Marimba Goes Mainstream

By Holston, Mark | Americas (English Edition), March-April 1990 | Go to article overview

Marimba Goes Mainstream


Holston, Mark, Americas (English Edition)


The resonant sound it produces seems to vibrate through the ages, putting the listener immediately in touch with peoples, times and places far removed from today's world. In its singular majesty, the marimba is an organic ink between cultures that stretch from the Orient and Africa to the New World. Yet this lion of the kingdom of musical instruments remains cloaked in unfortunate stereotypes, neither fully appreciated nor properly utilized, its rich potential largely untapped.

In the Western Hemisphere, the instrument is immediately associated with an important music tradition that extends from central Mexico to the northern part of South America. Although Guatemala and neighboring states in southern Mexico utilize the marimba the most extensively, talented players can be found throughout Central America and even in Ecuador, where descendents of African slaves fashion small marimba-like instruments out of pambil wood and cana de guadua.

As a member of the percussion family of instruments, the marimba shares some characteristics with drums, bells, scrapers and other devices struck by hand, stick or mallet to produce the desired sound. Where the marimba differs is in the sophistication of its construction and the skill required to play it well. Like its cousins, the metal vibraphone and the higher-pitched xylophone, the marimba's "keyboard" resembles that of the piano, the difference being that the rows of tuned wooden bars are played by striking them with a mallet. In the hands of a well-trained musician, the marimba is capable of rendering flurries of notes that can rival the articulations of a concert pianist.

Just where this ancient instrument was born is a matter of substantial and ongoing debate. The most widely accepted explanation of the marimba's origins is that it arrived in a very humble form with boatloads of West African slaves, and was modified and refined over several hundred years by the European and Mestizo inhabitants of Mexico and Central America. The presence of the marimba in West and Central Africa is well-documented, and early Spanish historians noted the arrival of a small marimba played with the thumbs when slave galleons docked in Havana en route to the continent. The instrument also evolved to a very sophisticated level in parts of Southeast Asia, and some musicologists maintain it spread from there via early trade routes to Africa.

A fascinating alternative theory is that the marimba was independently developed by the ancient Maya in the highlands of Guatemala. Several prominent Guatemalan academics offer an intriguing chain of linguistic and physical evidence that points to the existence of an instrument resembling the marimba long before the Spanish arrived and began to introduce African slaves into the region.

Regardless of its precise origin, the heart of contemporary marimba country is in the Chiapas highlands in southern Mexico, where a common heritage binds neighboring regions in western Guatemala and three Mexican states into a culturally unified whole. Here, craftsman employ time-honed skills to make instruments of ageless beauty, embodied with qualities that will awaken yet another generation of listeners to the magical qualities of the marimba.

The capital of Chiapas state, Tuxtla Gutierrez, and the nearby town of Chiapa de Corzo today produce most of the marimbas made in Mexico. On a narrow side street in Tuxtla, one of Mexico's premier marimba makers attends to his daily ritual of cutting, shaving, sanding and fitting, with occasional forays into composing. Oscar Ventura Cruz is a rarity--a skilled craftsman who also plays, composes and arranges for the instrument. With partner Andres Lopez, Cruz takes seasoned wood from the hormiguillo tree and fashions the amber material into the various components that will be assembled into instruments of traditional quality. The pair may spend up to four months making a five-and-a-half octave marimba. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Marimba Goes Mainstream
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.