In this module: We will be exploring latin rhythms and grooves and the tone colours of latin percussion instruments.

  • Students will experience the sounds and playing techniques of various latin percussion instruments.
  • Students will combine different rhythms to create a ‘groove’.
  • Students will create rhyming lyrics for a latin-style song.
  • Students will create a Mardi Gras-style performance using singing, moving and playing.

Expanded background & useful links

The music of Latin America
The music of Latin America is as diverse as its countries, from the purity and simplicity of the Andean pan flute to the rhythmic complexities of the Brazilian samba, from the rural conjunto music of Northern Mexico to the sophisticated habanera of Cuba and the symphonies of Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Some common elements of Latin music are rhythm, syncopation, call and response.

The instruments
Contemporary latin music incorporates all commonly found instruments, such as keyboards, flutes, horns, drums etc. The guitar may be electric or acoustic classical – as this instrument has Spanish origins and the Spanish have a long history in the latin countries.

However, one of the great distinguishing instrumental features of latin music is the ubiquitous presence of distinctive percussion instruments, such as the congas, bongoes, claves, guiro, tambourine, triangle, shakers, cowbells, go go bells, cabassa – all of which are used to both emphasise rhythmic accents and impart the feel, as well as adding the spice (the salsa).

Special ‘occasional’ colours can also be added by using percussion instruments such as the vibraslap, the flexatone, the samba whistle or the rainstick.

Home-made percussion
The story goes that Australian jazzman Don Burrows was in Brazil during Mardi Gras and noticed the people in the street using anything they could find to play a rhythm: pots and pans, broomsticks, buckets – anything. He saw a small boy beating on some small hand-held object and producing exciting sounds and rhythms. When he asked the boy what strange new instrument he was playing, the boy showed him the film canister he had picked up from the gutter! He was squeezing it as he struck it!, changing the tone.

As almost any object can be turned into an instrument, instrument-making companies are constantly adding new items to their list of latin instruments: The donkey jawbone has become the vibraslap, the gourd has become the marracca, small pieces of metal on a string have become chimes – there is always something new happening in latin percussion.

The Latin groove
A groove is an on-going juxtaposition of rhythms – as a musical form in its own right. Over this groove we can sing, chant, call & respond, move etc.
The African connection Latin music, although diverse, is a fusion of European, African and indigenous music. It also contains ‘imported’ contemporary styles such as jazz, rock, reggae and hip-hop.
However, at the heart of Latin music is the powerful presence of Africa: polyrhythms, syncopations, harmonies, call & response, the importance given to instrumental music and improvisation, the variety of tone colours etc.

Why is this so?
The arrival of the Spanish signalled the beginning of Latin American music and certain instruments and their adaptations, certain styles and certain song-forms from that time continue. However, the Spanish already had other influences in their culture: parts of Spain were controlled by the Moors of North Africa. Then there were the musical influences of the African slaves brought to the Americas.

Some Latin American countries with links to some of their popular musical forms:

ARGENTINA – Tango, Milonga
BOLIVIA – Chacarera
BRAZIL – Bossa Nova
CHILE – Nueva CancionRapa Nui
CUBA – HabaneraSalsa
HAITI –Kompa
MEXICO – Mariachi
PANAMA – Plena
PARAGUAY –Polka Paraguaya

The group Bossanation appears on the DVD. You can see more of them in action on Bossanation’s Myspace Page

See and hear Latin music here