The University of New Mexico’s Musicology Colloquium Series kicked off its program last week with a presentation from award-winning author and USC Professor Josh Kun in Keller Hall.
During his speech, the 2016 MacArthur Fellow introduced his upcoming project to the public for the first time.
Kun has researched with the collaborative art group, the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Latin American and Latino Art in LA, for two years to create a concert series and collection of art exhibits which highlight Latin American influence on the music of Los Angeles, California.
The first of his six live concerts will show on Sept. 23 and will be followed by the opening of over 70 art exhibits across Southern California, which will examine visual arts, music, performance, literature and cuisine.
According to Kun, the music of Los Angeles has been greatly influenced by the music of Latin America, but these roots are not recognized by the public.
“The best session musicians in LA were immigrant musicians,” Kun said.
These musicians traveled from homes such as Colombia, Peru, Cuba, Brazil and Mexico into LA where they played and recorded for famous musicians like Michael Jackson, Blondie and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Through his research, Kun attempts to answer the question: why is the Latin American influence on music in LA largely unacknowledged?
He has proposed two possible reasons.
First, when LA pop culture rose to prominence during the 1950s in the United States, there was intense segregation throughout the city, and its officials wanted to present their population as white.
The second theory looked not only at LA, but at the country as a whole.
“Latin American music is still thought of as marginal or as added on to America,” Kun said, adding that when musical origin is discussed, all that is addressed is “white or black.”
“There is still this idea of not belonging,” Kun said, referring to the thoughts of Latin American immigrants and musicians in the U.S.
Kun’s project aims to address and inform the public of this racial divide, along with the “invisible labor of Latin American musicians.”
When asked the dream outcome of his concert series and related art exhibits, Kun said he wants “people to enjoy themselves, to be moved by the music and be driven to understand the history of it and be driven to understand its place in forming the city today.”
“My hope is that people go to the shows and are like ‘Oh, this is about Los Angeles,’ and in turn they realize they want to learn more about the subject,” Kun said.
Kun’s concert series and and the linked art exhibits will show beginning in Sept. of 2017 and will conclude in Jan. of 2018.
The newly released novel, “The Tide is Always High,” is a collection of essays, interviews and other related investigations over the subject, which was edited by Kun and accompanies his concert series.
Timber Mabes is a culture reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @timbermabes.