Black in Buenos Aires: Oscar Alemán and the Transnational History of Swing
Chapter 1 focuses on Afro-Argentine swing guitarist Oscar Alemán, who leveraged his phenotypical blackness and his musical talent in order to build a career that took him from Brazil to Buenos Aires to Paris and back to the Argentine capital. Over the course of his career, Alemán performed multiple black identities, responding creatively to his audiences’ varied racial expectations. In the Parisian nightclubs of the 1930s, being black gave him a certain cachet. Similarly, once he returned to Buenos Aires in 1940, his racial identity strengthened his claim to being Argentina’s most authentic jazz musician. Yet as a black jazz musician, he challenged ideas about Argentine national identity in ways that ultimately limited his career horizons. Alemán’s commercial success in Argentina during the 1940s and 1950s problematizes simplistic accounts of Argentine racism. Nevertheless, his association with a version of blackness that alluded to Brazilian tropicalism and Parisian nightlife eventually limited his appeal.