From September 24 to October 2, 1968, two apparently unrelated events took place in an area of less than two square miles in downtown Mexico City: Duke Ellington performed in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and the Mexican army massacred hundreds of protesting students. The student-driven movement of 1968 attracted people from different backgrounds in Mexican society. Their desire for freedom of speech and civil liberties echoed the struggles of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Received as El rey del jazz (the King of Jazz), Ellington's visit to Mexico constituted a musical place of cultural encounters. In this essay, I explore the connections between jazz, cultural diplomacy, race, and social justice. I argue that neither paradoxes nor seeming contradictions account for the fluidity of social activism on both sides of the border and its connections with playing and listening practices of jazz; rather I look at this social phenomenon as an example of an audiotopia, borrowing Josh Kun's term for a musical space of differences where contradictions and conflicts don't cancel each other out - a kind of identificatory contact zone. I do so by setting aside nationalistic approaches to music and viewing jazz as more than an emblem of U.S. national identity; rather, I explore the transnational aspects of the cultural artifacts resulting from these exchanges and the dynamic processes that took place in Ellington's visit with and among Mexicans.
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