EOL video reviews: Central and South America

EOL video review

The JVC/Smithsonian Folkways
Video Anthology of Music and Dance of the Americas

5. Central and South America: Belize, Guyana, Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia

Producer: The Victor Company of Japan, Ltd., Director:HIROAKI OHTA, Co-Producer: STEPHEN McARTHUR, Associate Producer: HIROSHI YOSHIDA, Executive Producers: KATSUMORI ICHIKAWA & YUJI ICHIHASHI. Video/color, 53:46 (this tape).

Editorial supervisor (books): TOMOAKI FUJI, Senior Editor: ANTHONY SEEGER, Editor (books): MARK GREENBERG.

Booklet notes (this volume) by Barbara Hampton, Adrienne Kaeppler, Raul Romero, Nicholas Spitzer, and Robert Witmer.

1995. Distributors: Multicultural Media, RR 3, Box 6655, Granger Road, Barre, Vermont 05641 USA, and Smithsonian Folkways, 955 L'Enfant Plaza, suite 7300, Washington DC 20560


6. Central and South America: Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela.

[Same data as above],Video/color, 55:03 (this tape).

Booklet notes (this volume) by Barbara Hampton, Adrienne Kaeppler, Raul Romero, and Nicholas Spitzer, and Robert Witmer.


Volumes 5 and 6 of the JVC /Smithsonian Folkways Video Anthology of Music and Dance of the Americas are dedicated to Central and South America. Volume 5 includes twenty-two selections of music from Belize, Guyana , Brazil, Guatemala, and Colombia. The examples have been compiled from the original field tapes and previously published videos.

As with the other volumes in the JVC series, the videocassettes are each accompanied by a documentation booklet. Notes on the selections of the video are preceded by an overview of the history of music and dance of South and Central America written by Anthony Seeger.  In volume 5, the booklet is one of the of the strongest features of the package with commentary provided by Robert Witmer for Belize and Guyana, by Anthony Seeger for Brazil and Guatemala, and by Raul Romero for Colombia. Each entry indicates the type of music, title, performers, data and place of recording, source of the original video and a brief background explanation.

Even though the presentation is clear and well thought out, some editorial errors exist. Accents are treated casually, especially in the Portuguese-language material, where only the song Aguas de Março  has all the necessary accents. There is some inconsistency in the treatment of texts; though Portuguese texts and English translations are supplied for the Brazilian songs, only English translations are provided for the Spanish songs (no Spanish texts).

At the end of the booklet there is a helpful Glossary, but some discrepancies occur there as well. For instance the entry regarding the bailes chinos (Chinese dances) defines them as traditional Brazilian dances and brotherhoods. Elsewhere in the booklet these dances are defined as Chilean, not Brazilian.

The video does not have any kind of narration; only the printed name of the country appears on the frame, followed by the numerical designation of the performance example. The number of excerpts for each country seems proportional to the size of the country: Brazil has nine, Belize only has one. The images were filmed mostly in the 1980s and by now their colors are faded, making them unattractive for the viewer.


Volume five:

Video 5-13
"Bailes Chinos"

160x120, 7 sec, 602K QuickTime

320x240, 22 sec, 4MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 47K JPEG

The best example on this volume is the clip featuring the Bailes Chinos and the Canto a lo Divino (Chile), where different brotherhoods perform to honor the Virgin (5-13). Each of the associations has its own characteristics, such as instruments and choreography. They play a fundamental role in a day-long celebration incorporating the procession shown on the tape. This example shows how important audience participation is in the celebration and more of the other examples on the tape should be presented in this way.


Video 5-1
(from Belize)

160x120, 8 sec, 643K QuickTime

320x240, 17 sec, 4MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 86K JPEG

Nothing could be more vital in the folk dances of South and Central America than the interaction of performers with the audience. At the heart of the flaws of the video is its way of presenting musical traditions.

An example of the presentation problem can be seen in the clip from Belize (5-1), where the performers are seen on stage, but we do not see any type of audience. The same occurs in the Ritual song of the Xavante Indians, the Rural Samba dance, the Martial dance (Brazil); the Flute and Drum music of the Arhoacho Indians; and the Poro, Brass Band (Colombia). It is difficult to believe that when a Samba is occurring in Bahia, in the middle of the street, people do not get closer than shown in the video.

Most of the presentations seem artificial. The staging is clear in the examples of the Samba School rehearsal and Carnival Parade where participants are shown wearing costumes that they would not actually wear until the day of the parade itself. The Carnival parade is well recorded, with the dancers, singers, musicians, and the audience all visible, but once more something is wrong: the sound does not come from the streets, but from a recording, giving an unreal image to the viewer.


However, the main problem of the video is the unclear rationale for the organization and selection of subjects. The music chosen in Brazil is mostly from Bahia and Rio, emphasizing the many influences of Africa on the music and culture of these regions. Why not also include representative samples of the music of Minas or other regions of Brazil where the African presence is not so strong? Viewers will see few examples of music and festivities that bear direct influences from Iberian culture on this video. As a result, we have once again a partial and stereotyped image of the country.

It would be very interesting if the video were to show the same dance in different parts of one country and compare the similarities and the differences, rather than just presenting a kind of "musical salad." Another possibility would be to present a comparison of selected religious or popular festivities among several countries with the intention of more clearly indicating how the music associated with these traditions developed in this region of the world.

However, if the goal of the compilers, as stated in the introduction of this volume, was only to present a sampling of the wide variety of traditions found in each country going from the more rural to the more urban forms, this has been only partially accomplished.


Volume six includes thirty selections of music from Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela. This volume follows the same presentation format as the others in the series, but it is better organized. This is especially evident in the sections devoted to music of Peru. These selections are organized according to the following classifications: Amazonian, Andean, Coastal Black and Urban.

This volume represents an even better understanding of the cultures than in the previous volume. Excellent commentary is provided by Cathy Ragland for the music of Mexico, T.M. Scruggs for Nicaragua, Anthony Seeger for the Amazonian cultures of Peru, and by Raul Romero for the Andean, Coastal Black and Urban cultures of Peru and Venezuela. Though the booklet begins with the statement: "We have attempted to be as accurate and consistent with spellings," here again, accents are still treated casually in the Spanish-language text. On the other hand, this booklet seem to be more exact in the glossary than in the one of volume 5.

The video starts with Mexico where all the selections in the booklet feature both the original Spanish lyrics and the English translations. For the Peruvian section, from the sixteen selections only two songs appear with text in English, and for Venezuela no text is given at all.

The video images are clear and attractively presented, and in most of the selections the interaction of musicians and dancers with the people is well represented. As examples, the selections of the Ritual Song and Procession, (Mexico), La Griteria, and The Baile de Negras (Nicaragua), make clear how interaction is important and varied.

It is also very interesting to see different traditions in the same country as reflections of different influences. This is the best reflected in the case of Peru, where selections from Amazonian, Andean, Coastal black and Urban traditions all represent one country but give the viewer an understanding of the wide range of sources and cultures present there. Examples representing such contrasts are the Shepherd Song (Andean Culture), El Festejo (Coastal Black Culture).

Video 6-30
"Diablos Danzantes"

160x120, 8 sec, 691K QuickTime

320x240, 18 sec, 4MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 44K JPEG

The last selection of the volume is the Diablos Danzantes (Venezuela), where the presentation shows not only the activities of the principal dancers and musicians, but also how the people interact around them (6-30).

In this volume, the authors have accomplished their goal of "presenting a sampling of the wide variety of traditions found in each country" much better and more clearly than in volume 5. This presentation is well thought-out, really making it possible for the viewer to be captivated by the information.


reviewed by Estibaliz Gastesi

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