If I were to try and summarise the music I might say it’s confused, confusing, vibrant, tacky, passionate and as varied throughout the continent as the landscapes.
Music is absolutely everywhere and mostly very loud and often closer to noise than anything else. That’s probably partly because a lot sounds tacky to me but also, since it is everywhere, because bus’s might have growling engines and wind rushing through the windows to combat the immense heat of the day; a street has cars, barking dogs and other sound systems to contend with; a shop or internet cafe is full of chattering, shouting kids, crashes and screams from x-box games, squeaky doors and people singing along; so assuming the sound quality is actually good there’s not much chance of it sounding that great amongst everything else.
Sounds like a rant that, but it’s all just real observations. Better than saying “Music is everywhere in South America” would be “South America is noisy”.
At least the music varies an incredible amount with so many different genres being massively popular.
The mothers of all genres would probably be Salsa and Reggaeton. Salsa you probably know – full of energy, spicy, bongo type percussion, often brass instruments, often a superb lead singer and typically a group of 3 or 4 backing male singers. I still can’t dance it. I’ve never had a lesson, but, sometimes you don’t get much choice but to get up and strut.
Reggaeton is a beast in itself. It has a chunky beat with a ska/reggae kind of rhythm and usually gangster style kind of rapping and not much else – but it’s catchy, fun and massive. Some artists are doing well in the States too; the big guns include Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Tito El Bambino and Calle 13 – a clever rapper along the lines of a Spanish speaking Eminem but probably a lot more racist and controversial but great lyrics all the same.
The bigger stars seem to be from Puerto Rico.
As for the other big genres there’s Merengue and Cumbia which are widely popular. I thought I was starting to understand these two until I was recently confused and gave up on telling Cumbia apart from Salsa and Merengue, they seem to merge to me.
On top of all these there are loads of styles of ‘music’ that you find regionally: Tango is great, mostly heard in Argentina and is usually one of the higher quality styles, typically using no synthesised instruments. Colombia has Vallenato (instruments in pic below) music using an Accordion, a scraping instrument called a Guacharaca and a drum along with a singer, and has appeal stretching into neighbours Ecuador and and Venezuela. Colombia also has a not so well known seldom listened to music termed Momposina – one of my favourite of the whole continent – with African roots and a female singer with a tribal chant style.
Venezuela has one of the more comedy genres called Joropo or Musica Llanera coming from the lowlands (Los Llanos) is a guy half rapping as he sings about how he is a humble Llanos cowboy and likes to ride horses accompanied by a harp, maracas and a small type of guitar. On first listen it sounds terrible. On 2nd, 3rd and 4th listen it still sounds awful. BUT, eventually, after enough bus/pickup rides you can start to almost appreciate it if you listen, at least, to the lyrics.
One running idea nearly every music type is to fit as many words into each line of song as possible causing the singer to rush them out as quickly as possible. This happens a lot in the soppy cheesey ballads, very popular everywhere, and just sounds awkward to me, surely leaving the guy out of breath on every line.
About these “soppy cheesey ballads”. They really are soppy – incredibly lovey dovey, something the macho guys don’t seem to be in their everyday lives. One classic is a very popular Argentinian singer, Axel, who has one particular tune called “I love you” that goes on and on like this:
“I love you in the morning
and in the afternoon
I love you in the body
and in your spirit
I love that which you love
I love you”
…and on and on and on…
As I’m writing this they’ve turned the soppy rock balad tunes up. Great. I’ve already sat through the spanish version of “Unbreak my heart” twice.
I bought loads of CDs, including some of the very cheesiest stuff as souvenirs, so remind me to sample you some when you come round…
>>> Note that I wrote all of the above about 5 weeks ago whilst I was still in Venezuela.
I’m now back home in Blighty (arrived yesterday) and didn’t want to post this until I had given Brasil a chance to influence me.
So, in all I spent about 3 weeks in Brasil – a tiny period of time for such a huge country but I did pick up on some of the music.
The most obvious is Samba. Being there for Carnaval I obviously heard tons of it. I love it. It’s one of the most energetic styles of music I’ve heard, all positive with some of the sweetest percussion imaginable (pic left shows one of many types of samba drum). A day before leaving Brasil I saw a parade in a small town. The parade was mostly made up of youngsters and kids but still the drumming section was awesome.
Other than that I didn’t get exposed to a lot else apart from a very easy-going style with accordions. Don’t know what they call it but it’s fun and I have a CD from one band. As well as that I noticed that they love to cover big classic English songs (like Beatles) and translate and create Portuguese lyrics – strange and cool to hear.
So that’s my South American music experience in a rambling nutshell about as coherent as the music itself.