Loud, Louder & Loudest: Carnival Rivalries and the Making of Panamanian Murga
Date and Time
When the competing murgas of Calle Abajo and Calle Arriba, with their forty-plus horn players accompanied by a cadre of drummers, slowly exit the side streets of their respective barrios and make their way onto the central drag that encircles Las Tablas’s Parque Bellisario Porras, they do so with the aim of out-blowing and out-drumming their rivals to the point of total physical exhaustion. Perched high on their custom-built carretones—each pulled by an immense John Deere tractor—these musicians produce what is arguably the loudest sound emitted by an acoustic ensemble in Panama today.
Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, in this talk Dr. Bellaviti examines how a ferocious 60-year rivalry between two bands—where scores are settled and victories are won within the arena of sound production and in the view of an increasingly nationwide audience—has shaped every aspect of murga performance, from the carefully constructed song arrangements that are designed to maximize the endurance and playing power of each musician, to the pride musicians take in being able to overblow their horn to the point of distortion or hit their drum to the point of exhaustion. Panamanian murga is but one rather extreme example of a hemispheric-wide practice of reworking and repurposing the European marching band to meet the needs of local performance practices.