In recent years, historians and students of Latin American culture have paid increasing attention to what John Chasteen has called “national rhythms”: popular musical and dance forms born of the meeting between African and European artistic traditions and incorporating elements from both. As such, these rhythms — Argentine and Uruguayan tango, Brazilian samba, Colombian cumbia, Cuban rumba and son, Dominican merengue and bachata, Puerto Rican bomba, plena, and salsa — are eloquent representations of the idea and practice of race mixture and of Latin American ideals of racial democracy. Partly for that reason, and partly because of their inherent musical appeal, over time each has been embraced as a core symbol and expression of national identity.1

As these studies make clear, the creation of national rhythms from a blend of African and European music and dance was neither automatic nor easy. In each country it...

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