Guest Author - Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie
Hispanic music has a wide variety. As wide a variety in music as there is a variety of cultural contributors to the complex world that makes up the Hispanic Culture. There is no one style of type of music for the Hispanic Culture. Each Hispanic country has several styles. Some of these styles are unique to that country yet most are slight variations that are shared by neighboring countries. There is also a wide variety of instruments that are used to produce the distinct sounds and flavors of the Hispanic Music. On this journey into the Hispanic Culture we will begin in Spain as it is easiest to explain and dissect the original instruments from that region and styles and then move across the ocean to the ports of call that are now seasoned by time and by influences of native inhabitants as well as those who also traveled to and made these new lands their homes. Then we will move into the more developed or progressive area of the United States and see how those cultural influences in music have changed and affected the larger culture of America.
When we think of Spain, deep inside all Hispanics picture the traditional roots of our culture. We think of days of old and ancient ideas come to mind of the way things were in a simpler time. It is to that time we will look to see what styles of music as well as what instruments were given to the Hispanic Culture. In Spain we find the tradition holds strong today and secrets of our traditions can be found there. The most well known instruments from Spain are the Castanets and the Spanish Guitar. Other instruments are the tambor, cow bells and even the occasional bag pipe can be heard in the music of regions close to the Northwest areas of the country. Each area of the country has great pride in it's heritage and contributions to Spanish Culture as a whole. Like all Hispanic Cultures you can hardly separate the music from other items like the dance that would accompany it. The dances are usually known by the music and vice versa. The region of Galacia ancient traditional Celtic melody, harmony and rhythm structures still dominate the traditional musics from these regions. Figuring heavily then in the influence of the music is bag pipes (called Gaitia in Spain), drums, flute, harps and the clarinet. The music often has a Melancholic feel.
This area is also well known for the dance that incorporates swords. Most famous for this is the Basque region and people. They are of an unknown origin to the outside world. The Basque are celebrated by the Hispanic Culture in the Americas but find great hardship in the homeland of Northern Spain. The famous sword dance the Basque perform is know as Txonkorinka and Guipuzkoan. The Basque also contribute to the Hispanic Musical Culture a variety of instruments such as the Txalaparta (a wooden instrument constructed of boards played by sticks with a variety of high drum sounds. They also have a Shepard's flute known as the Txistu which has a shrill sound and can be played single handedly and the Alboka which is a horn of sorts.
In the Southern region of Spain is where the Nomadic tribe of Romani, or those who are known as Gypsy, have migrated from India and settled in Romania and other European areas such as parts of Spain. The term Gypsy has been used as a slur upon a people who have over the years been misunderstood and have suffered harsh treatment due to prejudices at the hands of other races. Through out the suffering of their people, the Romani have contributed greatly to the style of music and dances that have developed in the regions while maintaining their own cultural identity.
Valencia is located on the Mediterranean Sea. It's dances include the Fandango, Jota and the El U Y El Dos. There are great Moorish influences in this regions music and festivities.
Catalonia is in the Northeast Region of Spain and has it's own language known as Catalan. This region is known for it's variety of dances but the most important dance in this region is the Sardana which is a circle dance performed by both men and women. It is believed that most people hailing from Catalonia know how to perform this dance as it has been said to be a way to express ones pride and to be identified as a Catalan. Catalonia is heavily influenced by France which is it's close neighbor. An important role in Catalan traditional music is the Cobla, a group of brass instruments. The music played by the cobla is often mellow and accompanied by drum-like instruments.
In Andalusia is the fiery and exciting dance the Flamenco. Possibly the best known by outsiders, the Flamenco dance as well as the music is highly ornamental and very improvisational. It contains the use of castanets as well as fast and vigorous rhythms acquainted and attributed to Spanish Gypsies. The Flamenco originated in the area of Cadiz and and Seville, and as it spread to other regions their influences were added to it. The guitar plays an important role in Flamenco Music, and the region of Andalusia was the first region in Europe to use the El Khitara which preceded the Spanish as well as all other Guitars known to us today. In Flamenco the Guitar in plucked one string at a time as well as the strumming styles found in other forms of music. The Sevillana uses a choir style singing and dances that incorporates stops. In Almeria, there is a style known as Cante Jondo, which is a deep and slow serious emotional style sung by one singer and accompanied by one guitar. In Flamenco Music, the hand clapping that Spanish Music is known for finds it's tradition.
The Latin American Countries share a rich heritage including the low land Native Americans of the Amazon, those of the high land Native Americans in Mexico, Guatemala, and the Andes, African American as well as Spain and Portugal influences. Certain types of Latin American styles show continuity with direct lines of original cultural sources. The most prevalent styles are those that are results of different cultural heritages and resources combining in different styles and to different degrees. The Native American influences can be seen in the form of various wind instruments, a form of drums, as well as other percussion instruments. Stringed instruments were apparently unknown in the region pre-European influence. In Meso-American music and still prevalent today in some regions, there is an aesthetic preference to high pitched instruments and singing. In some areas, though the woodwind instruments are still used, the locally made guitars, violins and harps have become more important in main stream music.
Latin America Native music is characterized by a pension for repetition as it invites collective participation which gives it it's draw aesthetically. The pieces trend towards short repetition of repeated sections with descending melodies. A simple binary meter such as 2/4 time is most common in Native American music. Indigenous music tends to monophonic (consisting of single, unharmonized melody) or heterophonic (consisting of two or more parts playing the same melody in varied ways). Vocal styles among the lowland groups range from a low timbre to a gruff chant like style. Andeans favor a high throat and head singing utilizing sliding pitches with instrumental ornamentation without vibrato.
The term Mestizo possibly best describes the majority of Latin America today. It is the term used to classify the life style that incorporates the indigenous with the European and African customs. This would cover ideas, values, practices and cultural elements. To some degree all of Latin America has this element by combining either the Native American Heritage with the European or by combining the Native American Heritage with Europeans and African Heritage to one degree or another. This is possibly the reason why Latin American music is so widely enjoyed by such a wide audience as it contains within it elements that each culture finds familiar and pleasant as the elements from traditional music is present from a host or cultures.
A large number of African slaves were imported to regions of Latin America. The African heritage has had an important influence on the Latin American musical styles in the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador. The use of African drums and the marimba are prevalent as well as the lamellaphone (known in the Caribbean as marimbula) were imported with the African slaves. Many different cow bells as well as percussion instruments were also brought from Africa to the Latin Americas. Styles in singing such as call and response styles were brought and incorporated into the music. The use of interlocking instruments and vocal patterns, the preference to buzzy timbres, the use of repeated melodic and rhythmic cycles (ostinatos) as the base for the pieces and the simultaneous performance of of multiple rhythmic parts. The African heritage is the most prevalent primary basis for some of the most internationally influential music to come out of Latin America. Some of these include Cuban Jazz and Rumba, Dominican Merengue, Puerto Rican Salsa as well as international Salsa, Brazilian Samba, Colombian Cumbia as well as other forms less known to the outside world.
If anything be learned through the study of Hispanic Music, let it be that combining cultures leads to beauty and variety. One does not loose ones identity by embracing those whom are new and unique. It is due to the influences and embracing of diverse cultures that Latin Americans can boast of such flavor. Yet it is just that reason that we also can find home in the embrace of any Hispanic Country in which we find ourselves. Hispanic Americans are only as far away from home as we are from our closest Hispanic Neighbor. In the company of other Hispanic Americans we find the common roots that bind us as a people. We are colorful and diverse to be sure. We, each country, have a uniqueness that sets us aside and gives us our identity and heritage. Yet it is because we have embraced our diversity, some by force other times by choice, that we find that comfort in the company of other Latin Americans. It is also by recognizing and embracing our diversity that we find a place in most societies and prosper. The music is beautiful true, but it is the people who have made it so by the strength of acceptance and complexity of integrity. Viva La Raza! Viva Nos Cultura!
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Lamentations of the Caves By Rebecca Cuevas De Caissie