“Island music”: The role of a Caribbean genre in negotiating musical contact between Easter Island and Chile

The complex political relationship between Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and mainland Chile extends across multiple cultural and social spaces, including music performance. Since the 1960s, Rapa Nui musicians and dancers have been at the forefront of cultural representation within mainland Chile. Meanwhile, waves of mass-mediated popular music from Chile have been selectively incorporated into Rapanui performances, alongside other influences from the wider Pacific. As a globalised genre, reggae has a particular presence in both of these processes, and, since the 2000s, has been prominent in Rapa Nui–Chile musical interactions. On the one hand, the powerful symbolic and musical presence of reggae in the post-colonial Pacific islands has led to its widespread adoption by Pasifika performers, including on Rapa Nui. In this context, reggae exists as both a politically neutral “island music” of appeal to tourists, and as a vehicle for indigenous protest and post-colonial solidarity. On the other hand, the emergence of a reggae counter culture in metropolitan Chile in the 1990s, with similar overtones of protest, also reached Rapa Nui through Chilean media. These forces informed the development of a series of Rapa Nui bands in the late 1990s-early 2000s, who received rave reviews for their performances in mainland Chile. Subsequently, one mainland Chilean artist who was prominent in the Santiago reggae scene of the 1990s traveled to Rapa Nui to record a single (and music video) that played on the commercial association of reggae as an “island music” with Rapa Nui featuring as Chile’s own island paradise. Drawing on prior research (Bendrups 2009, 2011) and the commentary of individuals involved in these scenes, this paper seeks to examine these interactions in the context of enduring discussions around the “place” of Rapa Nui within dominant expressions of Chilean culture.