The Latin beat from the heart of Africa

11 July 2002
SOUTH African College of Music (SACM) graduand Carlos Escalante Macaya travelled non-stop for three days and covered eleven and half thousand kilometres in order to trace the roots of Latin American music, which he says, lie in Africa.

A native of Costa Rica, Macaya says that while studying in his country, he would in his spare time research the origins of sounds and instruments that are prevalent in Latin American music. "I am not a trained musicologist, but I did my own research focusing on the roots of Latin American music and it is no mystery that it is heavily influenced by African music, especially Latin countries in the Caribbean."

According to Macaya, most folk music in Cuba is heavily influenced by Africa. In fact, some songs, though the dialect may be distorted, are sung in some African languages, while in his native Costa Rica the national instrument is the marimba.

"Very little is known about the origins of some of the most popular instruments like the marimba. There is still a misconception that some of these instruments are indigenous to Latin America. In fact I am convinced that some of the best marimba players are from Costa Rica," he jokes.

Macaya says that his interest in African sound influenced his decision to come to UCT to do his Masters in Composition, for which he received a distinction and will graduate cum laude on Friday. "I applied to several places in Africa, but I liked Cape Town and the fact that it is multi-cultural, and this is reflected at UCT. This cultural diversity means that different ethnic groups have a chance to have their music studied which is important for someone like me."

Where to after graduation? "I am not sure. I will go to France for a holiday and maybe I will go and study further in Scotland or Ireland. I am quite interested in the sounds and origins of Celtic music," he says.

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