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Friedmann, Susana

The Festive Song Repertory of the Barbacoas, Colombia, and its Implications for Ballad Transmission

Ph.D. King's College, University of London, 1996

The Barbacoas community, situated in an isolated area of the Colombian Pacific Lowlands that is far-removed from any urban centres, represents what is probably a unique case of acculturation in that its inhabitants today descend almost entirely from slaves introduced by Spaniards between 1640 and c. 1770 in order to exploit the gold mines of the area. The dissertation focuses on the religious songs of the community, arguing for their relationship with the Iberian romance tradition, while at the same time placing them within a broader literary and musical framework.

The dissertation offers first a critical summary of romance studies to date, showing the diffusion of the romance both east and west as transmitted by direct descendants from the Iberian peninsula and focussing on its dissemiation in Latin America. The study also surveys previous scholarship dealing with or related to the community of Barbacoas from the disciplines of literary and social history, linguistics, anthroplogy and musicology. Although some consideration has been given to assessing the relative importance of continuity and change, previously these have generally confined themselves within the limits of the concept of 'frozen traditions' (as described by Frank Harrison in 1975),characterized by features that can be considered survivals of the colonial period, or even earlier. We summarize relevant aspects of recent studies related to orality in musical and literary traditions, concluding that oral traditions undergo continuous and dynamic processes rather than maintaining persistent, rigid and static charcteristics.

We offer a description of the festive repertory of the Barbacoas religious songs that take place in a locale that contrasts markedly with the liturgical ceremonies held in the church, providing a commentary on the performance practices observed at these occasions and showing how they affect the structure of the songs and of the ritual. Our research into the poetic and musical structures in the Barbacoas festive repertory leads us to conclude that these in turn affect both the nature and the function of the performance. The extraordinary predilection for formulaic music with textual, melodic and other forms of 'redundancy' or parallelism creates patterns that reflect structures and practices that have traditionally been associated with Gregorian chant, with oratory and with rhetoric, but not with oral traditions. Inasmuch as studies of musical transmission in both medieval and primitive societies have pointed to the formulaic character of orally transmitted music, the music, textual parallelism or 'redundancy' has often been overlooked in analyses of the traditional romance, in favour of features such as octosyllabic verse and assonance. Our festive songs reflect a tradition with performance strategies that hold true both for the early romance tradition as well as the oral tradition today. Finally, our study points to traits of affinity between musical constructs in African music and Western music as made manifest in performance practices that have hardly been appraised or even recognized.