Theses Doctoral

"Cien por Ciento Nacional!" Panamanian Música Típica and the Quest for National and Territorial Sovereignty

Gonzalez, Melissa

This dissertation investigates the socio-cultural and musical transfigurations of a rural-identified musical genre known as música típica as it engages with the dynamics of Panama's rural-urban divide and the country's nascent engagement with the global political economy. Though regarded as emblematic of Panama's national folklore, música típica is also the basis for the country's principal and most commercially successful popular music style known by the same name. The primary concern of this project is to examine how and why this particular genre continues to undergo simultaneous processes of folklorization and commercialization. As an unresolved genre of music, I argue that música típica can offer rich insight into the politics of working out individual and national Panamanian identities.
Based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Panama City and several rural communities in the country's interior, I examine the social struggles that subtend the emergence of música típica's genre variations within local, national, and transnational contexts. Through close ethnographic analysis of particular case studies, this work explores how musicians, fans, and the country's political and economic structures constitute divisions in regards to generic labeling and how differing fields of musical circulation and meaning are imagined.
This study will first present an examination of late nineteenth and twentieth century Panamanian nationalist discourses in order to contextualize música típica's stylistic and ideological development as a commercial genre of popular music. The following chapter will construct a social history of música típica that takes into account the multiple historical trajectories that today's consumers and producers engage, negotiate, and contest in an attempt to ascribe social and cultural meaning to the role the genre assumes in contemporary discourses of national identity. Processes of folkloric canonization and reconstruction will then be examined in order to understand how the marketing efforts of the Panamanian government draw on a discourse of nationality. The role of corporate sponsorship in today's música típica scene will also be investigated, specifically addressing how the marketing of this genre by beer companies, national cultural festivals, and the Panamanian television industry builds on a foundation of commercial music practices. Subsequent chapters will focus on the local and transnational dynamics of genre formation and dissolution as revealed in the ideological discourses and socio-musical practices of música típica's practitioners, especially in accordion and vocal performance practices. An analysis of música típica's field of cultural production, with its particular mappings of identity, place, and sound, will provide insight into Panamanian modernity and the social experiences of Panamanians, especially within Latin American and global contexts.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Gonzalez_columbia_0054D_12599.pdf Gonzalez_columbia_0054D_12599.pdf application/pdf 12.1 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Washburne, Christopher J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 24, 2015