Feeling Zulian through Gaita: Singing Regional Identity in Maracaibo, Venezuela
Carroll, Robert Thomas
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This dissertation shows how gaita music articulates regional identity in Maracaibo, in the state of Zulia in Venezuela, based on analysis of lyrics and recordings, interviews, archival work, and participant observation at performance events. Since the 1960s, gaita has become a commercialized folk music that is popular throughout Venezuela during the Christmas holiday season, but in Zulia, where gaita originated, the music serves as a medium through which regional identity is defined, promoted, negotiated, celebrated, and even marketed. Based on fieldwork conducted in 2000-01, 2003, and 2007 among musicians, composers, academics, and gaita fans, this study is structured around five broad vectors of gaita's expression of zulianidad: sound, history, geography, religion and politics. The mere sound of gaita--with its unique beat--is recognized as distinctly Zulian genre, and this distinctiveness contributes to its power in indexing regional identity. Gaita's instruments are seen as Zulian and perceived as representative of the European, African, and indigenous elements of Venezuela's racial mixture and the ideology of racial democracy. Gaita, which originated as orally improvised party music in the nineteenth century, is a prominent feature of local cultural history. Since the early twentieth century, and especially after the advent of recording and the professionalization of gaita groups in the 1960s, skilled composers have crafted song lyrics that chronicle local history. By singing of places and issues of geographical significance, gaiteros produce place in the regional imaginary, help to create a sense of a unified Zulian region, and negotiate issues of regional and national identity. In Maracaibo, religious practice is dominated by devotion to the regional patron saint, La Chinita, and songs dedicated to her promote a particularly regional version of Catholicism and connect religious identity with local sociopolitical regionalism. Political regional identity dates to the years of the Venezuelan independence movement, and protest gaitas continue to articulate Zulians frustrations with centralized governmental control. While gaita serves as holiday season party music, it also functions as an important expression of regional cultural identity in Maracaibo, Zulia.
- Music