Music & Dance
Music and Dancing
The marimba is Nicaragua’s national instrument. A percussion instrument, it is made of wooden or metal keys or tubes of different lengths, and played with one, two, or four mallets. Guitars and other percussion instruments usually accompany it, but the marimba is the most popular instrument in the central and western departments of the country.
In the Atlantic coast departments, the music has a strong afro-Caribbean influence and its rhythms are intense, sensual, and frenzied. The best occasion to experience this music is during the Palo de Mayo (May Pole) festival in the city Bluefield.
There is also a strong theatrical heritage in the country, and enchanting music is often combined with stage plays to carry the audience back to another era. The majority of these shows are performed during town festivals, and on occasion at the Ruben Dario National Theater. Among the most important portrayals are the “Nicaraguan Native” and the epic drama of “El Gigante” (The Giant), which deals with the natives’ conflict with the conquering Spaniards. “El Gueguense” (The Wise Man), on the other hand, is a mocking depiction of the Spaniards.
“El Gueguense” is a satirical drama that combines Spanish and indigenous theater, dance, and music. It is considered one of the most important works of the colonial era in Latin America. In 2005, UNESCO declared this play an important representation of Nicaraguan folklore, calling it a “masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
The play begins with a conversation in which the Spanish Governor Tastuanes orders the Sheriff to forbid singing, dancing, and entertainment of any kind within the Royal Municipality, because the people are suffering through a period of serious poverty. At the same time, he orders that no one enter the province without his permission.
The Sheriff blames the poverty on a so-called “Gueguense” (wise man) that lives in the area, and orders that the Gueguense be brought to him immediately. The Sheriff introduces himself to the Gueguense as a servant of the Governor. The Gueguense has already heard of the Governor’s orders, but pretends to understand that the Sheriff is looking for a calf or a colt.
When the Sheriff speaks to him, the Gueguense treats him as a servant. The Sheriff corrects him and tells him he must “fly” to meet with the Governor. “Running and Flying?” says the Gueguense. “How does he want a poor old man, suffering from continuous pain and calamities to run and fly? My friend, Sheriff, what does the goldfinch do that sits at the entrance of Governor Tastuanes door?” The Sheriff answers “Sing and entertain the big lords”.
Then the Sheriff offers to show him how to greet the Governor. The Gueguense agrees to take the lesson, but he makes fun of the Sheriff’s request of payment for the lessons with a series of jokes and puns. Finally, he agrees to pay the Sheriff once he has received the promised instructions.
The Sheriff recites the words of greeting, which the Gueguense pretends not to understand, but rather repeats similar phrases that would be considered impolite to the Governor. The Sheriff gets impatient and begins repeating what he has to say, but the Gueguense continues making fun of what the Sheriff is trying to teach him and continues to change its meanings.
The best examples of Nicaraguan folklore can be found in the music and dance performed during towns’ patron-saint festivities. These folkloric celebrations of patron saints combine the Spanish colonial influence with indigenous celebratory elements.
Among the best-known folklore dances are:
• Bailes de Negra
• Toro Huaco
• Bailes de Húngaras
• Bailes del Mestizaje
• Toro Venado
• El viejo y la vieja
• El Tinco
• El Atabal
• Palo de Mayo
• Los Zompopos