Home » Blog posts » Culture and Music in In the Heights by Rachel Calvosta
Posted by essinec on Thursday, November 10, 2016 in Blog posts.
Ask any musical theatre nerd and they will tell you: Lin Manuel-Miranda is a genius. He recently wrote and starred the smash hit Hamilton, a rap opera about the founding fathers. But before he became a household name with Hamilton, he wrote another amazing musical: In the Heights.
In the Heights is a musical about a predominantly Latin neighborhood called Washington Heights in New York City. It has rap influences as well as many Latin influences, such as salsa music. There is also use of the Spanish language as well as English, to show how connected the neighborhood is. Although the residents may all be from different parts of Latin America, they are bonded by the fact that they speak Spanish. This applies to every resident except one: Benny. Throughout the show, he constantly tries to prove himself as a resident of the neighborhood.
One song that shows the importance of the Spanish language to el barrio is âSunriseâ. In this number, Nina and Benny have a romantic duet. Nina is Latina while Benny is not, although Benny does work for her father. She is teaching him Spanish as they wake up after spending the night together. This not only shows how dedicated Benny is to learning Spanish to fit in, but also how love can cross cultures and how love is so universal. She sings in Spanish and English, while he only sings in English. However, they are saying the same things. Their beautiful harmonies, even though they are in different languages, mesh so well together that the audience knows that they are meant to be together. âSunriseâ is a beautiful example of how the Spanish language is used to prove that love can cross cultures and how beautiful it can be.
Another interesting use of the Spanish language is the Finale. Throughout the show, Usnavi wants to go home to the Dominican Republic where his parents are from. He feels stuck in between two cultures, not belonging to New York but not living in his homeland. Miranda shows that by having Usnavi switch from English to Spanish frequently throughout the show. Ultimately, although he gets the money to go to the Dominican Republic, he decides to stay in Washington Heights. When he makes this decision in âFinaleâ, he doesnât use a word of Spanish. This shows the audience that he finally realizes that although his homeland will always be a part of him, Washington Heights is where he belongs.
The Spanish language is frequently used in this musical to show the culture of the residents of Washington Heights. Rap and salsa shows the audience the life and culture of the residents. And although Spanish may be the unique part of this show, the times when characters use English are significantÂ to the storyline as well.
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Spanish Music History
It comes as no surprise that the evolution of Spanish music is every bit as extensive and diverse as Spain's history. No other European country boasts such a unique melting pot of musical elements, each plucked from the various cultures of Spain's past.
Part of what makes Spain so fascinating is the wide range of cultures that have woven their way into its history and culture. During the first eras of Spain's existence, meshing cultures inadvertently impacted each other on every level- and without a doubt contributed significantly to the history of Spanish music. The early Romans brought along ideas and music of neighboring Greece, the rise of the Visigoths saw the flourishing of sacred music and chants stemming from the Church, and under the tolerant Moors, Jewish, Christian, and Moorish music simultaneously blossomed. Regional music was on the rise, but with the reconquista that rise came to a screeching halt as the government declared a prohibition of such music.
The history of Spanish music continued to evolve with the dawning of the Renaissance period. Instrumental music emerged and flourished, most notably with the influence of Arabic music and the development of the Spanish guitar. After the reconquista of the 16th century, the polyphonic singing style, featuring complementing voices, developed probably through contact with Spain's northern neighbors France and Flanders. As mobility throughout the European continent improved, musicians began travelling from country to country - especially to Rome - and picking up ideas and styles along the way. These years of exponential development yanked Spain from anonymity and placed it firmly on the musical map as great classical composers like Francisco Guerrero and Tomás Luis de Victoria surged to the forefront.
17th and 18th Centuries
One of the greatest manifestations of Spain's musical talents appeared during this next period of the history of Spanish music. The zarzuela- a lighter, Spanish form of opera- developed and blossomed, making it the cultural phenomenon that it continues to be today. Contrasting the developments of the previous century, classical music development screeched to a halt and entered into a two-century long decline. The history of Spanish music saw, instead, the surge of popular and folk music throughout the various regions of Spain.
After the Spanish Civil War and subsequent fifty-year repressive government, the dictator Francisco Franco, intent on creating a uniform and nationalist country, banned everything pertaining to regional cultures. Regional languages, literature, and music was banned, burned, and berated. As a result, Spain's wide range of folk music that had developed over the past centuries didn't disappear, but its practice was certainly kept hidden from the watchful eyes of Franco's government.
As Spain approached the end of Franco's regime, the rise of pop music and rock 'n' roll marked another important notch in the history of Spanish music. American and British groups were storming the international music scene and not even Franco could prevent Spain from eventually following suit. The earliest Spanish pop essentially imitated French pop, which interestingly enough was already imitating American and British pop. Spanish artists added flamenco passion and rhythms into the mix, giving it a genuine Spanish touch that you can still find in today's pop music. Spain's tourism boom of the 60's and 70's brought in musical styles from all over the world, while the 80's saw the rise of the movida. Following Franco's death young people dabbled in newfound freedom and alternative lifestyles not prevented by the restored democratic government. Spanish rock 'n' roll, punk, and pop music shot to the forefront and has been unstoppable ever since.