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Latin Music

Latin music is a popular art form developed in various Latin American countries, mainly Cuba, and is unique for the type of rhythmic structures it builds upon. It is vocal and instrumental music, originally derived from African religious ceremonies, however viewed today primarily as dance music. Its strongest characteristic, however, is its rhythm, which is highly syncopated (when the various rhythms being played at one time, create counterpoint against each other in exciting cross rhythms). It is traditionally played by native percussion and string instruments, namely the timbales, congas, bongo, guitar, and the tres (nine-string Cuban guitar). Over time, the piano replaced the guitar as the choral instrument, while the bass, woodwinds, trumpets and trombones were added to play melodies and riffs (repetitions of sound). Most Latin music is based on a rhythmic pattern known as the clave. Clave is the basic building block of all Cuban music, and is a 3-2 (occasionally 2-3) rhythmic pattern. Claves are also the name for the two sticks that play this 3-2 (clave) pattern.

Latin music generally uses a three form with (1) a long introductory verse, followed (2) by a montuno section where the band plays a vamp (a two- or three chord progression), building intensity with devices like the mambo (where members of the front line play contrasting riffs) before (3) returning back to the verse and closing out the selection, generally with some type of coda (a short predetermined way of ending a piece; like a postscript at the end of letters). Some important characteristics of Latin music are:

  • Clave: a syncopated rhythmic pattern played with two sticks, around which everything in the band revolves.
  • Call And Response Inspiraciones: a musical exchange between two voices inspiratons, improvised phrase by lead vocalist or instrumentalist.
  • Bajo-Tumbao-bass: repeated rhythmic pattern for the bass or conga based on the clave.

History of Latin Music

The history of the Moorish empire prior to Spain extends from the ancient Moabites, and extends across the great Atlantic into north, south and Central American thus the Moorish domination of the seas. It is important to point out that as time goes on what is now known as Latin America is highly influenced by European colonization and the slave trade with Africa. Currently, Latin America, the countries of the Western Hemisphere south of the United States, include the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Central and South America and contain an amalgamation of cultural influences, namely European, The Moors, Mexican, and other African tribes. Europe contributed the religions two main languages, Spanish and Portuguese. Much of the native Moorish culture, which was in place before the arrival of the Spaniards and Christopher Columbus, was suppressed due to forced assimilation; the rest was combined with the arrival of slaves and other cultures in the 16th century. Through this rich cultural mix, a distinct Moorish or commonly referred to as Afro-Caribbean culture has emerged.

The element in Moorish, African & Caribbean music that many find most distinctive, is its rhythms are derived from Moorish, and other Africans via the slave trade (1550-1880), which is believed to have brought an estimated two million people of Moorish descent, while in fact the Moors had domination and inhabitation for over 2000 years in what is now know as the west into the Caribbean Islands. Unlike the Moors of North American and some that were enslaved, who in 1776 were forbidden from playing drums (except for areas such as New Orleans Congo Square), Caribbean slaves were liberally allowed to play their drums, which of course were not only for recreation and entertainment, but used as a means of communicating. These were considered talking drums, carrying current, as well as timeless messages; message of history, struggle, and unspeakable joy. All this was accomplished through the replaying of these traditional Moorish and African rhythms, sung on a drum.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries these rhythms spread, developed, and canonized throughout the Caribbean, around the same time that another American art form was beginning its conception. This North American art form was also going to contain a rich cultural mix. It would incorporate blues intonation, African drums and rhythms, Indian cymbals, European instruments, harmony, and musical forms with a syncopated beat namely jazz.

Every country and every island in the Caribbean developed its own unique musical culture, be it folk idioms or a national conservatory styles. Four countries, namely Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico have had the most significant influences on music in the United States (Cuba having the most enduring). These influences included Latin rhythms and/or dances that infatuated the United States, like the habanera, bolero (Cuba),samba, bossa nova (Brazil), tango (Argentina), and mariachi (Mexico).

As these rhythmic structures and their dances canonized, they began effecting music making everywhere, from the concert hall, to the New Orleans Street parade, to Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. As goods including people, were traded through the convenient and busy port of New Orleans, Louisiana, musically inclined workers on Caribbean ships were afforded the opportunity to exchange new rhythms, dances, and songs with the various Creole and African dancers and musicians at public performance spaces ice Congo Square. It didn’t take long for composers to begin writing Latin-influenced works. For example, American Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), who hailed from Louisiana, and studied composition in France with Aaron Coplands teacher Nadia Boulanger, toured Cuba in 1857 performing his Latin-influenced works. Some of the most famous compositions of this nature include George Bizets hababera from his opera Carmen (1875); Scott Joplin’s Mexican serenade, Solace (1902); Maurice Ravels Rapsodie Espagnole (1907), and his Bolero (1928), Jelly Roll Morton, the famed New Orleans jazz composer and pianist, spoke to Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress on the importance, even in the earlier days of jazz (the end of the nineteenth century) of the jazz musician being able to work with the Spanish tinge. He said, In fact, if you cant manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz.

Latin music is a catch-all term for a number of diverse styles from different regions and countries in Latin America. Often, the term refers to Latin pop -- either dance-based or pop oriented-music sung in Spanish or Tejano. Tejano has a number of different styles, from romantic ballads to the narrative nortenos, and they're usually performed by large groups with acoustic instruments and horns. In the '80s and '90s, Tejano has also adopted smooth production techniques from American pop-rock and soft rock. Latin America is also known for such dance music as salsas and sambas, which have layers of percussion, blaring horns and an infectious sense of style. A related style to salsa is the bossa nova, a cool, laid-back style that crossed dance music with jazz. With the exception of tejano and mariachi, which is folk and pop based, most Latin music is defined by its strong rhythms.

Latin Music News

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