24 European Folk and Popular Music of South and Central America

Scotland: The Corries

The Corries were a Scottish folk duo that performed from the early 1960s until 1990. Made up of multi-instrumentalists Roy Williamson (1936-1990) and Ronnie Brown (Born 1937), the group achieved a level of success that very few other folk artists have. Their success began with them becoming the house group for a Scottish music television program, allowing them to become full time professional musicians. They would film sea songs on the Scottish coast, effectively pioneering the music video. In the 1970s they reached their peak success, continually releasing top selling albums and appearing on Television programs. The duo is notable for the authenticity of the lyrics used in their renditions of old folk songs as well as the adventurous use of various instruments from song to song. Williamson died in 1990, though Brown continues as a painter and solo performer.

Roy Williamson was also a skilled woodworker and invented an instrument called the “combolin”, combining a guitar, a mandolin, and sympathetic strings like an Indian sitar. Both Williamson and Brown played a multitude of instruments including: guitar, flute, percussion, mandolin, recorder, and many, many others.

Below: The lyrics to “Loch Lomond” with a few alterations such as the Scottish “sae” being modified to it’s translation “so”, and “ain” translated to “own”. A few other words have the approximate translation in parentheses. Notice verse-chorus form in the use of a refrain in the chorus where the lyrics are the same in every iteration, something we’ve seen throughout popular music especially towards the latter 20th century. This is notable given the age of the song.

Verse 1: O *wither away my bonnie may* (which direction)

So late an’ so far in the *gloamin’* (dusk/twilight)

The mist gathers grey o’er moorland and *brae* (hill)

O wither so far are ye roamin’? (To what place are you going?)

Chorus: O ye’ll take the high road an’ I’ll take the low

I’ll be in Scotland afore ye

For me and my true love will never meet again

by the bonnie bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond

Verse 2: I trusted my own love last night in the *broom* (bush)

My Donald wha’ loves me so dearly

For the morrow he will march for Edinburgh toon (town)

*Tae fecht* (to fight) for his King and Prince Charlie

O well may I weep for *yestreen* (yesterday)

in my sleep , we stood bride and bridegroom together.

But his arms and his breath were as cold as the death And his heart’s blood ran red in the heather


Verse 3: As dauntless in battle as tender in love

He’d yield ne’er a foor toe the foeman (enemy)

But never again *frae* (from) the field o’ the slain

To his Moira (woman’s name) will he come by Loch Lomond

The thistle may bloom, the King *hae his ain* (have his own)

And fond lovers may meet in the *gloamin’* (dusk/twilight)

And me and my true love will yet meet again

Far above the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond


Listening Examples 24.1

The Corries perform “Loch Lomond”, a traditional Scottish lament first published in 1841 but written earlier. Notice the unusual instrumentation of a concertina (A type of accordion without a keyboard) and a chromatic harmonica which provide a minimal, droning accompaniment to the vocals. The song uses a form that is clearly outlined in this case as the audience joins in the singing of the one section while the other section is sung in a very free rhythm. The Corries use an old Scottish dialect to sing the song rather than using English.

Ireland: The Dubliners

Five men singing into microphones.
Figure 24.1 The Dubliners

The Dubliners were a folk band formed in Dublin, Ireland in 1962 that was important in popularizing Irish folk music. It featured lead singers Ronnie Drew and Luke Kelly along with instruments such as violin, banjo, and acoustic guitars. They sang a mixture of traditional Irish and other folk tunes, modern songs, and instrumentals. Many of their recordings are considered “definitive” versions of classic folk songs.

Listening Examples 24.2

“In the Rare Old Times” features the band with orchestral strings adding color to a melancholy folk song lamenting the ever-changing and complex modern world. The song was written in the 1970s by Irish folk songwriter Pete St. John reflecting the massive changes to much of the world in the 2nd half of the 20th century. The lyrics display a longing for the simpler times of the past while facing the reality that things will never be the same as they were. The song uses verse-chorus form, in this case fitting with the times it was written in.

Italy – Fabrizio de Andre

Figure 24.2 Fabrizio de Andre

Fabrizio de Andre (1940-1999) was one of Italy’s most popular singer-songwriters, becoming well-known during the 1960’s when his socially conscious lyrics began resonating with Italian youth. His early period focused on a folk style influenced by American folk artists, while later musical endeavors would include innovations in the blending of Western Pop with World Music, contemporaneous with the work of Peter Gabriel and anticipating Paul Simon’s hit album, Graceland. Many of de Andre’s lyrics explored unsung, real-life characters; “Eclectic in his choice of subjects, from big-hearted prostitutes to disaffected civil servants, his music reflected a wide range of influences.” (New York Times). This approach to singing in recognition of those generally ignored or worse, de Andre draws parallels to songwriters like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

In 1984, de Andre released Crueza de Ma, an album sung entirely in the Genoese dialect (as opposed to Italian) and was named by David Byrne of Talking Heads as one of his favorite albums of the 1980s. The album blends elements of North African, Arabic, and Indian music with western music and was co-written with de Andre’s musical collaborator, Mauro Pagani. The title track blends these elements together along with advanced musical phrasing during the choruses which feature mixed meter: a 5-beat pattern followed by a 6-beat pattern followed by two bars of 4-beat patterns.

Listening Examples 24.3

Fabrizio de Andre:

Central and South America – Bossa Nova

Antonio Carlos Jobim – (1927-1994) was a Brazilian composer/songwriter who is credited with largely creating the genre of bossa nova. Bossa nova is a blend of Brazilian Samba (a dance oriented folk style) and the complex chord progressions of American jazz. It will often feature the nylon-string guitar, piano, and/or percussion instruments.

His song “The Girl from Ipanema” is one of the most recorded songs of all time. Many of his songs are now considered standards in jazz and pop music. His collaborations with jazz musicians Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd, and singers such as Frank Sinatra brought him to the attention of the English-speaking world. Notice the “stepwise” movement of the vocal melody in the song “How Insensitive” (Ch. 24 Listening Examples), where the melody Sinatra is singing moves very little. The melody goes up or down by small intervals rather than moving around a lot (as in gospel singing) or using leaps (big jumps from a low note to high note, or vice versa).

Listening Examples 24.4

Antonia Carlos Jobim:

Mexico – Mariachi

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán standing for a group photo.
Figure 24.3 Members of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Mariachi is the best known style of folk music from Mexico. It began as a rural ceremonial style but gradually spread to urban areas as its popularity grew. Mariachi became widely known through its appearance in Mexican films of the 1930s and 1940s. The primary instruments are those that were introduced by the arrival of the

Spanish including guitars, brass, and violins as well as passionate, harmonized group vocals. The “guitarron” is a guitar-like instrument that provides the primary rhythmic accompaniment to the music.

The group Mariachi Vargas formed in 1897, but in the 1930s and 1940s began appearing on film and television and brought the music to a new level due to their professional style and formal training. They backed many stars and also were among the first to include female singers. The Vargas continue to perform in the present day and are often considered the best and most well known mariachi group in the world.

Nueva Cancion

Nueva cancion is a musical style that blends Latin folk music with modern, socially conscious messages. The genre first emerged in the 1960s and soon became associated with revolutionary movements in central and south America. Many South American nations in the 1960s and 1970s were under military-led right wing dictatorships restricting free speech. Underground artists/musicians/writers/poets began creating works that criticized governments and endorsed revolution and revolutionary ideas. Stylistically, Nueva Cancion blends South American rural song forms, simple folk instruments such as guitar and panpipe, and are typically sung in Spanish, not indigenous languages, to help reach a wider audience. Musicians often faced censorship, exile, or even death for their music, which often contained political messages.

Violeta Parra

Black and white photo of Violette Parra.
Figure 24.4 Violette Parra.

Violeta Parra (1917-1967) was a singer/songwriter and folklorist from Chile who was one of the originators of Nueva Cancion when she began incorporating her own socially conscious lyrics into her music. Parra traveled around Chile collecting folk songs in rural places, transcribing the music and lyrics much in the same way American musicologists Alan Lomax and Charles Seeger did in the first half of the 20th century. Parra began writing original songs taking the traditional melodies and song forms from music she collected and updating the lyrics to sing of contemporary issues as well as personal expressions. Her music became more of a personal reflection towards the end of her career, especially on the last recordings she released during her lifetime, Las Ultimas Composiciones released in 1966. Her most famous song comes from this recording and is called “Gracias a la Vida” (“Thanks to Life”). The song was made famous to American listeners on folksinger Joan Baez’s Spanish-language album which she titled Gracias a la Vida (1974), offering a tribute to the importance of the song itself.

Mercedes Sosa

Black and white photo of Mercedes Sousa.
Figure 24.5 Mercedes Sousa.

Argentinian singer/songwriter Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009) was one of the most recognized and important Nueva Cancion musicians. Her music challenged the military dictatorship of Argentina, and she was eventually arrested at one of her concerts and exiled from the country. Her songs have been featured in films and she won a Latin Grammy award in 2000 for best folk album. “Duerme Negrito” or “Little Black Boy”, is a traditional folk song/lullaby from the perspective of a babysitter to the son of a slave. The song on the surface is relatively harmless, but the lyrics express a lamentation of the oppressed life of a slave, and the fear of the oppressor, and like so many nursery rhymes, it’s slightly disturbing.

“Duerme Negrito” translated to English

Sleep, sleep little black boy

For your mama is in the field, little black boy

Sleep, sleep Mobila

For your mama is in the field, Mobila

She is going to bring quails,

for you

She is going to bring sweet fruit,

for you

She is going to bring pork,

for you

She is going to bring lots of things,

for you

And if the little black boy doesn’t go to sleep

Then the white devil will come

and Zhaz!! He will eat your little leg

Chacapumba, chacapumba, acapumba, chacapumba

Sleep, sleep little black boy

For your mama is in the field, little black boy


Working hard (yes, working)

Working, she is mourning ( yes, working)

Working, she doesn’t get paid (yes, working)

Working, she goes coughing ( yes, working)

For the little black boy, little one

For the little black boy

yes, working.

Listening Examples 24.5

Mariachi Vargas: “Popurri Ranchero”

Excerpt from “Ay Jalisco No Te Rajes” (1941)

Mercedes Sosa: “Gracias a la Vida” written by Violetta Parra

Mercedes Sosa: “Duerme Negrito”



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Popular Music by Todd Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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