Updated: Oct 31, 2021
In many neighborhoods in Latin America, it’s not too early for strolling players, musicians, and singers to start rehearsing the latest Villancicos, Aguinaldos, Parrandas, and Gaitas for the upcoming Christmas season.
Villancicos, a popular medieval song-form that originated in Spain, is heard during Christmas time in Spain and throughout Mexico, Central and Latin America. Played on guitars, mandolins, and sung, these traditional Spanish Christmas carols are performed in city plazas, homes, and churches from mid-November to early January.
The Caribbean region enjoys Aguinaldos as its special Christmas music, derived directly from the Spanish Villancico but with added Afro-Caribbean rhythms and instrumentation. Aguinaldos are played with tambourines, maracas, guiros, Spanish guitar, and Cuatro guitar, with lyrics about religious themes, like the birth of baby Jesus and the Three Kings Day.
Also from the Caribbean, Parrandas are more festive and faster in tempo but feature the same basic instrumentation as the Aguinaldos, with some groups adding trumpets, trombones, electric bass, electric piano, and modern drums for large event or concert performances.
Finally, the Afro-Venezuelan rhythms of Gaita, originally from the Zulia region. combine the Venezuelan Cuatro guitar, metalic guiro, the unique sounding Furro, the powerful Tambora drums, the cowbell, electric bass, piano, and vocals. Gaita lyrics also tell religious stories, but since the seventies have broadened to include more secular, social, political, and cultural themes.