Latin American music and dance

 

  • The term Latin American as used here encompasses the Americas south of the United States, as well as the entire Caribbean.
  • The musics of this vast area are perhaps most efficiently discussed in terms of ethnic components–European (especially Iberian), Amerindian, African, and mestizo (“mixed” or acculturated).

Amerindian Background

  • During the colonial period in Latin America (16th-19th century) many Amerindian populations were decimated, and much traditional Amerindian musical culture was destroyed or syncretized with Iberian.
  • Little evidence remains as to the real nature of music in the Aztec, Inca, and
  • Maya civilizations apart from the testimony of 16th-century Spanish chroniclers and what can be seen of instruments–percussion and winds, with almost total absence of strings–depicted in hieroglyphs and pottery decorations. Modern Andean Indians still make extensive use of vertical flutes and panpipes, along with European instruments such as bass drums, harps, and guitars of different sizes.
  • In Mesoamerica Indians now play harps, fiddles, and guitars based upon archaic Spanish models, or MARIMBAS of African origin, all of which have largely replaced indigenous instruments. Only in certain tropical areas (as the Amazon basin) are virtually unacculturated Amerindian musics found.

Iberian Influences

  • relatively few Iberian genres have been retained in their original forms,
  • Iberian origins of many song and dance forms are evident in the use of harps, fiddles, guitars, and many song types derived from Spanish verse structures such as the copla and decima.
  • Such genres include the desafio of Brazil, cueca of Chile and Bolivia, joropo of Venezuela, sones and corrido of Mexico, seis of Puerto Rico, and punto of Cuba.
  • They are usually danced in couples and often incorporate such features as shoe tapping and scarf waving.
  • In addition to the above dances of Iberian derivation, pan-European ballroom dances such as the polka, mazurka, and waltz developed many regional variations.

African Influences

  • The largest black populations are found in the circum-Caribbean region and Brazil. African musical features commonly retained include call and response singing, polyrhythms, extensive use of persistently repeated musical figures, and improvisation based on recurring short phrases.
  • African instruments (primarily percussive) found in both unaltered and adapted forms, with many regional names and variations, include long drums, often in “family” sets of three (congas), iron gongs, internal or external rattles (maracas, shekere), “thumb piano” (marimbula), marimbas, and concussion sticks (claves). (Clave is also the name of an important syncopated rhythmic figure.)
  • The “steel drum” (tuned metal barrel) associated with Trinidad’s CALYPSO has no direct African equivalent but evolved from drum ensembles.
  • CALYPSO (MUSIC)
  • A form of music and dance of the Caribbean, calypso had its primary development in Trinidad, where it is associated particularly with the pre-lenten carnival. Before the carnival begins musicians try out their songs nightly before audiences in Port of Spain. The most popular are used during the carnival.
  • The words of calypso songs are witty and humorous and convey popular attitudes on social, political, or economic problems. Rhythms are provided most often by STEEL BAND percussion instruments, made from the tops of oil drums. As a type of ballroom dance, calypso resembles the rumba, and the music often is performed with conventional dance-band instruments.
  • The most African forms are usually associated with African-derived religions, such as voodoo of Haiti and the Yoruba-oriented candomble of Brazil and santeria of Cuba.
  • The secular samba (Brazil), RUMBA and conga (Cuba), bomba (Puerto Rico) and other forms are also stylistically African.
  • RUMBA
  • Rumba is a type of medium-to-fast polyrhythmic Afro-Cuban song and dance, with a three-part form of introduction, improvised verses, and repetitive call-and-response. It is typically accompanied by 2 to 3 conga drums and sticks. This structure has been adapted for Cuban popular music ensembles. Rhumba is an American term for various Cuban song and dance genres–for example, the son or BOLERO, which are not actually rumbas but were popular dance music styles in the United States during the 1930s and ’40s.
  • More acculturated genres have become national folk/popular musics; generally combining European melodic/harmonic instruments with African percussion, they include the MERENGUE (variants in Dominican Republic and Haiti), plena of Puerto Rico, the cumbia of Colombia/Panama (popular in Central America, Mexico, and the U.S. Southwest), and guaracha and son of Cuba.
  • MERENGUE
  • Merengue is a very popular vocal and dance style from the Dominican Republic.
  • It developed in the early 19th century and is related to the meringue of Haiti. The merengue rhythm is a moderate to extremely fast duple meter, and is danced with a simple sideways couple two-step.
  • It is found in both folk music, using accordion, double-headed tambora drum, and metal guayo scraper, and in various popular orchestral formats. Important performers and bandleaders include Angel Viloria, Johnny Ventura, and Juan Luis Guerra.

Impact on World Musics

  • Still more Europeanized forms (individual songs, genres, and their dance steps) have become popular on the “pan-Latin” and international level through their diffusion by mass media.
  • These include the BOLERO and chachacha of Cuba, the TANGO of Argentina, and the cabaret samba and bossa nova of Brazil.
  • TANGO
  • A dance that evolved in Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century, the tango is probably derived from the milonga, a lively, suggestive Argentinian dance, and the habanera of Cuba and the West Indies. By the 1920s it had become a popular ballroom dance in Europe and the United States, and had been transformed into a flowing, elegant series of steps accompanied by somewhat melancholy music with a characteristic tango beat.
  • SALSA has evolved from the Cuban son and other genres as a popular music of urban Caribbean Hispanics. As with the earlier mambo, salsa was influenced by jazz harmony and arranging. It developed its most distinctive form in New York in the early 1970s.
  • Salsa (Spanish for “hot sauce”) is a style of popular music that emerged from New York City’s Hispanic community during the mid-1970s, developing from a blend of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican music with rock and jazz.
  • Its roots are in the Latin dance music of the 1940s–which used trumpets, flutes, and voices–and the dance rhythms of the 1950s that have had varying degrees of popularity since then–the rhumba, mambo, and chacha.
  • The electric guitar, along with electronic techniques, has been added from rock, along with the instrumentation and improvisational skills of jazz.
  • Salsa musicians include performers such as Cuban singer Celia Cruz and bandleader Tito Puente, whose careers predate salsa, as well as younger musicians including bandleader Eddie Palmieri, trombonist Willie Colon, flute player Johnny Pacheco, and percussionist Ray Barretto.
  • Salsa has spread to Hispanic communities throughout the United States. It has influenced both rock and jazz, and the Latin rhythms and percussion instruments can now be heard throughout rock and dance music. However, salsa is still primarily sung in Spanish, and very few performers have crossed over to reach the same kind of success singing in English.
  • Bibliography: Gerard, Charley, and Sheller, Marty, Salsa! TheRhythm of Latin Music (1990.

Latin American music, along with jazz, which also blends African and European traits, has been a great influence on popular music around the world. Asian film songs and Eastern Mediterranean belly dancing may incorporate Latin percussion, rhythms, and/or the clave pattern. Since

the 1930s, Latin rhythms have been popular among, and reinterpreted by West, Central, and East African musicians, resulting in a rich, two-directional cross-fertilization, since the Latin music incorporates many features originally African. The rumba of Spanish flamenco is the result of a similar exchange, in this case between Spain and Cuba, its former colony.

Art Musics

From the 16th through the 19th century, most Latin American “art” music reflected contemporary European models. Musicians composed and performed music much like that of their parent colonial cultures. In the 20th century, however, a number of composers discovered their “national

voices,” based partly upon traditional folk and tribal music (or their conception or reconstruction of it). These include Heitor VILLA-LOBOS in Brazil and Manuel Ponce, Carlos CHAVEZ, Silvestre Revueltas, and Blas Galindo in Mexico. Other composers have tended to represent more universal, rather than nationalist, techniques: these include Alberto GINASTERA and Mauricio Kagel in Argentina, Camargo Guarnieri in Brazil, Domingo Santa Cruz Wilson and Juan Orrego-Salas in Chile, and Julian Carrillo in Mexico.

World music: Chronology

1920s Afro-Cuban dance music popularized in the USA by bandleader Xavier Cugat (1900-1990). Highlife music developed in W Africa.

1930s Latin American dances like samba and rumba became Western ballroom dances.

1940s Afro-Cuban rhythms fused with American jazz to become Cubop.

1950s The cool jazz school imported bossa nova from Brazil. US bandleader Tito Puente (1923-___) popularized Latin dances mambo and cha-cha-cha. Calypso appeared in the pop charts.

1960s Miriam Makeba took South African folk and pop to the West. The Beatles introduced Indian sitar music. Folk rock recycled traditional songs.

1970s Jamaican reggae became international and was an influence on punk. Cuban singer Celia Cruz established herself in the USA as the ‘queen of salsa’. Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré (1939-___) brought a blues feel to traditional African melodies.

1980s World music was embraced by several established pop stars and various African, Latin American, Bulgarian, Yemenite, and other styles became familiar in the West. Zairean Papa Wemba was one of many Third World singers recording in France.

1990s New fusions, such as Afro-Gaelic, punk Ukrainian, and bhangramuffin, appeared.

Most of the information presented here is taken from the Grolier Encyclopedia (Electronic Version)

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