“We do not play music for the applause!”
: Explorations of Andean autochthonous music as worlding practices in urban Bolivia

  • Adhemar Mercado Auf der Maur

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is an exploration of Andean autochthonous music as a practice of decolonisation in the urban context of Bolivia. It follows the cultural, social, religious and political activities of different music groups who play autochthonous music in the city and the surrounding area of Cochabamba and La Paz. Following their stories it contrasts and contextualises these groups’ journeys within the wider socio–political processes of Bolivian society. In this sense, my research follows Anders Burman’s call for a move away from the ‘critical intellectual theorizing’ of decolonisation and towards a more practice-oriented approach to decolonisation. Music in this context is understood as a complex, interdependent and inherently situated practice that is in constant process of creating worlds. The thesis dwells on the implications for academic knowledge production when we take seriously the claims, practices and experiences of those people we engage with in our research. The thesis thus explores the ramifications and importance of the claim made by autochthonous musicians that music is more than just an artistic performance, an aesthetic endeavour for applause or for political vindications. Doing so, the thesis problematizes the questions of authenticity, folklorisation and politics of recognition more broadly that are generally associated with Andean autochthonous music. The thesis seeks to take the experience and ideas of urban autochthonous musicians seriously by engaging with those worlds, and spiritual hinterlands that are invoked through Andean autochthonous music. The question then is not whether music can be an instrument of decolonisation. Rather the thesis asks: under what circumstances does music contribute to decolonisation and what kind of decolonisation processes does music bring about? In this sense, the project explores the possibilities and limitations of discourses and activities of the urban autochthonous music groups wherein Quechua and Aymara political vindications and the empowerment of Andean ways of knowing and being become possible. Through the example of urban autochthonous music groups the thesis engages with the idea and the conditions of possibility necessary for social and political change. I suggest to look at music and autochthonous music in particular as sites of many worldings, where the pluriverse gets enacted and performed. The thesis’ aim is to contribute to further our understanding of how the decolonial, post-colonial or critical theoretical frameworks continue to perpetuate colonial structures and contribute to the further folklorisation and cooptation of the indigenous and other marginalised cultures and lived experiences rather than their liberation.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorLucy Taylor (Supervisor) & Berit Bliesemann de Guevara (Supervisor)

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