Into The Flow, Part 2 - Spain
The first Europeans to explore the vast interior landscape of the American continents were the Spanish conquistadores. At one time Spain controlled nearly half of North America and had almost complete control of Central and South America. New Spain (now Mexico) was colonized around 1521. Spanish missionaries taught Western style music to the natives as a way of attracting them to Christianity. Native Mexicans took an affinity to the new music and were composing European style music and building European instruments. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, as early as 1540, native Mexicans were composing large scale musical works including one Mass by a singer in Tlaxcala.
The native people did not wholly discard their own rich musical heritage. The music they created may have sounded European, but it retained many of the features unique to their own culture, such as the use of flutes, drums, and falsetto voice.
Mexican culture had a profound affect on the culture of North America as westward expansion brought eastern farmers in contact with the successful vaqueros of Mexico (which included what are now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and California.) The American cowboy pattered their lifestyle, including cattle and horse handling, dress, and music, after the Mexican vaquero. The influence was so great that it affected the language as well as music. The cattle-raising operation that would have been a farm back east became a ranch (rancho, in Spanish), the rope used by a cowboy is a lariat (la riata, Spanish for rope), and a flat-topped hill is called a mesa (meaning table in Spanish.) In fact, the slang term used for a cowboy of the upper Great Plains, “buckaroo”, is a corruption of the Spanish word vaquero (the 'v' is pronounced as a ‘b’ in Spanish). Let’s not forget that the guitar is also a Spanish development.
During the popular music mill of the late 1800s and early 1900s, known as Tin Pan Alley, American composers explored many cultures for their inspiration. The music of Mexico was no exception. American composers such as Irving Berlin, Aaron Copeland, and George and Ira Gershwin turned out popular music with a Mexican flavor.
During the laying of rail through the Southwest for the Southern Pacific Railroad several brass bands were formed by the Mexican workers. In Mexico, tambora is a popular music performed by brass bands. As it crossed the border and picked up a little jazz influence it evolved into banda. A modernized Banda gained widespread popularity with the hits of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass and is still popular along the border.
During the 1940s, Mexican cowboy (vaquero) music regained popularity in Mexico. This music was played by wandering musicians playing guitars, violin, trumpet, and occasionally an accordion. The ensembles, and the music they play, are known as mariachi.
Unique to the United States, is a style that was developed during the 1930s by migrant workers in rural Texas. Usually, conjuntos were made up of four musicians on bajo sexto (a 12 string guitar, with extra bass strings), drums, bass, and button accordion. The accordion and the polka style of conjunto (or, tejano) were influences of the German settlers of South Texas, but we’ll save that for another story. Conjunto evolved from the music of Northern Mexico known as norteño (northern, in Spanish), which evolved from the mariachi bands of South Texas.
Of course, Spanish music from South America and the Caribbean has also had a great influence on American music. It seems as if there has been a Latino wave of music nearly every decade for the past century. The tango hit the American shores in the early 1900s, rumba in the 1930s, samba in the ‘40s, mambo in the ’50s (cha-cha-cha), bossa nova in the 60s, and salsa in the 70s.
The music of Spain, via Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean, has had a profound influence on the American music scene, second only to that of the British Isles, I would reckon. That influence has been felt in nearly all genres of American music from jazz to country.
some fine norteño
traditional music of Veracruz (including harp)
one of the founders of conjunto
Tin Pan Alley song from Irving Berlin, 1920.
Oh, yea! Goes good with a cold cerveza, or two.