Music from World Cultures: South America
South America has long had a rich musical history full of intriguing sounds and characters. Whether for religious ceremony or artistic expression, music has helped South Americans communicate, celebrate and even expand financial and artistic opportunities. Below, we’ll highlight some of South America’s music history, as well as note important bands, songs and instruments within the South American culture.
History of Music in South America
The inspiration for modern South American music can be divided into three segments: native South Americans, African slaves and Roman Catholic Europeans. Classic South American music originated in and near the Andes Mountains where indigenous South American cultures first sprung. These classical songs, called Huayno, are heavy with mythic folklore and religious context and lyrics often discuss nature, seasons, wind, love, stars and family. South American shamans often used music, particularly drums and flutes, within their sacred ceremonies where they would speak with universal spirits or travel into the underworld. Outside of drums and flutes, traditional South American music also consists of rattles, guitar and chants and/or hums.
After the Roman Catholic conquest in the 16th century, South American musicians started incorporating African and European influences within classical South American songs. In particular, African music had a major impact on South American musicians, resulting in many experimenting with new rhythms and instrumentation. The incorporation of African music culture, such as dances and drumming, is one of the key factors that distinguishes South America socialization of slaves from North America, as the latter stripped the African culture away and re-socialized them to European culture. Due to this acceptance of African culture, South American music culture has a rich, highly developed rhythmic property, and features a number of styles, concepts, instrumentation and structures, especially when compared to North American music culture. South American music has continued to develop to include a wide array of genres, including bossa nova, salsa, samba, and indigenous folk dances, such as the Bomba and Suscia. This expansion continued into the 20th and 21st century to encompass modern styles such as rock, jazz, hip hop and reggae.
Music’s Current Role
Music still maintains a significant part within South American culture. In fact, for many South Americans, music still plays a major role in day-to-day life, providing inspiration to everyone from farmers to teachers to traditional folk dancers. Many modern South American musicians have found success in the music industry. But it’s not only musicians that remain passionate about music – South American music lovers have long been considered the most intense and engaged fans for Western bands and music. Organizers for Lollapalooza, a massive music festival that originated in America, even expanded the festival to Brazil simply due to the South American passion for music.
Notable Genres, Bands & Instruments
Nueva Cancion – Originating during the 60s in Chile, nueva cancion is a form of Latin America folk music with socially conscious themes and lyrics. Considering this, this style of music can be comparable to blues and America’s folk-rock music scene in Greenwich Village. Early on, nueva cancion musicians faced a number of legal and personal battles as South American dictators become nervous and angry with many of their song lyrics. Some musicians were even tortured for their music and performances. Despite these early difficulties, nueva cancion is now considered one of South Americas most prized genres and has received much acclaim for inspiring social change throughout the country in the 70s and 80s.
Reggaeton – Combining Jamaican reggae and dancehall with classic Latin American music and American hip hop, Reggaeton has developed into a cultural craze within South America. As of late, poets have begun writing rhymes and rapping over the music, which has helped expand the genre’s craze. In case you are interested in exploring this modern phenomenon, here are a few artists to check out:
- Chino & Nacho: This Venezuelan group has a number of reggaeton songs and is a great artist for music listeners looking to ease their way into the genre.
- Calle Ciega – Considered the “boy band” of reggaeton, Calle Ciega incorporate a number of styles into their music, including hip hop, dance and electronica.
Astor Piazzolla – Well-known as a prolific musician, Astor Piazzolla is also a successful tango composer and musical arranger. The Argentinian Piazzolla is most popular for his unique spin on tango by combining traditional elements with classic and jazz, creating what is now considered nuevo tango. Although based in Argentina, music has taken Piazzolla around the world with studies in Paris, premiers in New Orleans and even composition work with famous director Marco Bellocchio. Piazzolla also collaborated with famous Argentine poet and novelist Jorge Luis Borges for the 1965 album El Tango.
Carlos Vives – Colombian born Carlos Vives is a well-respected singer, composer and actor that has been featured in a number of diverse projects throughout his lifetime. Vives is best known for his desire to fuse musical elements, with his favorites being rock, funk, pop and classical South American music. In 2016, he collaborated with famous Colombian singer Shakira on the song, “La Bicicleta.”
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