A river of blood: Music, memory, and violence in Ayacucho, Peru

2006 2006

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation tells a story of how music became a site for social commentary, political resistance, and public remembrance in the Ayacucho region of southern Peru during the "dirty war" fought there between Shining Path guerrillas and the Peruvian military in the 1980s and early 90s. Combining social history with musical ethnography, I chronicle the origins and development of the canción social ayacuchana, a broad umbrella term for protest and testimonial music from Ayacucho that became popular during the conflict. Rooted in musical and cultural forms that long predated the war, I argue that the canción social mobilized the resources of these traditions in a way that both reinvigorated them as cultural practices while also opening a powerful and singular social space for dissent and remembrance within a public sphere otherwise marked by paralyzing terror and silencing.

The canción social phenomenon is explored here through interwoven case studies of two distinct but related musical spheres. The first case examines the politicization of a rural musical genre known as pumpin, performed primarily during carnival in the district of Colca and neighboring villages in Ayacucho's central Fajardo province. Over the course of several chapters, I narrate and analyze the unique causes of pumpin's transformation, foregrounding the role played by formal song contests that began in the Fajardo province in the mid-1970s, the cooptation of those contests by Shining Path militants at the outset of the war, and the perseverance of several promoters in resurrecting the contests repeatedly throughout and following the years of violence. The story of pumpin's radicalization is given a broader context in chapters 2 and 4, which present a social history of the canción social in the Ayacucho region as a whole, analyzing how this primarily urban movement by singers and songwriters unfolded over two decades in major public performances, musical competitions, and recordings of Andean "folkloric" music, especially the wayno genre. Arguing against interpretations of this music that have positioned it as entirely either a natural extension of a deep tradition of politicized Andean folk music, or as a politically-instrumental imposition of Maoist guerrillas, I position the canción social as an emergent social arena where divergent views on the violence could be presented, debated, and transformed.

Indexing (details)

Cultural anthropology;
0326: Cultural anthropology
0358: Folklore
0413: Music
Identifier / keyword
Communication and the arts; Social sciences; Ayacucho; Music; Peru; Shining Path; Violence
A river of blood: Music, memory, and violence in Ayacucho, Peru
Ritter, Jonathan Larry
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 68/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Seeger, Anthony
University of California, Los Angeles
University location
United States -- California
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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