Music has been a part of Latin
American culture for millennia. A rabbit plays a drum on
this detail from a Maya vase, ca. 600-900 A.D. Photo used with
permission of Justin Kerr. Vase I.D. # K-1208
Welcome! This website was created by members of Anthropology 175: Peoples of the World at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (summer, 2004). The pages on this site provide anthropological perspectives on a number of musical genres from Latin America and the Caribbean.
How can we better understand people who are different from ourselves? Basic methods in cultural anthropology include long-term fieldwork and participant observation, but these are not practical for most non-anthropologists. Another way to approach another culture is through the things people create, including art. Art "condenses reality" (Dewey 1934:84) and may express, reinforce, or challenge the norms and ideals of any culture.
For this project, we used recorded music because it presents an opportunity to experience the art of another culture in a fairly direct way. The anthropological study of music in its cultural and historical context is known as ethnomusicology (for definitions, see Merriam 1977). Each student was asked to choose a country and a musical style and to place the music into a broad cultural context. Why did this musical genre emerge here? Which local concerns are revealed in this music? Each student page also contains a link to a song in the style, a translation of the song's lyrics, and an interpretation. These pages show that music is a rich source of cultural information.
Click on the student names to the left to see each page.
1934 Art as Experience. Capricorn Books, New York
Merriam, Alan P.
1977 "Definitions of 'Comparative Musicology' and 'Ethnomusicology': An Historical- Theoretical Perspective." Ethnomusicology 21 (2): 189-204.