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Oroza, Sibone (HY): ”When I'm on Stage, I Rule”: The Power of Being a Cholita Pop Diva in a Changing Bolivia

My Ph.D. research focuses on the musical phenomenon created by young women in Bolivia in the last three years. My research examines the roles of social change and informal music industry in the arising of hundreds of girl groups characterized by their cholita outfit and the huayño-cumbia music that dominates their shows.

In their own words, the singing and dancing cholitas are rescuing their traditional culture. They proudly wear clothes that until recently would have been banned in many public places for representing Indianness, sing in both Spanish and Quechua, one of Bolivia´s native languages, and practice combinations of indigenous and Catholic beliefs. From an outsider´s point of view, the singing and dancing cholitas´ lifestyle is as hybrid as their music, a fusion of Incaic huayño and Afro-Latin cumbia with techno and pop influences, or as the cholita outfit itself, adapted from Spanish 17th century fashion by Bolivian mestizo women.

While cultural identity is passionately discussed in plurinational Bolivia, the singing and dancing cholitas seem to cross cultural boundaries with ease in search of elements that will allow them to enjoy family traditions and participate in modernity at the same time. For most of the singing and dancing cholitas that I have interviewed, music is a small-scale family business that in addition to money can offer satisfactions that fame and artistic creation bring along with them.