The Paraguayan Polca: Re-imagining Tradition in Creative Musical Practice

Music, Meaning and Value in Paraguayan Song - Alfredo C Colman

Matt Dicken [+-]
Bath Spa University
Matt Dicken is a lecturer in ethnomusicology and PhD student at Bath Spa University, as well as a guitar teacher at Bath Spa University and Badminton School in Bristol, and provides guitar performances in a wide range of musical projects. Having studied classical guitar with John Mills, Matt holds a BA in Music and MMus Performance from Bath Spa University and has served on the committee of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, developing and launching the BFE Podcast project as the Student Liaison Officer (2018-2021). As a student, Matt researched guitar culture in South America and the music of Agustín Barrios, developing a love for Paraguayan music and culture, which led to his PhD research on the Paraguayan polka that explores how young Paraguayans identify with the polca as a musical influence, with particular interest on how the ‘traditional’ polca is being re-imagined in the 21st century.


The processes that govern the evolution of musical traditions across time, both within and beyond their cultural context, dictate and challenge perceptions of relevancy in younger generations of musicians. How is a musical tradition re-imagined so that it connects with a new audience, enters a new social space, and survives the omnipresent tests of time? This article examines how the Paraguayan polca is being re-imagined in the twenty-first century. Ethnographic research explores different musical approaches in Paraguay within a model of the traditionalist, modernist and radical. Research methods combining interviews with participant observation and performance will reveal how the Paraguayan polca (as a traditional music) is being used as a musical influence and as a means of defining Paraguayan identity within new musical spaces of electronic music. I seek to understand how specific musical elements pertain to feelings of paraguayidad and are thus either positively expressed in creative practice, or are contested as they have ‘little to do with the well-known concept of National Being, which proposes the idea of static and frozen whole, oblivious to the currents of time and the pressure of social realities’ (Vera, 2017: 35). I will also reflect on my position as researcher through personal experience of arranging and performing traditional Paraguayan music, from the perspective of a participant-observer.

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Dicken, Matt. The Paraguayan Polca: Re-imagining Tradition in Creative Musical Practice. Music, Meaning and Value in Paraguayan Song. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Oct 2023. ISBN 9781000000000. Date accessed: 26 Jun 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.44110. Oct 2023

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