The Spanish-Speaking World
The Spanish-speaking world is very diverse historically, geographically, and culturally. Latin America is home to an amazing range of peoples, and it has contributed significantly to the formation of the United States as we know it today. I feel that it is very important for students understand the extensive history of Spain and the Spanish-speaking world, in order to understand and appreciate the diversity of Spanish and Latino culture and music.
Spain itself is a very interesting country, with a rich and varied history and culture of its own. The many peoples that populated Spain over time each brought with them different musical styles and instruments, as well as language, religion, and art. Knowing the history of Spanish culture and national identity is key to understanding the diversity of Latin America and the spectrum of cultures it reflects.
The original tribes of the Iberian Peninsula are generally referred to as the Iberians. They mixed with Celts that invaded the region in the eighth century B.C. to form the Celtiberians. The Celts brought their music, which relied heavily on the use of drums and pipes. Various Mediterranean peoples settled along the Mediterranean coast of the peninsula and created colonies there, while the migrant Gypsies of Roma camped throughout Iberia.
In the beginning of the Christian era, the Iberian Peninsula was part of the Roman Empire, and was named Hispania. The Vulgar Latin spoken eventually evolved into what we know as Spanish, which is now spoken by more then 400 million people around the globe (Infoplease). Much of what is commonly regarded as Spanish culture was developed during the Roman rule, particularly the Roman Catholic religion and the Spanish language.
The Germanic Visigoths had gained control of almost the entire peninsula by the early part of the fifth century. The Christian Visigoths persecuted Jews in the region until the Moors gained control of the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula in the early seventh century. The Moors were Muslims from northern Africa that had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and moved northward through the region. The Moors maintained control for nearly 800 years. Under Muslim rule, Christians and Jews were not persecuted, but were taxed as non-Muslims.
In addition to their relative religious tolerance, the Moors were exceptional for their commitment to education and the arts. Because Christians and Jews were allowed to practice their religions under Moorish rule, their cultures and customs thrived during this period. Musical traditions and styles were allowed to co-exist, and to influence one another. While the majority of Europe was living in the Dark Ages, Muslims were building libraries, mosques, and palaces, and introducing more efficient methods of farming in Hispania.
In the eleventh century, less tolerant Muslims were invading the region, prompting subjects to rebel. Although the
(the Christian Re-Conquest of Iberia) started within years of the Moorish invasion, it really gained momentum at this time, as people began to be persecuted once again. Christians regained control of Galicia (a region in northern Spain) in 739, and increasingly over time more of Spain was being liberated from Moorish occupation. King Ferdinand II of Aragon instituted the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. The
was completed in 1492 when King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Isabella of Castilla y Leon captured Granada, the last Moorish stronghold.
Moorish influence can still be seen in Spain, especially in the southern regions. Many of the architectural masterpieces created by the Moors remain, although mosques were converted into Catholic churches and cathedrals. Another lasting mark of the Moorish period is the flamenco music that is a fusion of European, Gypsy, and Islamic musical influences. One of the most important contributions to modern music is the guitar, which developed out of Middle-Eastern stringed instruments, and is the primary instrument used in flamenco music.
As explained above, the Spanish history and culture is very rich and complex. The musical styles of Spain are no exception to the incredible cultural collisions evident in various Spanish traditions. While each region in Spain boasts its own unique sound, the most famous and influential of Spanish musical styles is the flamenco. Flamenco is characterized by its distinctive guitar style and rhythm. Flamenco also refers to the style of singing as well as the dance that generally accompany the music.
Due to the lack of written music remaining from Celtic, Visigothic, or Moorish periods, we can only assume the connections and inspirations of Spanish music. We can generally infer that similarities in musical instruments and musical styles are due to different cultural, ethnic, and religious influences- and not just coincidence.
Expanding the Spanish World
The year1492 also marked the year that the Catholic monarchs expelled all the Jews from Spain, and sponsored Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the New World. Columbus explored several Caribbean islands and claimed 'Hispaniola' in 1492 for Spain. Subsequent voyages brought Columbus to Puerto Rico, Cuba, numerous other islands, and even the Central and South American mainlands.
Columbus' "discovery" of the New World, along with the unification of Spain by King Carlos I, created a foundation for the Spanish Empire. Many explorers and conquistadors followed Columbus' cue, and soon all but the most remote regions of Central and South America were being explored, colonized, and exploited. King Carlos I was the first to say that the sun never set on the Spanish Empire, as it included much of Europe, as well as most of the Americas, and parts of Asia and Africa during his reign.
The Spanish practiced forced conversion in its colonies, and indigenous peoples were generally not treated well. Independence movements swept Spanish America in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Ecuador was the first to claim independence from Spain, in August of 1809. By 1825, all but five Spanish territories had ceded from Spain. The empire eventually collapsed in 1898, with the loss of the Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War.
Naturally, the Spanish brought with them to the New World their language, religion, and other aspects of their culture. Not only were Spaniards bringing European and Middle Eastern goods and ideas to the New World, they were bring African goods as well as slaves. The Africans, of course, brought with them their languages, religions, and cultures.
During the Spanish colonial period (which lasted about 400 years), many Spaniards took indigenous wives to bear their children, and in many places, African slaves were also mixed in with the Spanish blood. This willingness to intermix set the Spanish apart from the English, though both were major colonial powers. The Spanish history differs greatly from that of the English settlers because the majority of Spaniards to cross the ocean were men, while the British colonists came to the New World as families. Additionally, the Spanish were more accustomed to the ethnic and cultural diversity they had known in Spain. Modern-day Latin Americans are usually of Spanish, Indigenous, and/or African descent. The term '
(the race) is sometimes used to refer to the Latino population.¹
Over time, Africans, Spaniards, and Native Americans exchanged ideas, words, foods, and customs (as well as DNA). The term "The Columbian Exchange" refers to the exchanges that occurred during the Colonial era. I think it is particularly interesting to note that many foods that we think of as being native to Latin America are, in fact, of African origin. Bananas, sugar, and coffee are all grown in the Americas, but were originally native to Africa. Many Latin rhythms and musical instruments are also originally African.
As in Spain (and anywhere else in the world), music styles vary greatly within Latin America. Latin American regions have distinctive musical styles that reflect and represent their unique ethnic, cultural, historical, and geographical traits. Some regions are more ethnically European, while others are predominantly Indigenous. Mestizo and Afro-Latinos can be found in various ratios as well.
Musical styles and traditions in Latin America are generally categorized by the rhythms, instrumentation, and singing incorporated. While music can vary widely from region to region, the commonality between Latin music is the hybridization of cultures found throughout. Caribbean regions tend to be more heavily influenced by African rhythms and instruments (particularly percussion) than non-Caribbean regions. Indigenous influences can be seen in most Latin American regions, but are more dominant in regions with higher Indigenous and Mestizo populations. In regions where residents are predominantly ethnic Europeans, the music tends to reflect this, and may show only small allusions to Indigenous or African styles.
Just as with the music of Spain, it is difficult to accurately determine the precise evolution of Latin American music. It is difficult to tell whether African music came into the Spanish colonies in its purest form, since most African slaves transported to the New World were held in various European ports before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. African slaves may have brought with them to the Caribbean islands a combination of African and European music. Similarly, it is hard to tell whether Spaniards came to the colonies with an African twist to their own Spanish music.
Spanish-Speakers in the United States
There are many different definitions of the terms 'Latino,' 'Hispanic,' and 'Latin American.' 'Latino' may apply to people of Latin origins, in the United States, or abroad, depending on which definition you read. Usually, it is used in the United States to refer to people of Latin American origin. 'Hispanic' generally refers to people of Spanish origin, although many Latin Americans have no Spanish blood in them. Some definitions include Brazil as being a Latin American nation, while others apply the term strictly to Spanish-speaking nations.2
The United States Census Bureau defines 'Hispanics' as people who originate from Spanish-speaking countries or regions. The Census Bureau notes that Hispanics may be of any race, and also uses the term 'Latino' to describe such people. More importantly than which term the U.S. Census uses to categorize people is the term with which people identify. More than 35 million people (excluding the 3.9 million U.S. residents of Puerto Rico) identified themselves as Hispanic/ Latino on the 2000 U.S. Census. The most recent estimates place the current number near 43 million (U.S. Census).
Of these 40-plus million self-proclaimed Latinos living in the U.S. today, more than half claim Mexican heritage (U.S. Census). This is true for two primary reasons; because most of the western half of the United States once belonged to Mexico, and because of immigration. Puerto Ricans make up the next largest group of Latinos in the U.S. The remainder of the United States' Latinos come from more than twenty nations, and bring with them their cultures as well as their language(s).
Latinos in the United States have as many musical traditions and styles as they have varying heritages. Many think of the
as the beat that makes music
While this is one of the key factors in most Afro-Cuban and Afro-Cuban influenced music, it is one of many sounds that make Latin music unique.
Naturally, Mexicans were among the first Latinos in the U.S., and they continue to comprise a large portion of new immigrants. On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican-American War. In addition to ending the war, the treaty gave about two-thirds of Mexico (which included Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico) to the United States. Almost all of the 80,000 Mexicans who lived in these territories chose to stay on their land and were guaranteed under the terms of the Treaty the same rights as other U.S. citizens.
The United States took imperial power out of Spain's hands in 1898, with its victory in the Spanish-American War. Cuba became a republic, and Puerto Rico became a territory as a result. Cuba gained freedom in 1902, while Puerto Rico remains to this day a U.S. territory. Puerto Ricans joined the ranks of other Americans in 1917, when United States President Woodrow Wilson extended citizenship to residents of Puerto Rico. Since that time, several waves of immigration have helped to change the face of the U.S.
From the middle 1940s through the next twenty years, the U.S. saw a huge influx of Puerto Rican migration into the contiguous United States. The opportunity offered in the States lured many to leave the island behind. Their citizenship status and inexpensive airfare allowed Puerto Ricans to easily make the move to the mainland. Today, more Puerto Ricans live in New York City than in the Puerto Rican capital San Juan.
Beginning in the late 1950s, Cubans began immigrating to the U.S. to escape the Cuban Revolution. The largest numbers of Cubans immigrated to the United States in the years just after the Revolution ended, claiming political exile. Cuban immigration dropped sharply after 1962, but has had other significant waves since, most notably during the Mariel Boatlift of 1980 (Gonzalez 108-113).
Latin Americans from the Caribbean, and Central and South America have entered the United States for more than one hundred years, both legally and illegally. Large numbers of Panamanians began immigrating to the U.S. in the 1950s, and Colombians followed in the 1960s. The number of Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and Hondurans entering the U.S. skyrocketed from the 1970s to the 1990s. People came from these Central American countries seeking refuge from the ongoing civil wars and political unrest in their homelands that had claimed so many victims (Gonzalez 129-163). Currently, Colombians are among the fastest growing Latino populations within the U.S.
Latin American immigrants have a relatively new situation living in the United States in the twenty-first century. Travel between nations is in most cases easier than ever before, and modern technology has made it entirely possible for immigrants to maintain close communication with their native lands. In the past, immigrants brought their music and traditions with them, but newer technology allows them to access music from native regions currently, keeping cultural connections alive.
Interestingly, the Latino population's growth is not only due to immigration, but also to the aging of Americans in general. Latinos in the U.S. have a median age that is about ten years younger than that of the American population as a whole (U.S. Census). More and more Latinos are being born in the United States, while the rest of the population is growing older by comparison.
Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the United States, after English. According to the U.S. Census, over 2 million people over the age of five years speak Spanish at home (U.S. Census). A report issued in 2002 listed the United States as the country with the fourth largest Spanish-speaking population in the world (Morton). Many experts predict that the U.S. will soon become the nation with the second largest Spanish-speaking population, following only Mexico in number.
Music of the United States (and the Latino Influence)
The music of the United States has changed considerably since the founding of our nation in the eighteenth century. A multitude of musical styles and influences, as well as sound and technological innovations have helped to shape the music of today. While many Latinos are in the spotlight of the modern U.S. music scene, they have been historically influential behind the scenes as well.
Just as Spanish and Latin American music was created from a mix of influences, so was American music. The music of the United States has not remained unaffected by the diversity of the U.S. population, and has in many cases been irreversibly changed by it.
Syncopation is a major component of contemporary American music. Syncopation was at one time practically unheard of in the United States. Syncopation refers to placing the stress on a beat that is normally unstressed. There are several ways to create syncopated rhythms, by stressing, quickening, or skipping certain beats in a measure. Syncopation came to the U.S. from Africa, via Latin American music, and has become a defining quality in American music.
Jazz and Ragtime rely on syncopation as a staple of the musical style. American Jazz developed around the turn of the 20th century- in New Orleans. The Jazz form draws heavily from European and Latin influences. Many of the musicians in early American Jazz bands were Latinos, though segregation, discrimination, and language barriers limited opportunities for many.
In the United States, the Big-Band sound was very popular in the early part of the century, and many of the popular acts incorporated Latin themes, influences, and music. Cuban music became the standard for 'international' Latin music, affecting music in other Latin American regions as well as the U.S. (Morales 11). Rumba, habanera, Argentine tango, bolero, merengue, cumbia, and even the mambo that was so popular in the States during the 1950s and 1960s all have roots in Latin and African traditions.
Over the last hundred years, much has changed in American music, but syncopation has been consistently present. Originally percussion instruments (such as drums) created the syncopated beat in American music. Incorporating syncopation into piano playing became a major innovation and allowed a European instrument to be utilized to create a more African and Latin sound.
One of the most significant Latino musical contributions in recent history is Salsa music. Salsa emerged in the 1960s in New York, where Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants created a sound unique to the U.S. By combining traditionally Caribbean rhythms and instruments with a more American pop-jazz-rock sound. This music is closely oriented with dancing, and has become a staple at many clubs in the U.S. (both Latin and non-Latin). Salsa is often called
because of its relation to the Caribbean.
Since the early roots of Jazz, American music has moved through too many musical styles and fads to name. The most influential (in my opinion) American musical styles that have evolved from the original Jazz are R&B (Rhythm and Blues) and Rock 'n' Roll. From these two broad musical categories, countless musical genres have emerged. Most of today's Rock 'n' Roll relies on a melody of guitar riffs and syncopated bass lines. Modern R&B is a close relative to Hip Hop and layers lyrics on top of syncopated rhythms (primarily percussion).
Within the last ten to fifteen years, there has been a huge "Latin Explosion" of music, dance, food, and culture. The nineties brought us Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin, and put Latin music in the spotlight. Since then, Americans have become more aware of the Latinos singing, dancing, and even living among them. Popular American music now includes not only the rhythms that Latinos have brought to the U.S., but the musicians themselves. Whether singing (or rapping) in English or Spanish, Latino musicians have placed themselves in the mainstream of American Pop culture.