Marimba – Guatemala’s National Instrument

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Growing up, I always listened to Marimba when I visited Guatemala. The Marimba is a percussion instrument, similar to a wooden xylophone, that is played by two or more people.

While Marimba may not have originated from Guatemala entirely, it has become an iconic cultural symbol of Guatemala. During their declaration of independence in 1821, Marimba was cited as the national instrument of Guatemala. If you ever visit Guatemala, you can hear the sounds of the rosewood keys and the upbeat rhythms at traditional Guatemalan restaurants in Quetzaltenango and Guatemala City. Marimba is Guatemala’s national instrument but few know about the unique sound. From small bars in Guatemala to larger establishments such as Albamar, you can still hear the music today as when I did 10 years ago.

Marimba was always played when I spent time with my Grandpa and he wanted to reminisce about his childhood. He grew up in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (Where I was born) and immigrated into the US during his early 20s. He always tells me about the Marimba concerts he attended. There were even professional bands that would play at his city’s plaza.

Today, you can hear him say “Alexa, play Luna de Xelajú” and see him dance to the sound of the Marimba.

Over the years with changing customs and music preferences, Marimba has slowly started to decline in popularity. There are many efforts within Guatemala and outside to continue the culture and music. Like all music from the past (Jazz, Swing, Classical) it will continue to be there. With Spotify, YouTube, and even Alexa, it is now more accessible than ever.

Whenever, I want to connect with my culture, I play some Marimba to remember my heritage and some of the great memories I had in Guatemala growing up.

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