American music and dance
- The term Latin American as used here encompasses the
Americas south of the United States, as well as the
- 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).
- 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
- 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.
- relatively few Iberian genres have been retained in their
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- The secular samba (Brazil), RUMBA and conga
(Cuba), bomba (Puerto Rico) and other forms are also
- 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
- 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 is a very popular vocal and dance style from the
- 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
- 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.
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
dance music popularized in the USA by bandleader Xavier Cugat
(1900-1990). Highlife music developed in W Africa.
American dances like samba and rumba became Western ballroom
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.
Makeba took South African folk and pop to the West. The Beatles
introduced Indian sitar music. Folk rock recycled traditional
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.
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.
fusions, such as Afro-Gaelic, punk Ukrainian, and bhangramuffin,
Most of the information presented here is
taken from the Grolier Encyclopedia (Electronic Version)