Sociopolitical Music-Making

In recent years, Charlotte, North Carolina has seen an influx of Latino immigrants, making it home to one of the largest Latino immigrant communities in the United States. For many of these immigrants, economic, legal, and social challenges make it difficult to participate fully in the American political system.  In “'The Collective Circle': Latino Immigrant Musicians and Politics in Charlotte, North Carolina” author Samuel Byrd finds that as a result of these barriers, some Latino immigrants decisively abstain from engaging in traditional forms of American civic participation. Instead, they create opportunities to understand, assess, and debate the challenges they face in a less traditional way: through their own music-making.

In interviews with immigrant musicians at concerts and festivals, Byrd finds that music making becomes political through both social and physical processes. Politicized dialogues circulate at concerts and through album reviews in newspapers. Concerts allow musicians to perform songs with lyrics that advocate for immigrants’ rights and to comment on day-to-day issues they face, and newspaper reviews expand the songs’ exposure and add a new level of interpretation to the songs’ lyrics. Concerts also build networks through which immigrants debate issues and forge political and social bonds. Physically, group dances performed during concerts, such as a popular dance known as the collective circle, express politicized dialogues through movement. By forming a circle and linking arms, participants add a physical dimension to the concerts’ political content.

Byrd suggests that through engagement with music Charlotte’s Latino immigrants are much more active in local politics than is immediately apparent. Grassroots music making allows them to respond to the legal and social limitations experienced by their communities. Through music making, they are able to actively engage in American politics in a way that reflects their own cultural traditions and identities.

Byrd, Samuel. 2014. "The Collective Circle': Latino Immigrant Musicians and Politics in Charlotte, North Carolina" American Ethnologist, 41(2): 246-260. 
DOI: 10.1111/amet.12073

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