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Get to Know Music Professor Dr. David Garcia

Dr. David Garcia is an ethnomusicologist with research focusing on the music of the Americas. In particular, he emphasizes music of the African diaspora and Latin music of the United States with a theoretical focus on race and racism. He currently teaches undergraduate courses and graduate seminars in ethnomusicology, and he is the director of UNC’s Charanga Carolina, the only university-based Cuban charanga ensemble in the state of North Carolina.

What initially drew you to Latin American studies? Is that why you’ve stuck with it, or has that reason evolved over the years?

What initially drew me to Latin American studies was ethnomusicology, which is the study of music in its cultural context. I was studying composition as an undergraduate music major, and one of my teachers encouraged me to apply for graduate school in ethnomusicology, because, in my compositions for school, I was drawing from Ecuadorian music, which is where my parents are from. Once I started graduate school, one of my first ethnomusicology teachers was a specialist in Cuban popular music, and I made that shift from wanting to study and research music of the Andean region to Cuban popular music.

Why does music matter to you, and why do you think it is important to study music (specifically Latin American music) academically?

Music has mattered to me since I was a child. My father's a musician. My mom's side of the family, who still live in Ecuador, are all guitarists and singers. I was always fascinated with people singing and making music. I was just really drawn to it. It's always been a part of my life, part of my family's life, and a part of our culture, so that's why it matters to me.

Music offers a unique entry point into a culture’s values, history, even individual people. It provides us a unique perspective into what's meaningful to people, as expressed through sound and texts. In my case, what's most important to me in researching music is how people forge their identity, whether those identities are based on race, gender, nationality, religion, and so on.

What has been the most exciting part of your current editorial/research project?

I've been working on, for the past several years, The Latinx Presence in Music, Dance, and Theater of the United States, 1783-1900. That is the music and dance of Spanish-speaking people or representations of Spanish-Americans and their cultures. I came to the project because there's very little published on the presence of Latin people and their music in the United States before the 20th century. And, as soon as I started researching historical newspaper databases or digitized sheet music collections, I found that the history is rich. We've always been here. Obviously Latin people have been in Texas, California, Florida, but we haven't been able to research and document our presence in Philadelphia in the 18th and 19th century, or Charleston in the 1780s, for example. There were Spanish-speaking people all over the original configuration of the United States, and Anglo-Americans were making music representing Spanish-American culture. That history is rich, and that's what most excites me about this research,

Why should students consider Latin American Studies, and how would they know if it’s right for them?

UNC-Chapel Hill has a stellar faculty of Latin Americanists from so many disciplines. If you just consider all of the departments in the College, there are faculty who are marvelous specialists in Latin American topics. Students have many, many opportunities to study with faculty doing really important, groundbreaking research. And many of them are leaders in their field. And then the second part of the question: well, let me just finish by coming back to my own experience. When I was encouraged to study ethnomusicology, I did not know what that was. I was a composer—that's what really made me happy. So, I think it comes down to if you find something—whether it’s Latin American studies or not—if it answers questions for you, questions that you're seeking answers for or you feel are important, then that's the right field for you.

An image of Dr. David Garcia