Latin music is the result of a complex social and historical process that took place in the Americas after the arrival of Columbus. Despite the traumatic experience, Latin music is one of the positive outcomes that came from that process. The following is a brief introduction to Latin music history that takes a look at the cultural mix and social environment that ended up producing one of the best music genres in the entire world.
Generally speaking, Latin music history starts with the cultural encounter that occurred after the arrival of Columbus. However, it is important to remember that the indigenous people of the New World had their own music. For instance, the Maya culture gave great attention to music producing all kinds of percussion and wind instruments.
Wind instruments were very popular among Pre-Columbian cultures. All kinds of flutes were made all over the American continent and fortunately, this original expression has persisted to date in traditional Latin music like South America's Andean music.
The Arrival of Europeans to The New World
Language was the first contribution that the Spanish and Portuguese powers brought to the New World. Latin music is, in fact, defined to a large extend by the Spanish and Portuguese languages. While Portuguese came to define the music from Brazil, Spanish language defined the rest of Latin America.
The second contribution that Europeans brought to the new land was their music. In fact, when the Spanish conquerors arrived to the American continent their homeland had rich musical expressions that included traditions from both the European and the Arab worlds.
Along with their music, Europeans also brought their instruments. Originally, these instruments were intended to recreate the music that was played in Europe. However, they soon became the ideal tools to express the feelings of the new inhabitants that were defining the roots of Latin America.
The African Influence
The African slaves that arrived to the New World brought with them all the traditions and beats from their continent. The African influence in Latin music is so big that this could be the single most important element in Latin music history.
That influence, of course, does not touch all the rhythms and styles that belong to Latin music. However, if we just take a look at the music that has come from Brazil and the Caribbean, then we know how significant this influence is. Samba, Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Timba, and many more, are just some of the rhythms that have been shaped by African beats.
The full picture about this influence includes also African-American music. In particular, the development of Jazz had a tremendous impact in the making of Latin music rhythms such as Mambo, Bossa Nova, and Latin Jazz. More recently, African-American styles like R&B and Hip-Hop have defined the development of Latin music genres such as Reggaeton and Urban music.
A Social Phenomenon
The encounter of the three cultures mentioned before created the dynamic social environment that has shaped Latin music since the colonial times. This environment has been nurtured by foreign sounds, regional traditions, class divisions, and even national identities.
Latin Pop and Rock en Espanol have been shaped by the foreign sounds of Rock, Alternative and Pop music. Regional traditions like the cowboy way of life in the plains of Colombia and Venezuela have produced Llanera music.
Social conditions, especially those created by immigration and class divisions, are behind the development of Tango in Argentina. Traditional Mexican music was largely defined by a feeling of national identity that was incorporated into Mariachi music after the Mexican Revolution.
Considering all this, a serious study of Latin music history is definitely an overwhelming task. However, there is no other way to deal with it. Latin music is a complex phenomenon that reflects the complex history of Latin America, a mixed region whose social environment has forged some of the most beautiful sounds in the world.