Playing with Feeling: Musical Performances of Mexican Sentimiento

Lorena Alvarado
Global Arts Studies
UC Merced

“Playing with Feeling: Musical Performances of Mexican Sentimiento” is an inquiry into the performance of sentimiento in genres like the canción ranchera, bolero and banda, genres that enjoy a vibrant public across the Americas and especially the United States. Briefly stated, sentimiento involves a singer’s fervent portrayal of emotions – including heartache, yearning, and hope – a skillfully-achieved depiction that incites extraordinary communication between artist and audience. As a crucial dimension of musical performance, and an important mediated and rhetorical device, sentimiento is a key function in a number of genres. In my analysis, I historicize an aesthetic that has remained an a-historical sensation in explorations of Latina/o popular music. I focus on the ranchera, without disregarding its transcultural development across borders. To scrutinize sentimiento as embodied gesture and vernacular epistemology reveals its importance as a repertoire of knowledge about gender and national identity. Moreover, I uncover how its performance vivifies transgressive, feminist embodiments of Mexicanidad. Adopting a feminist perspective, I approach sentimiento not as an apolitical expression, but as a charged affect of social and cultural repercussion, a tool to mobilize (or hinder) discourses beyond love.