3. Juli 2014 ZTMK-Labor: A tigress of a different stripe: Performing gender in Dominican music from Fefita to Rita

A tigress of a different stripe: Performing gender in Dominican music from Fefita to Rita
By Sydney Hutchinson

3. Juli 2014, 14.00 - 16.00 Uhr

Rita Indiana Hernandez is an out lesbian, as well as an acclaimed novelist, performance artist, and singer-songwriter. Her 2010 album with the group Los Misterios was named among the top ten best "Latin Alternative" recordings by the US's National Public Radio, which described it as "electronic merengue-on-speed" that is "actually deeply symbolic." Both achievements are extraordinary in Rita's home country of the Dominican Republic, where homosexuality is seldom named, machismo rules the public sphere, and even the best-known musicians have failed to achieve much crossover success in the English-speaking world. Rita's career, aesthetics, and appearance may then seem perplexing at first glance - but they in fact build on a long tradition of transgressive Dominican performances of gender that work not only within and against stereotypes of gender, class, and race, but also create the possibilities for new models of gender construction and even musical genre.

In this talk, I explore how gender is performed in traditional merengue típico accordion music as well as recent urban music and fusions like Rita's that are difficult to pinpoint in terms of genre. I use a multifaceted methodology combining historical analysis, musical analysis, gesture and movement analysis, and ethnographic data to demonstrate how various merengue genres work both to display and alter contemporary, intertwined conceptions of gender and race. To understand Rita's work within her cultural context, I go back to típico accordionists like Fefita la Grande, the grande dame of típico whose stage and screen appearances since the 1960s have helped define the role of the tíguera or female tiger, a tough, sensual, and outspoken kind of femininity. The tíguera is in some sense a character to be acted, but she can also be considered a sort of cultural archetype or prototype for a woman who refuses to be boxed in. In this way, Fefita's musical and bodily performances have opened the way for later performances of similarly transgressive, if more urban, femininities, and even have some links to the a new, transnational tíguere subculture that has arisen around the urban styles of merengue con mambo or merengue de calle (street merengue). Rita Indiana's recent work is transgressive in that it foregrounds alternative sexualities and modes of gender performance, but it can also be seen as a culmination of established modes of musicking and gendering, one that cleverly manipulates Caribbean sounds, movements, and language to propose a new and more politicized way of listening.