Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

The folk & traditional music of Europe, Africa & the Americas explored.

Home Main Menu Singing & Playing Order & Order Info Support Search Voucher Codes

Share page  Visit Us On FB

Previous Contents Next
whose technology and whose social and political organization were considerably higher than those of most nonliterate tribes, and which were comparable perhaps to some of the ancient civilizations of Eu­rope and Asia. We are speaking, of course, of the Mayas of the Yucatan peninsula (who developed a kind of written communica­tion), the Aztecs, and some of their predecessors, the Inca of Peru, and the Chibcha of Colombia. Little of their musical culture has re­mained, but there is archeological evidence to support the belief that they had rather elaborate musical practices and styles. Their instru­ments were larger in number—though not much more complex—than those of other tribes. Pictorial representations of groups of instru­mentalists indicate that playing in ensembles was a common prac­tice. The Mexican cultures, though together they span hundreds of years, seem to have used essentially the same instruments: Prominent were the teponatzli, a log drum with a slit similar to some of the West African signal drums; the tlapitzalli (our names here are the Nahuatl forms—this is the language of the Aztecs), a true flute with four finger holes, made of clay, reed, or bone, with major seconds and minor thirds as the main intervals; the huehuetl, a kettle drum which was produced in several distinct sizes and pitches; a conch-shell trumpet; rattles; and rasps. The Incas added to these types a large number of ocarinas, flutes with varying numbers of finger holes (three to eight), and panpipes. The identity of tuning of some Peruvian panpipes with some of Oceania has been a factor in the debate about the possibility and nature of contact between native South America and Oceania.
According to early Spanish accounts4 of the remnants of Aztec culture, the Aztecs recognized only religious music, and musical life was largely in the hands of a professional religious caste. Some instruments themselves had divine power. Music was normally per­formed by groups in concert, and responsorial singing was heard. Musicians were trained rigidly, and performances had to be com­pletely accurate in order to please the deities; errors such as missed drumbeats were punished.
Before their discovery by the Spaniards, the Inca evidently had an even more elaborate musical culture than the Aztecs. The ruler
4 Robert Stevenson, Music in Mexico (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1952), pp. 14-19.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III