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Latin Jazz

The term Afro-Latin covers a huge variety of music, resulting from the combination of elements of African styles with the Spanish, Portuguese, and even French cultures transplanted to South and Central America. The blend was achieved earlier and more thoroughly than any such hybrid in North American music before the 1970s - indeed, watered-down South American music was being successfully exported to the USA (and Europe) from the time of the tango in the l910s.

However, there were of course hints of African polyrhythms in ragtime and early New Orleans jazz, not to mention occasional borrowings from South American rhythms such as the habanera. So it was only to be expected that, by the 1930s jazzman including Duke Ellington were becoming interested in new Latin imports like the rumba and that bands from those countries who settled in the USA began incorporating jazz-induced improvisation. In this way, the stage was set for the first real collaborations, joining the innovators of bebop such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker with the innovators of the mambo such as Machito.

For a while, progress in this direction was sporadic, but since the early 1960s, with the introduction of the bugalu (and its soft-core contemporary, the bossa nova), there has been a continuous interchange in the USA between jazz and Afro-Latin musicians. As with any fusion, the lowest common denominator often seems to predominate but it's increasingly the case that the creative performers who have emerged on each side have real knowledge of both fields. What may be even more significant in the long run is that in the last three decades especially in Paris and London, musicians from Africa have been collaborating with players of a jazz/Afro-Latin background, and the latest fusions from various African counties have achieved some success in the USA.

Africa and Latin America are vast areas, and both still distinct regional styles in the way that North America used to before it became so homogenized. Possibilities for interaction are therefore endless and it has even been suggested that Latin jazz will eventually become the mainstream. John Storm Robert’s The Latin Tinge gives some idea of the ground covered so far.

 


 

 

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