South America

By | January 2, 2023

Latin America – music and dance

Latin American music is very much a mixture of different forms of music. The original music is hardly found anywhere in its original form, but has in turn in several places (Mexico, Central America and the Andes) exerted influence on folk music.

  • COUNTRYAAH.COM: Offers an alphabetical list of independent nations and dependent territories in South America. Also includes area and population for each South American country.

The colonization with immigration from Europe since the 16th century and the extermination of many indigenous peoples has meant that Latin American music is strongly European-influenced. Significant African influence is found especially in the Caribbean, on the north and northwest coasts of South America, and in Brazil as a result of the introduction of slaves until the mid-19th century; in some countries there is also influence from e.g. India and Indonesia (e.g. Suriname). Folk music, which is predominantly Spanish and Portuguese inspired, has as a consequence of the many folk migrations since the 1950’s been supplanted by popular music; by commercial exploitation it has lost its original character (e.g. the dance la bamba from the Mexican state of Veracruz), and the rhythmically and harmoniously complicated music has been reduced by film and record companies to catchy pop.

The common Latin American popular music is mainly developed in big cities as part of the mass culture that emerged in the early 1900’s. The most common forms of music are the original Caribbean salsa, the Mexican-North American norteña / tex-mex, the Mexican ranchera, the Colombian cumbia, the Brazilian samba, the Argentine tango and the common Latin American nueva canción (canto nuevo ‘new song’). With the exception of ranchera and nueva canción, they have emerged as dance music.

The origins of music in the slums and pubs of big cities among immigrants have left their mark on the dance forms. These are often highly sensual or erotic couples dancing either with close body contact or no touch at all and with a wealth of variations. The dance is a constant competition for the greatest virtuosity, endurance, masculinity and femininity, and much of it is matched by the complexity of the music and by the tradition of improvising, especially in African music. Many of the dances have also become popular in Europe, and five of them are danced at official Latin American dance tournaments.

New song

Nueva canción represents a renewal of the singing tradition, an opening to non-Latin American music forms and a protest. It can be traced partly to the ballads and boleroes that became really popular in the 1950’s, partly to the protest song movement that arose in Chile in the 1960’s with Violeta Parra (1917-1967) and Victor Jara as the leading names, partly to the new singing movement in Cuba, la nueva trova (‘the new troubadour movement’) that emerged from the experimental music scene of the 1960’s.

The new song differs from the rest of Latin American music by not being country specific; it covers the whole area and ranges from the sophisticated songs of the Cubans by especially Pablo Milanés (b. 1943) and Silvio Rodríguez (b. 1946) over Brazilians like Milton Nascimento (b. 1942) and Chico Buarque de Hollanda (b. 1944), folk- rock singers such as the Argentine León Gieco (b. 1951) and the Guatemalan Ricardo Arjona (b. 1964) to pop singers such as the Mexicans Juan Gabriel (1950-2016) and José José (1948-2019). It is a cosmopolitan music with influence from rock and jazz, but it is not dance music. The music and lyrics, ranging from high-quality modern poetry to banal and predictable pop lyrics, are at the center.

Church music and other compositional music

Colonial European church music forms the basis for contemporary church music as well as other forms of compositional music. The best known church musical work is the Argentine Ariel Ramírez’s Misa Criolla (1963), written over Argentine and Andean folk music.

Until about World War I, compositional music was almost exclusively copies of European music. Since then, several composers have written original Latin American works, first national romantic works, often inspired by folk music, among others. by the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Mexicans Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) and Carlos Chávez.

Since the 1960’s, inspiration has increasingly been drawn from the cosmopolitanism of the modern metropolis. Experimental music is created by the Argentine Alberto Ginastera, the Spanish-born Mexican Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987) and the Cuban Leo Brouwer (b. 1939).

Latin American dances

Latin American dances, partly the dances samba, cha-cha-cha, rumba, pasodoble and jive, which are danced at Latin American dance tournaments, partly in general dances, which are used in Latin America.

In Brazil, samba is a common name for several different styles and tempi, but the carnival samba in Rio de Janeiro and the samba at dance tournaments have the 2/4 beat, the melodies and the joy of life in common.

Cha-cha-cha originated in the 1950’s and is a further development of mambo, originally derived from an Afro-Caribbean salon dance, danzon, which was popular in the early 1800’s.

The Cuban rumba is slower in pace than cha-cha-cha and has only three steps in the basic step towards the five of cha-cha-cha, so there is more time for the sensuality that the rumba should have.

Pasodoble means double step and is a dance with fast march steps, twists and statuary positions. Jive is a noble form of jitterbug, which is a couple dance that appeared in the USA of the 1930’s.

The Argentine tango originated in the early 1900’s. in the Rio de Plata area and was presented in Europe approximately 1920. Although tango is Latin American, it is included as a tournament dance among the five standard dances.

Latin American dances have been popular in Europe since the 1930’s, not least because of their passionate expression. In addition to the tournament dances, mambo, lambada, merengue and bossanova are also cultivated diligently on the dance floors, and since the 1990’s, the Danes have not least thrown themselves into tango and salsa.

Latin America – film

1800’s relatively large concentration of European immigrants in Latin America characterized the continent’s early films; for example, the first Argentine film, La bandera argentina (1897, The Argentine Flag), was shot by a Frenchman, and the first feature film, El fusilamento de Dorrego (1908, The Execution of Dorrego), by the Italian Mario Gallo (1878-1945). Imitation of French reportage films and Italian blockbusters also characterized the film in the rest of Latin America; in countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay, the first films were produced during the 1890’s, and in Chile and Columbia in the early 1900’s. Up until World War I, the locally produced films became popular in several of the countries thanks to pioneers such as the Brazilian Humberto Mauro (1897-1983). Despite Hollywood’s cultural and market dominance, silent films were produced in at least ten Latin American countries, for example, in 1902-32 54 silent films were produced in Chile, but only in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil was there an actual national film industry.

The sound film from the early 1930’s meant increased competitiveness for the major Latin American film countries relative to Hollywood. The core of the national musical melodrama genres, the tango in Argentina and the chanchadain Brazil, were in fact the national singing and dancing traditions, wrapped in a simple plot. In the smaller film countries of Peru, Venezuela and Colombia, sound films were first produced in the latter half of the 1930’s. As something unprecedented in the Latin American context, in 1934 the Mexican government introduced a support and quota system for the national film. Film production, to which director Emilio Fernández (1904-86) and from 1946 Luis Buñuel contributed a significant qualitative increase, increased from 25 films in 1934 to 124 in 1950. The Brazilian film industry’s investment in expensive studio construction culminated in 1949-54, when director Alberto Cavalcanti (1897-1982) led the ambitious but unprofitable Vera Cruzstudy. The Argentine Leopoldo Torre-Nilsson (1924-78) heralded a modernization of the film language with La casa del ángel (1957, The House with the Angel) and the revolutionary third world cultural movement of the 1960’s. Film theory manifestos, “new waves”, such as the Brazilian cinema nôvo (approximately 1960-72), and directors wrote into film history: Glauber Rocha with the baroque Brazilian “western” Antonio das Mortes (1969, Antonio the killer), the Chilean Miguel Littín (b. 1942) with El chacal de Nahueltoro (1969, The Jackal from Nahueltoro), the Bolivian Jorge Sanjinés (b. 1936) with Yawar Mallku(1969, The Blood of the Condor) and the Cuban Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1928-96) with Memorias del subdesarrollo (1968, Memories of the Underdevelopment). In Cuba, after the 1959 revolution, the ICAIC Film Institute was established, which established a new film art for the people.

Latin American film production was generally dormant in the 1970’s and early 1980’s due to the persecution of artists by the Chilean, Bolivian, Brazilian, and Argentine military dictatorships. The exception was, in addition to Cuba, Mexico, where Paul Leduc (b. 1942) with Reed (1970) breathed new life into Mexican film. Despite competition from the United States, Latin American film has experienced a general recovery in the 1990’s. In Brazil, approximately 45 films annually, and Argentine film, led by the style-creating Eliseo Subiela (b. 1944), who created his reputation with Hombre mirando al sudeste (1986, The Man Looking Southeast), set in 1997 approximately 20 films in production; in Chile, eight films were produced in 1994, the highest number since 1925.

Latin America – Theater

During the colonial era, real theater life began to develop in Latin America, but not until the 1900’s. the theater really established itself as a cultural institution in the explosively growing big cities. From the 1950’s, internationally oriented university theaters and experimental groups were established as an alternative to the established state and private theaters. The form of work was often collective, the repertoire characterized by current political material, and they practiced e.g. outreach workplaces. From certain parts of Latin America, theater people during the military dictatorships of the 1970’s and 1980’s were temporarily forced into exile. Their direct contact with new trends abroad contributed to a further diversity in repertoire and playing style within the Latin American theater.