7-2 | Table of Con­tents | DOI 10.17742/IMAGE.VOS.7-2.12 | Rad­wan­skiPDF

Livia Rad­wan­s­ki | Pho­tog­ra­ph­er and Cinematographer
Nathalie Case­ma­jor | INRS - Urban­i­sa­tion Cul­ture Société
Will Straw | McGill University

Portfolio and interview with Livia Radwanski

The Sonidero move­ment is a fes­tive musi­cal scene that emerged in Latin-Amer­i­can cul­tures in the 1970s. Sonidero DJs and pro­duc­ers appro­pri­ate trop­i­cal rhythms such as cumbia, merengue, or sal­sa and mix them with ele­ments of elec­tron­ic music. The street par­ties they orga­nize are pop­u­lar gath­er­ings for danc­ing and neigh­bor­hood cel­e­bra­tions. The movement’s rich visu­al cul­ture ranges from screen pro­jec­tions to col­or­ful cloth­ing, ban­ners, posters, reli­gious icons, and draw­ings on musi­cal equipment.

In 2008, Mar­co Ramirez and Mar­i­ana Del­ga­do found­ed El Proyec­to Sonidero, a research group ded­i­cat­ed to the study of the Sonidero move­ment. Livia Rad­wan­s­ki, a Brazil­ian pho­tog­ra­ph­er based in Mex­i­co City, par­tic­i­pat­ed as a visu­al coor­di­na­tor. The group col­lab­o­rat­ed with anthro­pol­o­gists, eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gists, pro­duc­ers, and pho­tog­ra­phers from Mex­i­co, the Unit­ed States, Colom­bia, Brazil, Bolivia, Argenti­na, and Spain. Togeth­er they pro­duced an e-book titled Sonideros en las aceras, vén­gase la gozadera (2012), edit­ed by Mar­i­ana Del­ga­do and Mar­co Ramírez Corne­jo, with pho­tographs by Livia Rad­wan­s­ki and Mark Pow­ell. It can be down­loaded under a cre­ative com­mons license from Tum­bona Edi­ciones’ web­site.[1] More infor­ma­tion can be found on the Proyec­to Sonidero’s blog.[2] In 2016, the group pre­sent­ed its work in a col­lec­tive exhi­bi­tion at the Museo El Chopo, in Mex­i­co City.

This port­fo­lio presents some of the pic­tures that Livia Rad­wan­s­ki cre­at­ed for El Proyec­to Sonidero. She act­ed not only as the pho­tog­ra­ph­er but as also the visu­al coor­di­na­tor for the group. In the inter­view, con­duct­ed by Nathalie Case­ma­jor and Will Straw, she high­lights some of the cul­tur­al fea­tures of the Sonidero Move­ment and describes her work of visu­al­ly doc­u­ment­ing this musi­cal scene.


How did you discover the Sonidero movement and start documenting it?

I came across the Sonidero cul­ture through Mar­i­ana Del­ga­do who, along with Mar­co Ramirez, was doing research and col­lab­o­ra­tive work with the Sonideros in 2008 as part of a col­lec­tive called El Proyec­to Sonidero. They invit­ed me to col­lab­o­rate in doc­u­ment­ing visu­al­ly the Sonidero cul­ture. With time, I also became the visu­al coor­di­na­tor of the project, which has last­ed for over sev­en years.

What does it mean to document a music scene in visual terms? In what ways do the visual elements you capture in your photographs express something of the music?

You have to be immersed in the cul­ture in order to under­stand the moti­va­tions of those invest­ed in a spe­cif­ic musi­cal genre and the ways in which they are unit­ed as a com­mu­ni­ty. As a pho­tog­ra­ph­er you direct your atten­tion towards the ele­ments that char­ac­ter­ize a scene, includ­ing the con­text, the indi­vid­u­als, and the var­i­ous kinds of para­pher­na­lia that form part of the musi­cal move­ment in its entire­ty. The Sonidero cul­ture thrives on its graph­ic and visu­al ele­ments, which are quite unique and dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from oth­er music scenes, and pho­tog­ra­phy has been an impor­tant medi­um for com­mu­ni­cat­ing that visu­al ele­ment with­in the scene.

Those who write about Sonidero (in the book in which your photographs appear, for example) talk about the syncretism of the music, the way it pulls together so many styles and practices. Can we say the same of the images that surround it? Are these images producing a new visuality that runs from Mexican communities in New Jersey down to Colombia?

The visu­al aspect of Sonidero cul­ture pul­sates with a unique tone, a mix­ture of influ­ences rang­ing from Caribbean trop­i­cal­ism to ele­ments we might call urban indus­tri­al. The visu­al style depends on the region; the graph­ic ele­ments are not the same for Mex­i­co City as they are for Colom­bia, nor is it the same from one neigh­bor­hood to the next, since each Sonidero has own iden­ti­ty depend­ing on the style of music they decide to focus their reper­toire upon.

Sonideros need to catch the public’s atten­tion and at the same time need to have a very deter­mined per­son­al visu­al iden­ti­ty that helps shape their brand. They do it through the use of unique para­pher­na­lia, which is absolute­ly nec­es­sary in this respect: the big speak­ers that dom­i­nate the sound­scape, the large graph­ics that fill shirts, trucks and ban­ners with names, the music col­lec­tions being their LPs or dig­i­tal remixed files, etc.

Many different types of designs are displayed during the musical performances and processions: banners, clothes, posters. Which traces of this graphic culture remain visible in the city after the performances are over?

Designs are present every­where and all the time, and peo­ple wear the names of Sonideros on jack­ets, t-shirts, and tat­toos. Cumbia and sal­sa music are sold on CDs on the sub­ways, posters stay up on streets until new ones replace them, ban­ners can be seen in dif­fer­ent stores through­out the city, and in the city mar­kets the music is blast­ed con­tin­u­ous­ly, as there is always some­one sell­ing CDs or play­ing music from their store. So the audio­vi­su­al ele­ments are every­where. If you move around the city, walk­ing or tak­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion, you become aware of their con­stant presence.

One of the most interesting things about Sonidero—and several of the authors in the book stress this—is that it endlessly absorbs new technologies and uses them to keep renewing the music. Does technology work the same way in relation to the image-making that surrounds the music?

Tech­nol­o­gy works in favor of the Sonidero com­mu­ni­ty, mak­ing it eas­i­er for more peo­ple to become a Sonidero since the cost and size of the equip­ment has been reduced sig­nif­i­cant­ly over the years, and mak­ing it more acces­si­ble and eas­i­er to trans­port. The forms of dis­tri­b­u­tion have tak­en new routes with the arrival of the inter­net, also reach­ing a larg­er pub­lic. Doc­u­ment­ing the scene has also been made eas­i­er with the arrival of cell­phones and video cam­eras that allow every­one to become a wit­ness with the abil­i­ty to cre­ate archival doc­u­ments. The hor­i­zon­tal­iza­tion and democ­ra­ti­za­tion of media record­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion has giv­en the move­ment anoth­er tone, where­as before the sonideros would thrive upon the LP col­lec­tions which they would bring from trips to Colom­bia most­ly. Nowa­days stream­ing of music online and record­ing CDs for instant sales after a gig have cre­at­ed new forms of transna­tion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Visu­al tech­nol­o­gy has become a tool which allows the fans to cre­ate their own per­son­al account of the events with­out depend­ing on an offi­cial ver­sion of them. We now have many more inter­pre­ta­tions of the same event, which are con­stant­ly being shared through web­sites and social media. At the same time, there are still offi­cial pho­tos and video record­ings, cre­at­ed for a spe­cif­ic Sonidero´s web­site, and they are also sold as pirate DVDs in the local markets.

How does the visual culture around this movement circulate online? Are there website and platforms dedicated to disseminating its music and images?

There are count­less web­sites devot­ed to the Sonidero cul­ture, as well as radio pro­grams play­ing this style of music, which is most­ly cumbia and sal­sa but can also be high ener­gy or val­lena­to. Many Sonidero par­ties are streamed live inter­na­tion­al­ly from the event on dif­fer­ent web­sites. The events are also shared through such media as DVDs, the Web, and radio and TV. The big local neigh­bor­hood mar­kets hold Sonidero video par­ties. As pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned, with the boom of cell­phones with cam­eras, and with the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the pho­to­graph­ic medi­um, every­one now has an oppor­tu­ni­ty to share their expe­ri­ences and they most­ly share the images on social media. Most Sonideros have their own Face­book page, where they share images of the par­ties or of the para­pher­na­lia. Fans usu­al­ly share images of them­selves at the events.

These are some Sonidero web­sites that you can check out:

Sonideros​.TV sonideros​.tv/

Impacto Sonidero www​.impactosonidero​.com/

Onda Sonidera www​.onda​sonidera​.com/

Rincón Sonidero www​.rin​con​sonidero​.com/

El Mun­do Sonidero mun​dosonideromix​.word​press​.com/

Audim­ix www​.audim​ix​.com

Car­men Jara Sonideros www​.car​men​jara​sonideros​.com​.mx/

Ambi­ente Sonidero www​.ambi​en​tesonidero​.com/

Your pho­to­graph­ic work con­tributes to build­ing a visu­al archive of these cul­tur­al prac­tices. Are mem­o­ry insti­tu­tions such as muse­ums and archives in Mex­i­co inter­est­ed in pre­serv­ing or exhibit­ing arte­facts of the Sonidero movement?

My work has been exhib­it­ed as part of the work com­piled by the col­lec­tive El Proyec­to Sonidero - The Sonidero Project. We have had two very impor­tant exhi­bi­tions in the Span­ish Cul­tur­al Cen­ter in Mex­i­co City, one on Sonidero cul­ture as a musi­cal com­mu­ni­ty, in 2009, and anoth­er in 2003 that focused most­ly on our inves­ti­ga­tion of the graph­ic elements—such as posters and para­pher­na­lia that sur­round the scene—with an empha­sis on the trop­i­cal and elec­tron­ic (high ener­gy) music gen­res. Those exhi­bi­tions have toured among cul­tur­al cen­ters and pub­lic spaces around Mex­i­co and have been exhib­it­ed inter­na­tion­al­ly, in muse­ums in Spain and Eng­land. Sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al pub­li­ca­tions have show­cased the work we have com­piled through­out these years. We pub­lished an e-book called Sonideros en las Aceras, Ven­gase la Gozadera, which is the result of years of inves­ti­ga­tion. For the lat­er exhi­bi­tion, Grafi­ca Sonidera - Sonidero Graph­ics, we car­ried out the ardu­ous labour of pho­to­graph­i­cal­ly doc­u­ment­ing the posters for high ener­gy and trop­i­cal par­ties from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, build­ing an archive from the pri­vate poster col­lec­tions of sev­er­al renowned Sonideros.

Image Notes

Fig­ure 01: Sonido Con­sen­ti­do is joined by thou­sands of Sonideros march­ing towards the Guadalupe Basil­ic Church from sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods through­out the city and near­by States for the annu­al pro­ces­sion for thank­ing the Vir­gin of Guadalupe and seek­ing pro­tec­tion and suc­cess. Mex­i­co City. Nov, 2009.

Fig­ure 02: The Vir­gen of Guadalupe, or also known as the Queen of the Sonidos, arrives at the Basil­i­ca on the shoul­ders of devo­tees,  The pro­ces­sion for  Guadalupe hap­pens each year on Novem­ber 11th. Mex­i­co City. Nov, 2009.

Fig­ure 03: Catholic devo­tees attend mass wear­ing and car­ry­ing their per­son­al sonido’s para­pher­na­lia sym­bol of their devo­tion to the Vir­gin and to Saint Cecil­ia, patron of the music for the Sonideros in an annu­al Sonidero process in La Vil­la Guadalupe Basil­ic Church.  Méx­i­co City. Nov, 2009.

Fig­ure 04: Fans push and squish to get close to Sonido Sono­ram­ic. They  expose their salu­ta­tions- salu­dos- in the hope of a shout out by Raúl Lopez, founder and own­er, of one of the Sonidos with great­est pop­u­lar­i­ty at the moment, in the annu­al Tepi­to neigh­bor­hood par­ty. Mex­i­co City. Oct, 2009.

Fig­ure 05: Sonido La Con­ga send­ing shout-outs in the annu­al Merced mar­ket anniver­sary. The par­ty is so pop­u­lar that a major avenue - Cir­cun­valación- is usu­al­ly closed  and mechan­i­cal lights and ginor­mous speak­ers are set up in the avenue in one of the three days of cel­e­bra­tions. Mex­i­co City. Sep, 2009.

Fig­ure 06: The streets of Tepi­to neigh­bor­hood are over­crowd­ed with music lovers. Danc­ing cir­cles are cre­at­ed for cou­ples to dance and expose their exper­tise. The sound blasts with a mix from two Sonideros and their rever­ber­at­ing speak­ers. Mex­i­co City. Oct, 2008.

Fig­ure 07: Cou­ple danc­ing a coor­di­nat­ed and chore­o­graphed dance as the pub­lic stand aside to watch form­ing dance cir­cles. Styl­ized clothes and hair­styles are essen­tial among teenagers. Mex­i­co City. Oct, 2009.

Fig­ure 08:  Sonido Momis Music from San Miguel Teca neigh­bor­hood set­ting up audio and light­ing for the Mar­tin Car­rera neigh­bor­hood annu­al car­ni­val. Mar­tin Car­rera, Mex­i­co City. Feb, 2015.

Fig­ure 09: Speak­ers of Sonido Caribe in the Merced mar­ket anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tion. Mex­i­co City. Sept, 2009

Fig­ure 10: Music cds for sale in of the many street stores in Tepi­to  dur­ing its annu­al anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tion. Mex­i­co City. Oct, 2009.

Fig­ure 11:  A fan holds a mes­sage for Sonido Changa and bus from Sonido Dis­ney­land in the annu­al Merced anniver­sary par­ty. Mex­i­co City. Sept. 2009.

Fig­ure 12: Ricar­do Men­doza- father- wear­ing a shirt of his sound sys­tem Sonido Duende dur­ing an inter­view. Mex­i­co City. Nov.2008  / Music tape col­lec­tion belong­ing to Sonidero fan Luis Cortez. Huix­quilu­can. Feb. 2013.

Fig­ure 13: Sonidero fan and col­lec­tor Luis Sanchez, sits in his bed sur­round­ed by his per­son­al col­lec­tion of  posters and para­pher­na­lia. Huix­quilu­can, Feb. 2013.

Fig­ure 14: A dancer reclines in Sonido Leo´s speak­er as he takes a cig­a­rette break.  Mex­i­co City. Mar. 2013.

Fig­ure 15:  Sonido Cubaney´s record play­er in a danc­ing par­ty in the neigh­bor­hood of Peñon de los Baños, also known as “Small Colom­bia”. They have the great­est record col­lec­tion of Colom­bian cumbia and sal­sa acquired in the 70s-90s as they would go on trips to find music abroad. Mex­i­co City, Sept, 2010.

Fig­ure 16: Sonido Leo holds the adver­tise­ment at Salon Ler­do Chiq­ui­to in Guer­rero neigh­bor­hood that night. The names of the Sonideros play­ing are pre­sent­ed in the fly­er with their own typog­ra­phy and style. Mex­i­co City. Jan­u­ary, 2011.

Fig­ure 17:  La Miguela y sus Ede­canes, a famous danc­ing club, wear­ing a Sonido Sono­ram­i­co jack­et at Car­men Jara’s awards cer­e­mo­ny in the Alteña Saloon. Pio­neer in sonidero inter­net radio, Car­men is an icon in difu­sion and pro­mo­tion of the sonidero cul­ture. Mex­i­co City. May, 2009.

Fig­ure 18: Sonido Banes audio and image set­up in the annu­al Mar­tin Car­rera neigh­bor­hood anniver­sary. Mex­i­co City. Feb, 2015.

Fig­ure 19: Cou­ple wear­ing jack­ets with the logo of two of the most famous sonideros in Mex­i­co City and who were play­ing that same night in the annu­al Bosques de Aragon 3 day neigh­bor­hood par­ty: Sonido Pan­cho from Tepi­to and Sonido Sono­ram­i­co from Peñon de los Baños. Mex­i­co City. Feb, 2015.


[1] http://​www​.tum​bonaedi​ciones​.com/​d​e​s​c​a​r​g​a​s​/​S​O​N​I​D​E​R​O​S​_​E​N​_​L​A​S​_​A​C​E​R​A​S​-​l​o​.​pdf

[2] https://​elproyec​tosonidero​.word​press​.com/​a​b​o​ut/

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