The music of Curacao is a rhythmic blend of African, European, American and native Indian cultures. One must understand the history of Curacao first to see how these disparate cultures came together to create the unique Curacao sound and beat.
Curacao is an island nation situated in the Caribbean Sea just off the northern tip of Venezuela. When the Spaniards landed here in 1499, they relocated most of the native Indian population to other areas. In 1634, the Dutch West India Company started a trade port at present day Willemstad. It quickly became a major port for the Atlantic slave trade.
This slave trade attracted numerous Europeans who built their fortunes here. After the Napoleonic Wars, the Dutch outlawed slavery on Curacao in 1863. Many of the former slaves stayed in Curacao and worked small plots of land for subsistence and pay.
The discovery of of oil in 1914 attracted a massive migration of people from the nearby South American countries. The oil trade created affluence and good housing for many of the residents here.
In the late 20th century, the polyglot of different cultures worked out an arrangement to share in the island’s abundance, and they made Curacao a major tourist attraction. These varied cultural groups developed a unique sound for Curacao music.
Music anthropologists label Curacao music as a mix of African, Latin, native and European influences. This music absorbs other musical trends from various surrounding countries, including Cuba, Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico. Curacao is famed for its energetic or romantic waltzes, mazurkas, danzas and tumbas.
The waltz is considered both a folk dance and a gliding ballroom dance that is traced to Europe. The mazurka is a Polish folk dance. Chopin is the most famous mazurka composer. Danza arrived in Curacao from Puerto Rico. This is another ballroom dance similar to the waltz and can be romantic or festive. Women and their love of romance inspired the danza. The tumba received its inspiration from Africa and was introduced to the island in the 17th century. Today, Tumba takes its cue from Latin jazz and merengue.
The smaller island of Saba features dancing and music at various restaurants, which includes reggae, souk, bouyon, hip hop and disco. The residents on Sint Eustatius Island hold impromptu street dances with music playing from boom boxes. These are known as road blocks. In Aruba, music plays a critical role to celebrate holidays and carnivals. The carnival music started in Trinidad near the start of the 19th century. The most favored musical themes for these carnivals are romantic tunes, calypso and tumba drums.
African tumba dominates the Curacao music scene. Tumba is the musical de rigueur for Curacao’s popular Carnival Road March. Some of these tumba songs are considered scandalous or bawdy and are not always heard in public. The first composer to write lyrics for tumbas was Jan Gerard Palm.
Other popular Antillean music includes waltzes, danzas, pasillos and mazurkas. This music is classified by residents of Aruba and Curacao as classical.
Tumba is typically played with bentas, gogorobis and a flute and features Afro-Curacaoan rhythms.
Curacao blues, typically called Tambu, is music from the slavery era that highlights sadness and suffering. Women are the primary singers for this style. Sometimes this music is accompanied by erotic dancing that the Catholic Church tried to ban.
The seu is an old slave harvest dance that features drums and dancing to mimic planting and harvesting the crops. The Easter Monday parade in Willenstad features this style of Curacao music.
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