This is actually actually a research report that I wanted to put together as I was curious of how Latin American creativity takes part in cultural studies. Let me know what you think.
Diversity has always been an important factor in Latin American culture since the beginning of post-colonial society. Newly independent countries in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America sought to redefine themselves as nations rather than colonies of the former Spanish Empire. The struggle for national identity in Latin American culture has been successfully expressed in the form of music and dance, not only because of its ability to become mainstream through all forms of media, but also because through music and dance a country’s origin and identity express their own history, food, music and fellow compatriots. Latin American music and dance spreads the message of national pride and individuality in today’s global culture.
To understand the meaning of Latin American music and dance beyond cultural history, one must also understand its significance and symbolism by breaking it down into the most basic element of musical patterns, vocals, beats, rhythms and choreography. Thanks to the contributions of the Ameri-Indian, Iberian and African American culture, a culmination of musical genres and dance moves developed over the 400 years of European colonization of the West. Today, Latin America continues to express its identity, pride and way of life through the music and dance created by their ancestors. The advent of the latest media technology also helps develop new ideas to teach the rest of the world about the Latin culture and an appreciation of the sensuality, spirituality and nationalism of Latin music and dance.
The beginning of modern Latin American dance and music goes back to the history of Spanish Colonial America. This was a time period where the kingdom of Spain began settling into the New World to become the world power. During the mass colonization, slavery was utilized from both the Ameri-Indian and African American groups to cultivate agriculture and commerce. Over time, Iberian colonials began to intermingle with African Americans and Ameri-Indians to develop a new culture based upon all three ethnic groups into what we now know as Latin Americans and with these three cultures came a combination of social influences from which Latin American music and dance was inspired from. The major influences that help create Latin American dance and music was that during early colonial times, the Catholic churches allowed the Indians to maintain their ritualistic music and dance and correlate it with Catholic music and prayer as a form of Christian evangelization and in order to improve morale and agricultural production plantation owners allowed African slaves to celebrate their rituals and celebrations.
The exposure of various instruments during these traditional celebrations led to the modern day Latin music that we listen to today. Instruments used in Latin American music originated from Iberian, African and Ameri-Indians regions were all brought together during the Spanish colonization. Mostly the stringed instruments originated from Spain and Portugal and the woodwind instruments and drums originated from African and Ameri-Indian regions. The early use of instruments was most predominant during important festivities, ritual worship and Catholic processions. As time passes, these festive forms of music and ritual dances branched out into its individual music genres with the importance of expressing national identity.
Renato Almeida, a Brazilian ethnomusicologist, studied the relationship of folk music and dance particularly of African and Indian descent and classified dance with a having a distinct choreography and a set of affective character relationships. By choreography, Renato meant the number of arrangements of dancers. These particular arrangements are according to three distinct relationships. One is the relationship of man to a higher being, religious dance, second, the relationship of man-to-man, war dances, and third, the relationship of man to woman, the various aspects of courtship. Combine these tribal dances with the eloquent dance styles of Europe and you have the predecessors to such popular dance moves such as salsa and merengue.
With the folkloric celebrations and festivals of lively music and dance there are also the instilled fashion of a full array of vibrant colors and design on the many festive clothing of the time. Each Latin country developed there own sense of style according to their own rich history, people and culture, yet the colors and patterns seem to come alive during special social gatherings. For example, Carnaval in Brazil differs from Carnaval in Puerto Rico in the fact that Brazil celebrates Carnaval as part of a holy Catholic holiday while in Puerto Rico it is a celebrated where people in brightly colored costumes and masks dance on the streets in the centuries old tradition of scaring away evil spirits.
Not only is national identity celebrated through music and dance but it is expressed through art as well. Latin American artists from the eighteenth century on to the present day depict on their canvases the everyday life of Latin America. Landscapes, people, neighborhoods, food and festivities in all different art forms and brushstrokes and colors are given life by these artists to show their love for their fellow countrymen, culture and identity.
The twenty first century has brought about the advancement of media and emergent communication to an already techno savvy population and with it, greater opportunities for the Latin American community to identify to the world who they are, especially here in the United States. The increase of the Hispanic population in the United States has brought marketing opportunities for big business and advertisers for the Hispanic market. Latin music and dance and the artists that perform them are main “marketing tools” from Latin identity and culture that brought advertising success in the American market. With global exposure on the internet, radio, and television, Latin America has been re-identified in the modern mainstream as having diversity. The aesthetics of this group thus vary from one Latin country to another but the final outcome is to utilize the aesthetics to continue expressing individual identity and to celebrate the culture with in all of Latin America and music and dance has been a main factor in this goal.
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