South American Music in Miami
Colombian, Venezuelan, and Peruvian Traditions

The Americas, North and South, are coming together. One point of encounter is the crossroads city of Miami. Though Spanish-speaking people have lived in Miami since the city’s founding in 1896, their presence greatly increased with the large migration of Cubans to South Florida, following the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Today, every Spanish-speaking country in the Americas is represented in Miami. Among the fastest-growing groups are South Americans.

During 2001-2002, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida conducted research with three large South American communities in Miami: Colombians, Venezuelans, and Peruvians. The 2000 U.S. census for Miami-Dade County lists 104,058 Colombians, 32,456 Venezuelans, and 18,579 Peruvians, though actual populations are estimated to be much higher. South American Music in Miami, an online exhibition based on the museum’s research, focuses on a representative sample of musicians and musical traditions in Miami’s Colombian, Venezuelan, and Peruvian communities.

Colombian, Venezuelan, and Peruvian musical traditions have Native American, Hispanic, and African sources. In addition, specific traditions are associated with broad geographical regions in South America: the Upper Amazon forest, the Andean mountains, the plains of the Orinoco River basin, and the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

In Miami, Native American traditions are represented by musical ensembles from the Peruvian Andes. Hispanic musical heritage is most apparent in guitar-accompanied vocal duos and trios; in the arpa, cuatro, and maracas sound of música llanera from Los Llanos (“The Plains”) of Venezuela and Colombia; and in the bambuco song style of the Colombian Andean region, typically accompanied on a tiple.

Central European influence, with Hispanic and African nuances, is found in the vals criollo (creole waltz) of coastal Peru. The European brass band tradition adds Afro-Latin percussion in the papayera, a dance band style of towns of Colombia's Atlantic (Caribbean) coast.

African-influenced types of South American music are the best-known internationally and have the strongest presence in Miami. Popular traditions include cumbia and vallenato, dance musics from Colombia’s Atlantic coast; coastal Venezuelan gaita music associated with the Christmas season; and coastal Afro-Peruvian music, characterized by the cajón (a wooden box drum).

In Miami, these and other musical traditions are performed in homes, clubs, restaurants, and large outdoor festivals. The traditions serve as symbols of national identity, as antidotes to the crises of migration, and as sources of income. Extensive contact in South Florida between peoples from different South American and other countries has encouraged musicians to experiment with their traditions and adapt them to new audiences.

 

Click on small images to enlarge.

Peruvian fiddler Miguel Sulca, director of Alma Andina.
Photograph by Martha Ellen Davis.


Requinto player Armando Echeverría, from the Peruvian ensemble Los Bardos de América.
Photograph by Carl Juste.


Colombian vocalist Astrid Bulla, with música llanera ensemble.
Photograph courtesy of Astrid Bulla.


Members of La Gran Banda from Colombia: Jorge Pérez, snare drum (left); Iván de las Salas, bass drum (right); and de la Salas’s son, Christian.
Photograph by Carl Juste.

click to enlarge
Members of Venezuela Tambor y Canto: Gustavo García, lead vocals and charrasca (scraper); Nancy Martínez, vocals.
Photograph by Richard Patterson.

 
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Colombian accordionist Alfonso Henríquez of Los Príncipes del Vallenato.
Photograph by Nathalia Franco.

Colombian Traditions Venezuelan Traditions Peruvian Traditions Photograph Galleries Audio Recordings Glossary Credits