Hispanic Culture: Music & Poems

Instructor: Elena Sacramento Lechado

Elena has a PhD in linguistics from University of La Laguna (Spain). Currently, she teaches Spanish as a foreign language and creates teaching resources.

This lesson explores music and poetry around the Spanish-speaking world. Read about different music styles and interesting artists from Spain and Latin America and learn some verses.

Music and Poetry in the Spanish-Speaking World

Who hasn't heard of mariachis or flamenco? And what about renowned literary figures such as the Nobel Prize Pablo Neruda? The Hispanic culture is rich and full of diverse music styles and talented artists that have crossed borders and captivated people from all around the world.

Let's go on a trip around different Spanish-speaking countries to discover their vibrant rhythms and poetry.

Hispanic Music

Music in Spain

When we think of Spain, the icons that always come to mind are flamenco and the Spanish guitar. Flamenco has its roots in the cante jondo (deep song) of the gypsies in Andalusia, and combines the dance with the sound of the acoustic guitar, or guitarra. The most common colors associated to flamenco are red, black and white.

Note: A male flamenco dancer is called bailaor and a female one is a bailaora.

Bailaora, singers and guitarists.

What about contemporary Spanish artists? Some internationally famous Spanish singers-songwriters, or cantautores, are Joaquín Sabina, Alejandro Sanz and the King of Latin pop Enrique Iglesias.

Music in Mexico

The mariachi band is one of the most famous symbols in Mexico. They are bands that play traditional songs like rancheras in weddings, celebrations or animating the streets. Their essential instruments are guitars, a violin and trumpets. They wear an embroidered costume called 'charro' and a big sombrero.

The mariachi is the musical symbol of the Mexican culture.

Music in Cuba

This beautiful country is characterized by its friendly people and vibrant music. Salsa, as well as being a spicy sauce made from tomatoes, onions and chillies, is a dance style originated in Cuba. This joyful genre includes lots of different percussion, string and wind instruments. Artists like Celia Cruz are representative of this music style.

Celia Cruz was an icon of salsa music.

Music in Argentina

Argentina is known as the cradle of the intimate and passionate tango. The history of tango started at the end of the 19th century in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, with the fusion of different music styles of Cuban, African and Italian immigrants.

This type of dance is characterized by elegant and sensual movements, and the lyrics are generally melancholic, talking about passion as well as lovesickness. Its typical orchestra includes a guitar, a violin, a piano, and the essential bandoneón, a type of concertina.

The bandoneon is the fundamental instrument of tango.

Hispanic Poetry

Now let's talk about some celebrated Hispanic poets, who are cherished not only in the Spanish-speaking world, but also internationally.

Poetry in Spain

Baroque was the greatest era in the history of the Spanish literature, known as the Spanish Golden Age. Francisco de Quevedo was a Spanish writer of the 17th century, and one of the representatives of this period.

The beginning of the 20th century lived the splendor of talented writers and poets such as Federico García Lorca. Lorca belonged to the Generation of '27, an influential group of poets of various styles affected by the political problems of the period and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

In his poem La guitarra, part of the collection Poema del cante jondo, he writes:

Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Se rompen las copas
de la madrugada.
Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Es inútil callarla.
Es imposible
Llora monótona
como llora el agua,
como llora el viento
sobre la nevada.


''There starts the weeping
of the guitar.
With the broken cups
of dawn.
There starts the weeping
of the guitar.
It's useless to silence it.
It's impossible
to silence it.
It cries monotonously
as cries the water,
as cries the wind
over the snowfall.''

Poetry in Chile

Chile gave birth to Pablo Neruda, whom Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez once said was ''the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.''

Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Over his career he wrote 45 books, including his famous collection of poems Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty love poems and a song of despair).

These celebrated verses belong to one of the poems within this collection:

Translation: I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

Poetry in Uruguay

Mario Benedetti was an award-winning Uruguayan novelist and poet who had to live in exile in Argentina, Cuba and Spain for twelve years for political reasons.

Benedetti published more than 80 books, including poetry, novels, tales, essays and plays. His poetry is direct and accessible, and some have been sung by Hispanic artists like Joan Manuel Serrat or Pedro Guerra.

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