All music styles, genre’s, instruments, have had an origin of where it began. Specifically, Latin-American music has had a complex origin and history of where it all started. Not only that, but ever since it began it has evolved into something slightly different as the centuries have gone by. This style has a sense of unique dynamics, especially compared to other styles of music. If one is of Latin-American descent they usually have a favorite Latin song, dance, instrument, or all of the above.
Nonetheless, the history of Latin-American music is complicated, the characteristics of the style is diverse, and the instruments, dances, and styles are unique. Latin music was originated from musical traditions of Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. It also has a mix of Native American, African, and European that has evolved over time (Behague, 2016, para. 1). The genre essentially started after Christopher Columbus had his first encounter with the precolonial civilizations or also referred as the “New World.
Their music in this era (around and after 1492) is considered Mesoamerican that incorporates ritual music of the courts (specifically Aztec and Mayan). Their music performance involved a group of them playing instruments, sing, or dance. The main instruments they would use were drums and wind instruments, like the flute, but the type of drums they used were slightly different than what we use now. For instance, the slit drum that was formed from “hollowing a tree trunk through a lengthwise slit and sounded by the players’ stamping feet” or played with a mallet (Behague, 2016).
The Mesoamericans did not develop music notation so the Spanish did not transcribe the type of music they heard. The Mesoamericans were not the only group that the Spanish had their encounters with. They encountered the Inca Empire (amongst many other groups) and they noticed that they were similar, but had their differences. The similarities they had was that their instrumental music was predominated, with emphasizes in the flutes and drums (Behague, 2016). However, any music continuity from before Columbus was lost due to the rapid devastation of the Indian population.
As in the diseases they had formed from the Europeans, forced labor, wars, and mass suicides. (Behague, 2016). Eventually, the Spanish and the Portuguese brought their Roman Catholic influences and religion to the colonies. Thus, causing various Catholic songs to be translated to the Indian languages, which also effected their dances as well. Because of this, now a lot of dances in Latin-America are mainly about religion, like the “danzas de la Conquista” (dances of the Conquest) which is primarily done in Mexico. Dances like these “continue to incorporate both indigenous and religious elements” (Behague, 2016).
Moreover, the Spanish and the Portuguese brought various of genres and styles to their colonies. The church became the most important sites for music and dances, and it was like that then and still is today. Ever since this encounter Latin-American music started evolving by each century. Ultimately, by the 19th Century art music was dictated by opera, lighter music theatres, and piano music (Behague, 2016). Many of the Latin-American pianists incorporated their music to the Romantic piano style; then danza Mexicana started to develop. By the beginning of the 20th Century the LatinAmerican music was described as “eclectic” (Behague, 2016).
But by, the late 20th century, Latin-American composers used polytonality, 12 tone techniques, and serialism. Some mposers experimented with electronic music as well. Each country had fairly similar music, but had their differences in what they emphasized. Some examples would be Samba (Brazil), reggae (Jamaica), and cumbia (Colombia) (Willoughby, 2012, p. 149). As the centuries have gone by, social conditions have also affected the style and lyrics to the songs. For instance, some social conditions would be immigration and class divisions, and particularly this developed Tango in Argentina (Quintana, 2017, para. 2).
Also, traditional Mexican music was developed to give people a sense of national identity; and it was eventually incorporated into Mariachi music, primarily after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) (Quintana, 2017, para. 12). By having that type of traditional music, it allowed the people of Mexico know that others felt the same way, and it certainly effected the people that were on the lower spectrum of society. Music that incorporates these feelings, certainly makes the music that much powerful and it reveals a part of history that may be difficult to talk about.
Nevertheless, considering all the aspects of Latin-American history it surely has had some positive impacts to the music styles and it makes it an outstanding phenomenon. Throughout Latin-American music history, its characteristics has evolved over time; as in its language, rhythm, and syncopation. First of all, language is the one feature that is almost shared all over Latin-American music. Since the Spanish and Portuguese were the ones that conquered those areas, it is not surprising that those two languages are found in majority of the music. The rhythm of the music is quite distinctive in every country.
For instance, some African rhythm is incorporated and it is has had a major impact in the music styles. Some examples would be the Bomba, Cuban Romba, Puerto Rican salsa, and the Columbian cumbia (Orwell, 2009, para. 1-3). Other types of rhythms that is included is the Spanish Decima. In other words, it is a song that “consists of 10 lines, each with eight syllables,” and this is the most traditional characteristic (Orwell, 2009, para. 4). Syncopation is also majorly used in Latin-American music and it involves weak rhythmic beats and are accented instead of strong beats.
Also, for African related music, call and response is a characteristic that has been transferred over to the LatinAmerican style. Call and response is described when “two or more musical parts go back and forth, and they can either be rhythmic beats or song lyrics” (Orwell, 2009, para. 6). Additionally, as mentioned earlier the most common instruments used back then and even today are the wind instruments: reed flutes, panpipes, quenas, and clay or conchshell trumpets; percussion instruments: rattles, claves, maracas, xylophones, and drums, and string instruments: violins, jaranas, lutes, and harps.
All these instruments are uniquely played depending on what kind of song is being played. Throughout time “Native-Latin Americans became proficient at making and playing instruments” (Willoughby, 2012, p. 148). Furthermore, majority of their music is foot-tapping and finger-snapping music. It involves having rhythmic pulse and is associated with unique dance styles (Willoughby, 2012, p. 149). Listening to the music one can tell the difference of the culture compared to Western, classical music.
The music has unique beats and it can possibly make one want to start dancing instantly. Some of the dances that they incorporate is salsa, samba, reggae, cumbia, and huapango (Willoughby, 2012, p. 149). Also, currently some of the most well-known Latin Pop artists are Alejandro Sanz, Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Juanes, Selena, Ricky Martin and Luis Miguel (“History of Latin Music”, n. d. , para. 9). Regardless of them being popular in Latin-America, some of the mentioned artists have had some English pop hits in the United States.
Such as Shakira, Selena, Ricky Martin, and Enrique Iglesias. Just like music in the United States and how it has changed throughout time, so has music in Latin-America; specifically, like pop and rock music. But, Latin-America music will always have its popular, traditional music styles. Moreover, some of the generalizations Willoughby (2012) states is the “harmonies with prevalent tonic and dominant chords, melodies encompass a limited range, little or no improvisation of melodic rhythmic (except for salsa and Latin jazz), the phrases are often clear and egular, and tonality is major or minor (p. 149).
It is obvious that there are differences to the styles of songs compared to the late 1400-1500’s till now in 2017. But, it is interesting how some of the mentioned styles and dances still have similarities as in the rhythms and how religion is incorporated. Even today there are differences to how one dances a certain style of music. For example, how Hispanics dance to Cumbia and Duraganse in the United States is slightly different compared to Mexico. But, it is still similar enough that it is easy to follow.
Additionally, some “examples of Latin ethnic music that has been important to people in the US is reggae, salsa, Latin jazz, Tex-Mex, mariachi, and Mexican folk music” (Willoughby, 2012, p. 139-140). Mariachi’s are highly popular for Hispanic weddings, Quincenera’s, and events like Cinco de Mayo. Nonetheless, Latin-American music is complex, social phenomenon. Especially since it reflects the turbulent history, mixed region social environments, culture dynamics, and overall the “beautiful sounds in the world” (Quintana, 2017, para. 10-14).
In conclusion, this research was mainly secondary, but with some prior knowledge. Thinking about all the types and differences of music styles around the world, Latin-American music has a complex background to it. The origin of the music has had its tough obstacles for the people, but it has positively led it to the phenomenon style today. The characteristics are certainly different, but it is still appeasing to listen to. Also, the different types of instruments, dances, and styles, and how it is all mixed together makes it an appealing music genre. Overall, Latin-American music has come a long way since Christopher Columbus discovered them and ever since then the Latin composers have incorporated expressional music.