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Metamodernism in The Bronx, Part I

It’s very challenging to write about the arts in the 21st century, particularly about music and dance as creative disciplines, as praxis. I must admit, however, that Adorno’s dissection of the social dimension of art through aesthetics as a discipline (1) continues to inform and contextualize my notion of art and culture, especially music, in ways that no other critical theoretician could ever do. After all, he was not only the luminary who conceived critical theory but also the greatest philosopher of music who ever lived.

As a multidisciplinary artist myself, I’m grateful for the opportunities I had to showcase my work in the performing arts during the last two decades of the 20th century when cultural and philosophical ideas framed by the avant-garde were resurrected and regarded if not as an aesthetics of permanence (2) at least as a referential vocabulary resisting the annihilation of all isms by postmodernists (3). After the year 2000, however, the skepticism, agnosticism, and chaos of the postmodern world finally succumbed to the resilience of the human spirit reawakened by hope, which in turn fueled the desire to reclaim body, movement, and sound as multi-dimensional and multi-layered metanarratives.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the naked, intimate stage at the Pregones Theater – Puerto Rican Travelling Theater in the early morning hours of January 6th to attend the 7th Annual Bronx Artists Now: Showcase & Conversation 2017 produced by Jane Gabriels, Ph.D., and director of Pepatián. I had no idea that the South Bronx-based organization was dedicated to creating, producing, and supporting contemporary multi-disciplinary art by Latino and Bronx-based artists. It is not just my fault not to know what’s going on in my own backyard at times. Blame it on The Bronx for not having a downtown and for still being divided by segregation, which is based on ethnic background and social class mostly determined by financial status. The Bronx itself is not yet a melting pot but the showcase was.

Politicians and bureaucrats never effect substantial changes in any society.
The greatest transformational ideas capable of dismantling toxic systems of hegemony always take place in the Arts and the Humanities first. They are the only antidote against greed, prejudice, and idiocy. Thus, in the context of our socio-political insanity cocooned by the notion of an alternative reality, which is infused with the alternative facts of a delirious demagogue as POTUS, these artists, hyphenated identities (4), children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, refugees, the blood of slaves, became my prophets riding the winds of resistance against the normalization of Donald Trump.

Is it too early to talk about Metamodernism in The Bronx? In his article, “Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction,” published in the literary magazine Berfrois, and later in the webzine, Notes on Metamodernism, artist Luke Turner establishes that,

Ours is a generation raised in the ‘80s and ‘90s, on a diet of The Simpsons and South Park, for whom postmodern irony and cynicism is a default setting, something ingrained in us. However, despite, or rather because of this, a yearning for meaning—for sincere and   constructive progression and expression—has come to shape today’s dominant cultural mode.
Whereas postmodernism was characterised by deconstruction, irony,  pastiche, relativism, nihilism, and the rejection of grand narratives (to caricature it somewhat), the discourse surrounding metamodernism engages with the resurgence of sincerity, hope, romanticism, affect, and the potential for grand narratives and universal truths, whilst not forfeiting all that we’ve learnt from postmodernism.(5)

 Art has always been my refuge no matter where I lived: from the totalitarian regimes in Cuba and Russia to today’s crumbling America. And music is my pacifier. Yasser Tejeda & Palotré opened the showcase with an eclectic selection of excerpts from original works, most of them featured on his album, Mezclansa, which I had the opportunity to regurgitate on that night at home, all by myself, thanks to the generosity of the artist who gifted me with his outstanding Afro-Dominican Jazz CD.

We hit it off at The Bronx Museum in the afternoon after the panel with the artists ignited my curiosity. I’m still crafting the possibility of doing a collaboration of sorts with the band. As familiar to my ears as Latin Jazz is, there’s something very peculiar about the sound identity of Yasser Tejeda & Paltré.

It is a mezcla, a mixture of sensuality, virility, and grace that makes me want to be touched and played like the very instruments they use to create their music. I was immediately transported—without consent—to a Caribbean Island filled with the vibrant colors of the ocean, the mountains, and the blooms. I was catapulted into an idyllic space in which traditional songs were reborn and uttered as the necessary poetry that gives us our daily breath. Because music is supposed to be a juggernaut that makes you forget that there are actual virtuosos on stage enticing all your senses.

Such a dazzling array of rhythms and melody lines took me to my native Cuba and the magical night in 1988 when I saw Dizzy Gillespie play live with Arturo Sandoval for the first time in my life during the Fifth International Jazz Festival in Havana. I was seduced. When I came back from my trance after listening to Yasser Tejeda & Palotré, I knew that Latin Jazz had been revisited and redefined.   

Yasser Tejeda & Palotré
Pregones Theater - Puerto Rican Travelling Theater / photo credit: (c) Marisol Diaz, 2017 

List of References

(1) Adorno, Theodor W., Aesthetic Theory. University Of Minnesota Press; 1st  edition (August 12, 1998).

(2) Calinescu, Matei, Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism, 2nd edition. Duke University Press.

(3) “Postmodernism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

(4) Renshon, Stanley, “The Value of a Hyphenated Identity. Center for Immigration Studies.

(5) Turner, Luke, “Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction. Notes on Metamodernism.

Orlando Ferrand, all rights reserved. April 5th, 2017


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