1700s til today. Mexico. Son jarocho
The Catholic Church banned son jarocho – one of Mexico’s most politically charged musical genres – during the 18th century on the grounds it was immoral, and first the Spanish, then the Mexican authorities tried to isolate and suppress the genre. The most famous case is son jarocho’s signature song, ‘La Bamba’.
The instruments of son jarocho are legacies of the Conquest. Veracruzan tradition has it that the Spaniards took instruments from African and Indian slaves, and the slaves used common-day items as replacements. The lyrics contain many seemingly nonsensical phrases and words between direct attacks against the Mexican government. The jumbled lyrics allow singers to cleverly code messages from authorities, and the falsetto, rapid-fire voice customary to a group’s lead singer allows for further concealment. Son jarocho also encourages jaraneros (the name given to son jarocho players) to improvise lyrics and melodies at every performance, further creating a platform for musicians to comment on the news of the day.
1750-1880. Trinidad, Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Tambu
Tambu, the music used by slaves to express their sorrow and hardship, was prohibited by colonial authorities. Tambu eventually evolved into tumba, which has been the soundtrack for carnivals in the Carribeans since 1969.
1840. Puerto Rica. Danza
As a reaction against the highly codified contradanza, youthful danza songs – strongly influenced by Cuban immigrants and their habanera music – was condemned by the authorities, who occasionally, but ineffectively, tried to ban the genre.
1883. Trinidad. Drums
Drums, long popular in Trinidad, were banned in 1883 by British colonial rulers who feared they would be used to send secret messages encouraging a revolt. By the late 1930s drums were no longer prohibited, and islanders began making music using empty biscuit tins, paint cans and, eventually, big steel drums.
1890. Brazil. Capoeira
Capoeira, which is also known as the dance of freedom or dance of war, was created by African slaves in Brazil, dating to colonial times, as a means of self-defense disguised as a dance. For some time, after slavery was abolished in Brazil, capoeira became associated with criminal activity and was outlawed in 1890. The punishment for practicing the martial art form was severe and practitioners began to use nicknames to avoid being identified by the police. It wasn’t until the late 1920s, when the government of Brazil accepted capoeira as a cultural venue and ended its official ban by the 1930s.