Craig White's Literature Courses

Historical Backgrounds

Native American
Indian Music

(web review presentation assignment)

Indian Empires of Central and South America

Music--especially rhythmic percussion, dancing, and chanting--is common to all human societies, and the music we and our acquaintances love may appeal to us so deeply that its appeal feels "universal."

But music can express and embody cultural and sub-cultural styles and values that appeal to one community and not another. For instance, when people who love European classical music hear hip-hop or recordings from a faraway tribal gathering, they may say "That's not music!" Classical music and Country & Western music may employ similar systems for pitch and rhythm, but what is beautiful or moving to one audience may leave the other audience cold.

American Indian music makes only occasional appearances in popular American culture, so the music below may be unfamiliar, but what can one learn or guess by listening to it or watching its performance?

Possible discussion questions:

1. How much or in what ways does the music's style and performance conform to modern popular conceptions of music? How and why may it seem strange or unfamiliar?

2. How much does tribal music appear ceremonial or public, designed to unify a community or entertain a court?

3. How much does American Indian music appear as a group effort, erasing divisions of performer and audience? How does it appear inseparable from dance? How much does this resemble modern musical culture or not? (Compare later to Olaudah Equiano's descriptions of African music and dance.)


Central American Indians

Mayan Music

Mayan clay flute

Mayan drums

Guatemalan Mayan music

Música Maya Aj - Renacer de los Nawales

North American Indians

Sioux music

North American Indian Powwow Drums 2010 Colorado

Plains Indians War Dance Song

Seneca Indian Powwow (Iroquois Confederacy)

Cherokee Powwow NC 2010