Book: Maldito Coronavirus!
Chapter: Gone Viral: Cumbia, Sampling, and the Globalized Circulation of Disease and Culture
A Mexican quick hit writer named Mister Cumbia understood the commercial potential of a song about the coronavirus very early, and released his catchy and ubiquitous “La Cumbia del Coronavirus” on YouTube on January 22, 2020, a week before the World Health Organization even declared a public health emergency. Soon, countless songs about coronavirus were being released throughout Latin America, many of which were built around catchy samples, pre-made beats, and other hallmarks of viral content creation. This chapter begins by asking why the earliest manifestations of coronavirus music from Latin America most frequently took the form of a cumbia, a rhythm and style with roots in coastal Colombia that has since been regionalized across Latin America. The transnational cumbia sound serves as a “blank slate” a danceable, instantly recognizable, and easily remixed format that, like a global, airborne virus, is privileged by its adaptability and infectiousnesss. This chapter charts the history of popular topical cumbias about tropical diseases (ebola, zika, chikungunya, dengue) while framing the spread of the transnational cumbia in epidemiological terms. It also examines the ways in which two non-musical recordings of the human voice uploaded to personal social media accounts by recording artists Cardi B and Anuel AA took on lives of their own as they were remixed, sampled, and circulated around the world in new musical contexts. By interrogating and unpacking the increasingly-significant metaphor of “viral media” in the context of cumbias about disease and the schizophonic memesis of the human voice via social media, this chapter demonstrates how the interconnected world-system that facilitated the global coronavirus outbreak simultaneously facilitates the unpredictable spread of hybridized cultural products.