Downtown Series to Focus on Music, Identity, Place

This year’s free Downtown Series at the Fox Theatre will examine how humans have used music to connect, communicate, examine our surroundings and express our multifaceted identities.
Sept. 19, 2018

The Downtown Series returns to Tucson in October, as the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences hosts "Soundscapes: Music, Place, and Identity," a lecture series celebrating the enduring power of music and its relationship to identity, place and culture.

This is the sixth renewal of the Downtown Series, which will take place each Thursday in October at 6:30 p.m. at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St. Each week after the lecture, a musical guest will play three songs on the Fox Theatre stage.

During the series, UA professors Jake Harwood, Tyina Steptoe, Maurice Rafael Magaña, and Celestino Fernández will illustrate the social functions music serves, the complexities of cultural blending in music, the visual aspects of music culture and the history of border music. Using examples ranging from soccer chants to Beyoncé and Los Angeles murals to the genres of border music, the speakers will examine how people express their multifaceted identities.

"Just like understanding the origins of language, the analysis of music begins by connecting identity and place,” said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “Yet musical styles arguably travel and mix faster, and with more social impact, than languages. As a case in point, consider that more people in the world know about K-pop than speak Korean – and K-pop itself is the globalized product of both traditional Korean music and several international imports.

“We are fortunate to have a number of excellent faculty in SBS who focus on the social and cultural dimensions of music, and Soundscapes is a topic perfectly suited to the lively and artistic environment of downtown Tucson," Jones added. "We hope people leave the lectures hearing music in a new way.”

The lectures are free, and seating will be first-come, first-served. Tickets for each event can be reserved in advance through Eventbrite. Tickets are also available at the Fox Theatre box office on the day of the event.

Parking vouchers will be handed out at the Fox Theatre to the first 500 people who arrive, and Park Tucson is offering $1 parking at the Pennington Street Garage. Various downtown restaurants will also be offering special deals to lecture attendees. Visit downtowntucson.org for details.

Downtown Series Schedule:

Oct. 4 – Music: All This Useless Beauty?

Communication professor Jake Harwood will explore why music is a fundamental human activity. Rather than an indulgence, music began as a means of communication and an expression of kinship, home and emotion. From soccer chants to Snowball the dancing cockatoo, Harwood will explain music’s influence on a wide range of behaviors, including its role in coordinating movement through dance, signaling relationships, and acting as both a bridge and a barrier between groups with differing identities.

Musical guest: SQWRL! (also playing after the lecture on the patio of Hotel Congress)

Oct. 11 – From Little Richard to Beyoncé: Cultural Blending in Music

Music has long been a place of polyculturality, the blending of cultures. UA historian Tyina Steptoe will examine the complexities of cultural blending at work in gospel, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and pop music, including discussions of race, gender and queerness. Using examples from Little Richard to Selena and Beyoncé, she will illuminate how and where polycultural music emerges, and how these sounds can shape the social and economic landscapes of communities of color.

Musical guest: A local band

Oct. 18 – Hip Hop Culture and its Visual Impact in Mexico

Centering on the intersection between musical culture and the visual arts, Maurice Rafael Magaña, an assistant professor of Mexican American Studies, will discuss the role of urban youth activism in shaping collective identity, particularly where migration, cross-culture pollination and public artwork are involved. In highlighting the perhaps surprising exchange between the Los Angeles hip hop scene and youth activists in Oaxaca, Mexico, he will illustrate not only the communicative power of art in public spaces, but also the ways in which youth culture, art and migration come together to shape the collective identities and community histories of struggle.

Musical guest: A DJ

October 25 – Norteño, Corridos, and Mariachi: Culture and Conflict in Border Music

Born, developed or enjoyed in zones of frequent migration, border music has always been shaped by the intermingling of cultures and identities. Sociology professor emeritus Celestino Fernández will relate the fascinating histories of musical genres performed in the Mexico-U.S. border region, including norteño, corridos and mariachi, helping us see and hear the border in a new light. His talk will also incorporate a live corrido singer.

Musical guest: A mariachi band