Music is a great learning tool for teachers to use at this time. While the class is conducting their celebration with food, music should be played that reflects the cultural groups you are studying. This is a great time; a relaxing time for the students to learn that music reflects the pride of the Latino heritage. Students should be encouraged ahead of time to bring in music that reflects their culture. The teacher should tell the students that for many non-Latino U.S. citizens out of the 1940’s and 1950’s, music provided their first contact with Latino culture. The mambo, an exciting rhythmic dance had arrived in the United States from Cuba. The mambo developed into a craze that turned some Cuban performers into stars. A Cuban musician named Desi Arnaz helped bring the sounds of Cuba into millions of homes in mainstream America. As the co-star of the most popular television shows in the l950’s “I Love Lucy”, Arnaz gave Americans a weekly taste of Latino culture. Teachers might find that the students will enjoy watching “The Best of I Love Lucy” on video. This can be rented from any of the local video stores. The l950’s marked the beginning of a growing Latino influence on the culture of the United States. The cha-cha was also introduced in the United States in the l950’s This dance originated in Cuba. Teachers should have the students make cut outs of their feet. These footsteps should then be secured on the classroom floor Teachers should then play a recording of cha cha music and see if the students can follow the beat. If nothing else, this provides a lot of fun for the student and maybe they will even learn a new dance.
In the l960’s the salsa was becoming popular. Salsa blended the African and Spanish heritage shared by the Latinos of the Caribbean. It is a consequence of the fusion between the Spanish guitar and the African drum. It reverberates around most of the countries of Latin America. The Cuban salsa, however, has a heavier reliance on the acoustic guitar and percussion which distinguished it from the more brassy sound of the other Latin American salsas.
At the height of its musical prowess, midway through the twentieth century, many Cuban musicians were hired to play in the United States where their Afro-Spanish rhythms gelled with the American jazz sound. This gave rise to a music called Cubob which in turn evolved into Layini jazz. Latino beats crept into musical forms born in the United States. Jazz artists such as Chuck Corea studied with Caribbean masters such as Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo. Carlos Santana added African Caribbean drums and rhythm to rock and roll. Singers with Latino backgrounds such as Linda Rondstadt (Mexican) and Gloria Estefan (Cuban) added Spanish lyrics on their albums. By the mid l970’s mainstream popular music in the United States reflected the influence of Latin America on United States culture.
Teachers should ask students to bring in recordings of their favorite Latino artists. See if they can pick out how the musicians have incorporated Latino themes into popular music. Or students might wish to create a display of Latin American musicians which includes a short essay on the life of that musician. Ask the student to present three influences in that person’s life that helped him to succeed in the music business.
African music has provided a foundation for Caribbean music as it developed into its modern form. The bomba is a traditional drum dance which originated among slaves in Puerto Rico during the colonial period. Drums were made from empty grease barrels with a goat skin stretched over the top. The bomba is related to drum dances in other Caribbean cultures reflecting common African roots. Around the beginning of the twentieth century the bomba combined with other musical influences to produce the plena. The plena is also based on drum rhythms. The Puerto Rican plena arose at the beginning of the twentieth century. It came to be recognized as the most authentic and representative music of the Puerto Rican people. As Puerto Rican workers migrated to the United States, the plena took root in the New York Puerto Rican community. The New York newspaper El Nuevo Mondo noted that “ at night in our Latin neighborhoods you can hear the music oozing out of the cracks in the windows and blasting from the music stores.”
It would be extremely beneficial if the students would have the opportunity to hear bomba and plena music in the classroom. Tapes may be obtained at a local record store or by mail from Original Music RD#1 Box 190 Lasher Road, Tivoli, New York, 12583. In addition films are available for rent from the Centro de Estudios Puertorriquenos. One suggested film is called “Plena is Work, Plena is Song”. This is a thirty six minute color documentary focusing on the relationship between the Puerto Rican working class experience and the musical experience. It is produced and directed by Pedro Rivera and Susan Zeig. It is in Spanish, but it has English subtitles. After viewing this film divide the class into teams of two students each. Choose an event that happened in your school or community. Ask them to compose a plena about this event and try to get a volunteer to sing it to the class. They should remember to try and make their song humorous.