Music of Latin America
Mayan Musical Traditions
Mayan musical traditions are characterized by a hybrid nature of pre and post Encounter traditions, instrumentation, beliefs, practice and performance. Today someone can examine contemporary Mayan music to identify these European and indigenous characteristics. This paper is about the scholarly literature and musical selections of Mayan music to confirm the premise of hybridization. The social context of Mayan music today references the culture of pre and post Encounter. The music of the Maya “is a function of the Maya belief system, in which the ancient Mayan religion has accommodated a considerable overlay of Christian beliefs, symbols, and practices” (Olsen & Sheehy, 2008, p. 226). For example, musical events tend to coincide with Roman Catholic festivals and the Mayan agricultural calendar, reflecting the integration of both cultures. While official events might focus on European traditions, more intimate events, such as those involving marriage, illness, and birth, reference more traditional Mayan customs (Olsen & Sheehy, 2008). The music at these events is more likely to have instrumentation and performance qualities similar to those of ancient Mayan tradition, such as the use of a shaman singing a ritual chant. This chant departs significantly from post Encounter musical theory, involving the singing of a single tone that drops to a lower pitch when the shaman pauses briefly to take a breath (Olsen & Sheehy, 2008). Other shamanic musical performances include dancing and certain types of dress, such as a rainmaking shirt. In many cases, these ritualistic events also use instrumentation from the post Encounter influence. For example, the rain making performance includes accompaniment from a guitar, even though the text of the song is ancestral rather than Christian-European. Also, the rain-making performance includes text that references the Mayan view of the universe and...
References: Marimba. (2012). Oxford Music Online. Retrieved November 10, 2012 from
Olsen, D. & Sheehy, D. (2008). The Garland Handbook of Latin American Music. New York:
Pellicer, S. (2005). Maya achi marimba music in Guatemala. Atlanta: Temple University Press.
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