The history of Latin America is full of contradictions and triumphs, just like the history of humanity. Precisely, one of those victorious events that define the region is the influence of African music forged through the centuries.
It is impossible to imagine Latin music genres like salsa, merengue, or samba without the influence of drums and the syncopated flavor of African culture. The slaves kidnapped from Africa brought with them their instruments, indigenous dances, and rich musical traditions. Today, we remember the influence of black aesthetics in some of the tastiest styles in the Latin American universe.
If we talk about African rhythms, we have to start with Cuba. Between 1522 and the end of the 19th century, more than half a million slaves were transported to the island to work on the plantations. Back in 1840, half of the Cuban population came from West Africa.
In the docks of Havana and Matanzas, the rumba was born, when the workers took advantage of their free time to sing and dance, playing complex rhythms on the cajons that came from the ships.
From the bomb to the sauce
In Puerto Rico, the importation of sugar cane from the Dominican Republic in the 16th century transformed regions like Ponce and Loiza into sugar centers. These places contained a significant population of slaves who came from different places and could not communicate.
Music became a common language to rebel against its masters and thus, the bomb was born, a catchy and irresistible style, anchored in percussion.
African culture had a momentous impact on Brazil, where slaves began arriving in 1538 until the mid-19th century. It is estimated that more than 4 million Africans reached the Brazilian coast after having survived the hard crossing of the Atlantic.
Because the country’s black population was so vast and many Portuguese married African women, their culture was protected and found fertile ground on the new continent. In the center of the country, the quilombos, a kind of politically organized settlement, served as a refuge for runaway slaves and acted as sanctuaries for African tradition.
In Colombia – another musical giant – African influence quickly combined, in great harmony with European melodies and indigenous sensibilities. But Africa was the very base of the cumbia, the Colombian rhythm that, over the years, infected the rest of the American continent.
The same aesthetic breadth of Colombia appears in Peru, where Afro-Peruvian music emerged with vigor in the 1950s. Thanks to singer-songwriter Nicomedes Santa Cruz. Based primarily on dry Cajon hits, rich vocal harmonies, and string instruments, this genre found talented followers such as the group Peru Negro and the singer Susana Baca who, through their international concerts.
Musicians and rhythms
From Panama, Venezuela, and Costa Rica to Bolivia and Uruguay, there is no Latin American country whose music has been immune to the power and beauty of African rhythms. Even the word tango, some suggest is a derivative of Shango, a Yoruba reference to the god of thunder in Nigeria.