’s comment was his choice of Violeta Parra as
an example. By invoking a musician who was not from Argentina, Páez implied
that there was a transnational, Latin American musical tradition to which he,
as an Argentine, had privileged access. But what exactly is it that has made
Violeta Parra available to Argentine rock musicians but not to their English-
language counter parts? Why did Páez consider this Chilean musician to be
part of his musical inheritance? Parra’s music circulated on recordings made
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