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Home | Encylopaedia | World Music | South America | Overview of Latin American Music

Latin America encompasses Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile. The music from this part of the world is rich and varied and usually dance orientated. Styles include Latin dance music which range from the salsa, samba, bossa nova, lambada, cumbia and tango. Festivals and carnivals in Rio, S?o Paulo and Salvador are famous events world wide.

In general, Latin American music blends native Indian, transported African and imported European elements. Each region is distinctive depending on the relative strength of Indian, African and European flavours.

African influences dominate both folk and art music in the Caribbean island nations, where before 1550 Africans began replacing Indians in the labouring force. Africa has also influenced the folk music of coastal Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The marimbas of South Mexico and Guatemala and the leg drums played in coastal Colombia and Ecuador are thought to be African in origin. The Brazilian samba de roda song repertoires and the maracatu dance processions are undoubtedly African influenced.

Latin-American rhythms and especially the harmonies rely heavily on European models. The fast hemiola rhythms (6/8 alternating with 3/4) which are found in the son jarocho which is performed in the region of Veracruz, Mexico and accopmanied by harps and guitars are of Spanish derivation. So too are the hemiolas in the Peruvian marinera and Argentine Vidalita.

Latin-American folk music is prevailingly accompanied by European I-IV-V chordal harmony. Such examples can be heard in the national dance "joropo" of Venezuala, the Mexican "jarabe", the Colombian "bambuco" and the Chilean "cueca".

The Salsa

The salsa has African, European and native Caribbean roots and is also a hybrid of jazz, folk and pop. The word salsa was first used to describe modern Cuban dance music in 1966 by a Venezuelan radio DJ Danilo Phidiad Escalona who describe it as "The hour of flavour, spiciness and liturgy - music for body and soul". Salsa covers a wide range of styles from son, guaracha, mambo to guajira. In all cases, rhythm is at the heart of the music and is known as the clave.

Musical Instruments of Latin America

The many varieties of guitars in Latin America are all adapted from European models. The charango is a guitar backed with a dried armadillo shell and is popular in the Andes. It's predecessor is a double string, five course discontinuously tuned guitar. The paired violins and trumpets that give the Mexican mariachi music it's characteristic flavour are completely European (though not played in a European manner).


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