Latin America: A Tale of Five Continents
Andrew Killick [+]
University of Sheffield
A flamenco-like approach to rhythm (essentially, a 12-beat bar divided up in constantly changing ways, or in different ways simultaneously) is found again in the various former Spanish colonies of the New World, often in combination with polyrhythmic elements deriving from Africa; for Latin America had its slave trade too. To a greater extent than in North America, indigenous peoples also became part of the cultural mix, for instance developing their own distinctive versions of old Spanish traditions and maintaining them in remote regions of the Andes long after they were forgotten in Spain itself. We first sample the music of the Spanish colonial heritage, including its retentions of Spain’s own Middle Eastern influences. Then we see how Spanish and indigenous elements were combined in the Andean ensembles that have become so popular internationally. We then turn to Brazil, historically a Portuguese colony whose slaves came from Portugal’s African possession Angola, bringing with them a musical culture related to, but subtly different from, the West African culture of North America’s slaves. One result was the development of samba, originally a carvinal procession music, which in the 1950s was combined with North American jazz to create bossa nova, or “new beat” music. This in turn became popular in the USA, leading to a transformation of American popular music through the adoption of the samba-based “Latin beat” in a wide range of otherwise dissimilar genres. Slower in tempo than earlier rock and roll but with the fastest notes dividing the beat into four instead of two, the Latin beat remains prevalent in many forms of popular music. Thus Latin America is revealed as another important root of the music tree, one that itself branches out to Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America as well as indigenous South American cultures.