The arts help us to talk about concepts that can sometimes be difficult to explain in their original contexts. For example, my colleague Juliana Acosta Uribe, who works at the lab of the neuroscientist Kenneth S. Kosik, uses a TED talk from the singer and songwriter Jorge Drexler to show students the concept of genetic admixture. In this video, Drexler talks about the journey and history of the ten-verse stanza called «décima» and how, from the time of the Spanish Golden Age, it adapted itself and took on different forms in several Latin American countries. Juliana is from Colombia and works researching the genetic context of neurodegenerative illnesses in the Colombian population, exploring the journey of genes that, like the «décima,» departed from a place in the world and took on different forms in another. The genes of the Colombian population that Juliana studies come from Europeans, AmerIndians, and Africans, and precisely from this genetic mix are born the mutations that cause the early Alzheimer that the Kosik lab studies.
Over the last few days, during a course on education, the researcher Mark Church used the history of country music to show a different way to talk about systemic racism in the classroom to make us reflect on stereotypes and implicit biases. And even though I have spent years working with musicians who speak of paradigms of diversity through their instruments, there was something revelatory in the way that Mark had of helping us to understand the stories of power and, in this case, of social and racial injustice that surround the complex world of genres and musical labels. Stories that, whether we want to or not, end up defining a culture.