Transatlantic Cartographies of Popular Music in the Americas
Popular music is frequently analyzed through national ‘musical genres,’ consecrated through specific...
The 1770s have been selected as the point of departure for this exercise, because this is when the cycle of Atlantic revolutions began to profoundly transform the power relations between Europe and the Americas and to eliminate the essential core of imperialism. This decade also corresponds to a sharp increase in transatlantic exchange, including economic exchange. Madrid's progressive opening of trade between the Spanish New World and homeland ports, for example, led to an important increase in maritime traffic. The Atlantic slave trade also started growing exponentially during this decade, with 11,518 Atlantic crossings taking nearly 3.3 million slaves from Africa to the Americas between 1750 and 1800 (compared to 2.1 million and 7,108 crossings between 1700 and 1750, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database). Until around 1860, when France and England were initiating their colonial expansion toward Africa, northwestern Europe, the epicenter of the nascent industrial revolution, also began to assert its dominance over cultural exchanges in tandem with an emerging print Atlantic, whose full ascendancy would be seen in the next period.
A new phase began in the 1850s and 60s, and corresponds to what has been called the second globalization—following the first one in the 15th and 16th centuries. While not the only region to participate, the Atlantic remained the center of this transformation. The steam revolution erased the slowness of earlier centuries, contributing decisively to a compression of distances. Steam led not only to an unprecedented increase in international commerce and circulation of material goods, but also to the great migratory wave from Europe to new countries on the American continents (the United States, of course, but also Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Chile), from the beginning of the 1870s until the end of the 1920s, interrupted only by the First World War. Europe's colonial stranglehold on Africa was at its height during this period. Transoceanic telegraph cables—initiated in 1858 by the link between Valentia Island (west of Ireland) and Trinity Bay (east of Newfoundland)—reached their maximum expansion during this period, before being progressively replaced by the wireless telegraph.
The Great War marked a break between periods in several ways. It created the groundwork for a kind of provincialization of Europe that coincided with the rise of cultural Americanization. The war also corresponded to a decisive moment in the process of mass-culture consolidation that, while occurring at different times in different places, added a radiophonic and cinematographic Atlantic to the existing print Atlantic. In the overall economy of transatlantic cultural exchange, this break is essential in that it opens the way for popular culture to be instantaneously transmitted. Jack Dempsey's knock-out of French boxer Georges Carpentier on July 2, 1921 in Thirty Acres Stadium in Jersey City is not only the first boxing match broadcast live on U.S. airwaves, but it also reached the ears of French listeners less than two minutes after their champion went down.
Finally, the 1960s inaugurate the last period, the third globalization leading to the present. The double context of the Cold War and decolonization ratified new hegemonies and dependencies until the end of the 1980s, while the neo-liberalization of the world created more favorable conditions than ever for planetary exchange. Technical changes like the democratization of civil aviation (opening the way for mass tourism), the advent of television as a common product of consumption, and the digital revolution of the turn of the 21st century, all serve to reduce circulation time while also revealing, starting in the 1960s, the foundations of a "global village" (to use Marshall McLuhan's expression) that has continued to consolidate since. In light of these changes, the relevance of the Atlantic world as an analytical framework for the last half-century of globalization should be reexamined.