For many years, Latin music has been the delight of dancers, romantics, music enthusiasts and the Latinos by birth or parentage, the world over: the dance beats of Salsa to the romance of Brazilian Jazz. Here’s a taste of the various types of Latin music that span from Spain in Europe to Brazil in Latin America and from New York in North America to Venezuela in South America.
Brazil is a country with musical variety as vast as its geography. Samba and Bossa Nova are world renowned but there are many other musical styles that are worth exploring as well. Samba can mean many things in Brazil. There are the Samba de Enredo, the theme songs of Rio's Carnival parades which feature the large percussion sections or Batuca das, marching with hundreds of singers and dancers in Samba Schools. In 1964, the album Getz/Gilberto with the hit single ‘Girl From Ipanema’ saw Bossa Nova spread like wildfire throughout the world. Sergio Mendes continued that spread through the sixties with ‘Brazil ‘66’. Evidence of the lasting appeal of Bossa Nova is the compilation titled ‘Red Hot + Rio’ featuring international Pop stars Sting, David Byrne and others performing evocative modern interpretations of those wonderful sixties songs. Bossa Nova is alive in Brazil today with Rosa Passos being one of the big favourites.
Brazil also has some wonderful instrumental music - the most common is the ‘choro’ that sounds kind of like Ragtime with a Samba rhythm. The instrumentation often includes a mandolin flute or clarinet, guitar and pandeiro (tambourine). Looking at Argentina, many musical styles and traditions exist there but the most prominent is the Tango, full of passion and musical elegance. The typical Tango orchestra usually includes the bandoneon, a type of accordion, violin, piano and contrabass with the occasional use of guitars. The Tango gained worldwide recognition in the 1930s by the talented singer, Carlos Gardel. Modern day Tango has met some resistance from traditionalist who detest the mixture of Tango with any other genre of music.
Venezuela, like Colombia, shares musical influences from the Caribbean as well as from the South American continent. Inland on the plains is the ‘musica llanera’ featuring the cuatro venezolano, a small four-stringed guitar strummed to a 6/8 jaropo rhythm with maracas and either an arpa llanera (harp), flute, mandolin or all three. On the Northeast coast is a rhythm called the ‘merengue’ (not to be mistaken for the rhythm of the same name from the Dominican Republic) which keeps the 3/4 or 6/8 beat so predominant in Venezuelan music but with various tambores (drums).
Despite a thirty odd year old US trade embargo, Cuba has had an amazing musical influence on the world. The roots of Salsa, Latin, Jazz and the romantic Bolero are found in Cuban music. For a small Caribbean island, in the wake of the 1959 revolution which resulted in the embargo, it was left to mostly Puerto Ricans and Cuban exiles in New York and Miami to keep the sound alive for USA and the rest of the world to hear. The music, influenced by its new urban environment, became known as Salsa.
Spain is a country of many cultures and traditions from the Celtic music of Galicia in the North to the gypsy Flamenco music in the southern region of Andalusia. The most familiar flamenco instrument is, of course, the guitar played at a feverish and passionate pace with melodies that reflect the influence of Arabic music from the centuries of Moorish dominance over southern Spain. So, quite contrary to popular belief, Latin music is not derived from any one source or any one country.