Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 May 2011
The study of popular music often loses something in translation. The musical categories used by scholars and musicians in different locations vary widely in meaning, complicating both analysis and disciplinary divisions. Genre classifications also create blind spots which leave styles falling between the cracks out of the picture, impoverishing analysis and even denying musicians certain benefits. This paper examines the use of terms such as folklórico, tradicional, popular and típico by both lay people and scholars in Latin America, then turns to Dominican merengue típico as a case study showing how musical categories are often intensely local. I argue that – because it relies more on notions of place than on the ideas of time, class, race or production that inform other categorisations – the concept of típico is useful in examining transnational ‘roots’ musics which bridge nations, classes and modes of production. In addition, using musicians' and listeners' own categories can help us to question the canons of musical scholarship, musical nationalism and music marketing, thus creating new possibilities for both scholars and musicians.