A single song can transport a listener on a trip around the world, once you understand the cultural connections that are rooted in popular music.
Percussionist and educator Tony Davidson-Gomez was on hand at Stewart Elementary School in Puyallup last week to help teachers and community members make those links using Latino music.
But the approach works on a number of musical fronts. In fact, Davidson-Gomez will be back in March with another presentation focusing on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean music.
The recent workshop, sponsored by both the Puyallup School District and Humanities Washington, was all about the pulsating rhythms and passionate story-telling that dominate music from Latin American cultures.
“Music tells our stories,” said Davidson-Gomez, a Puyallup resident.
Those stories start with defining who Latinos are, he told the audience.
He used a series of photographs — his friends and family members — and asked the audience to identify which pictures show people who are Latino. The answer: everyone, from the blonde-haired toddler to the African American gentleman to the fellow whose family heritage is from both Asia and South America.
He says that terms such as Latino, Hispanic or Mexicano are used by a variety of groups with cultural ties.
“It’s not a language, it’s a cultural orientation,” said Davidson-Gomez. “It’s a constellation of factors that define this group.”
One huge influence on American Latino music, as on most American popular music, is the experience of African slaves who brought their musical backgrounds with them to the Americas. Stripped of their own culture, they learned to make music from everyday objects: boxes, barrels, even cow bells.
He says teachers can offer students important lessons about “the resilience of culture” by telling them the story of how African slaves were able to survive horrific experiences using the power of music.
Just as countries of origin and languages vary, so do the various forms of Latino music. It can mean anything from Mexican mariachi to Miami salsa, from Texas country and western to New York City rap and Latin-Caribbean reggaeton.
It’s everything from the cha-cha rhythm at the base of rock classic “Louie Louie” to the scratching sound of the “guiro” in the 1961 Ben E. King hit, “Stand By Me.”
One form of Latino music is called Son Jarocho, a type of Mexican folk music. One of the best-known songs to come from this style was a big hit for rocker Ritchie Valens in the 1950s: “La Bamba.”
Latino music, adds Davidson-Gomez, is “as diverse as the Latino experience.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635
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A glossary of some instruments used in making Latino music
Guitar: The foundation of much modern American popular music, which shows up in country, Western and rock-n-roll. The guitar’s roots are a mix of cultural influences — the European lute, the Mediterranean oud. The word “guitar” has origins in Spanish, Latin and ancient Greek.
Cajon (pronounced ka-hone): Its name means “big box” or “crate” in Spanish. Used as a percussion instrument, it is played by slapping the front or sides.
Quiro (pronounced gwi-ro): A notched tube made from a gourd or from modern materials such as fiberglass. The distinctive scratching sound comes from a stick that is rubbed back and forth across the notches.
Quijada de burro (pronounced key-hah-da de burro): Literally, a donkey’s jawbone. The sound comes from the rattle produced when a stick is rubbed across the loose skeletal teeth.
Conga: These big drums, with African roots, were originally made from rum barrels used in the colonial sugar trade in the Americas.