“Sounding Mexilachian”: The Musical Syncretism of Latinx-Appalachia

Recent attention to the Appalachian region has resulted in animated conversations about diverse and alternative voices where the historical narrative is that of a white, homogenous space. With a population over one million, Latinx people remain the most rapidly growing minority in Appalachia. Although Appalachian folk musics draw largely from African, Latin-American, and other non-western traditions, Latinx music and experiences are frequently left out of the region’s musical histories and discourses. Recent listening, however, reveals that contemporary Appalachian music-making is imbued with references to and influences of Latinx cultures. Much like writers and poets claimed “Affrilachia” in the late 20th century, artists such as Appalatin, Che Appalache, and The Lua Project claim heritages that are “Mexilachian” and “Latinlachian”, using traditional Latin-American instruments, embracing diverse musical styles, and consciously performing within a space of syncretism. Additionally, artists such as Rhiannon Giddens, Lindsay Lou, and Rising Appalachia have recorded songs that reference and employ the Spanish language, raising questions of how such aesthetics of language, place, and sound evoke the Latinx in Appalachia. Using musical examples and ethnographic fieldwork, this paper will investigate the persistence of Latinx references and hybridity in Appalachian folk music. This work reflects how such references and influences indicate spaces of cultural hybridity. This paper will also consider Appalachia’s often overlooked multicultural origins of race, immigration, agriculture, and labor that form the region’s Latinx footprint. Lastly, this work reveals how Latinx influence in Appalachian music points to the historical past, present agency, and dynamic future of a multicultural Appalachia.