Integrating Hispanic Music Throughout Curriculum

Musical events in Latin America are seldom isolated phenomena. These events nearly always relate to a particular aspect of culture such as ritual, celebration, devotion, entertainment, or work; classes should not, therefore, study any aspect of culture without thinking about the music that may accompany it and form an integral part of it. All Latin American musical styles have their own cultural contexts; it is unlikely that the music would be performed outside of that context, or that the context would take place without music. Students might develop an awareness of the cultural background of musical traditions in social science classes such as history, geography, psychology, and sociology. Include a discussion of the following facts about these cultural contexts in lessons dealing with the music of other cultures, or in one lesson that emphasizes music as it relates to culture in general.

Siku panpipe music of Peru is performed during festive celebrations on feast days and other religious holidays.

Afro-Latin American drumming exists in various contexts, including secular, social events, and religious festivals of the Catholic calendar or rituals of African derivation.

The Colombian marimba is also performed for both secular and religious occasions such as the social currulao dance and the festival of Saint Anthony.

Calypsos of Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere in the Caribbean are often songs of derision and ridicule that regulate social behavior. They also provide joyful rhythms during the annual carnival fete, which provides a release before the solemn celebration of Lent.

The European-derived music of many Latin American countries functions as entertainment or for dancing. In the lonely life of the farmer, rancher, or cowherd, such as the vaquero of Venezuela, the gaucho of Argentina, and the huaso of Chile, music serves to break the solitude.

Pan-Andean music reflects the cultural past and heritages of many of its music makers and listeners. Much pan-Andean music functions as a vehicle for protest against racial, social, and political oppression.

Among the happy music of Latin America is salsa. It inspires even the most inhibited people to dance and have a good time, and the texts speak about happy times and merrymaking. Certain music developed as it did because of the geographies and histories of certain areas. Search for examples of this concept, such as these that follow:

  1. Styles of Afro-Latin American music developed along the hot, humid coastal regions of Latin America and the Caribbean. Where slaves worked on sugar, cotton, and coffee plantations. These areas topographically resembled the African homelands of the slaves. In these areas, people of African descent had natural materials with which to construct instruments similar to African drums and marimbas.

  2. In cattle-grazing regions that resemble cattle-grazing regions in Spain and Portugal, many South American cowboys sing songs similar to those sung in the Old World.

  3. Geography also determines what materials are available for musical instrument construction. The charango of Bolivia and Peru, for example, was made from an armadillo shell because wood was scarce in the high elevations of the Andes mountains.

  4. History affects musical development. The Bush Negroes of Suriname have retained a greater amount of African music and culture than any other African-derived culture in the Americas because of an event in history: when the area known today as Suriname was traded by the British for the present Manhattan Island, which at that time was owned by the Dutch, many slaves took advantage of the political confusion by escaping from the plantations into the jungles to establish their own African-type villages and to preserve their culture.

  5. More recently, the steel band tradition of Trinidad and Tobago was made possible by the discarded oil drums left on Caribbean beaches during World War II.

  6. In the area of visual arts, there are two ways that Latin American music can be studied:

    • The instruments themselves are often works of art and have earned places in museums. The beautiful ceramic instruments of the pre-Columbian cultures of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico, for example, are highly valued as art objects. Modern musical instruments are also often constructed and designed with visual beauty in mind.

    • Musical instruments and musical events are often depicted in sculptures and in painting. Much can be learned about the musical contexts of ancient Latin American cultures from this "music iconography" on ceramic pots, such as those found in Peru and Mexico. Modern painting can also be an important source for seeing the contexts of music. Many paintings in Haiti and Brazil, for example, are important sources that illustrate the roles of musical instruments in daily life.

Musical instruments and musical events are often depicted in sculptures and in painting. Much can be learned about the musical contexts of ancient Latin American cultures from this "music iconography" on ceramic pots, such as those found in Peru and Mexico. Modern painting can also be an important source for seeing the contexts of music. Many paintings in Haiti and Brazil, for example, are important sources that illustrate the roles of musical instruments in daily life.

Contributed by Selwyn Ahyoung.

Excerpted from Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education.



Related Resources

Introduction to Mariachi Music
Mexican American Mariachi Music
Traditional Circle Game from Puerto Rico
Making a Maraca
Making Panpipes

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