Skip to Main Content

International Music Resources by Country: Guatemala

International Music Resources offers an array of online and physical resources both freely available and/or offered by the George F. DeVine Music Library. The information included in these guides may serve as a starting point for the study and research of


Boat on the water viewing mountain topsCitation (1)

Map of Guatemala

Map of Guatemala

Citation (4)

Listen to Guatemalan Music

Music of Guatemala, Vol. 1 Album Art

Con Sabor a Manzana, Marimbas de Guatemala Album Art

World Music Guatemala 2, Música Tradicional, Traditional Music Album Art

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Guatemala

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Vol II: South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean cover

Facts in Brief

Guatemalan Flag

Capital: Guatemala City 

Official Language: Spanish 

Population: 17,109,746

Climate: The climate is tropical, hot and humid, especially on the Caribbean coast and in the El Petén lowlands, but it is cooler in the highlands. The warmest month is May, at the end of the dry season and the start of the rainy season, with an average temperature of 26°C (78°F), and the coolest is January (22°C or 71°F).

Religion: Christianity; Roman Catholicism

Citation (2)

Traditional Music of Guatemala

Ladino Music

Ladino music flourishes in the large Ladino populations concentrated in urban centres, the south coast (in the departments of Retalhuleu, Escuintla, Santa Rosa and Jutiapa) and the eastern lowlands (in Chiquimula, Jalapa, El Progreso, Zacapa and southern Izabal). Their music shows a long-standing and pervasive influence from Spain as well as more recent influences from Mexico, Colombia, the other Central American and Caribbean countries, and the popular music of the USA. The most popular and widespread form is the son guatemalteco (also called son chapín), the national dance of Guatemala. The son guatemalteco is played by marimbas, singly or in ensembles, and by ensembles of six- and twelve-string guitars, guitarrillas and maracas. It accompanies a couple-dance in which the partners dance together without touching, emphasizing the son rhythm with zapateado or foot-stamping which relate the dance to Spanish flamenco style. The son guatemalteco is often sung by a male duet, trio or quartet, to a pastoral or folkloric text with strophes usually of four octosyllabic lines.

Maya Music

The various language groups of the Guatemalan Maya belong to the Mamean, Quichean and Kekchian branches of the Maya family, inhabiting respectively the western and north-central, south-central, and north-eastern highlands. Their traditional music displays stronger influences from Spanish colonial music than from its more ancient Maya roots. However, the reverence with which they regard their ancestral heritage, the source of their mythology, ritual, arts and music, discourages the modification of traditional ways, and accounts for the preservation of some instruments and stylistic elements of their ancient music. otable occasions for the public performance of instrumental music are the numerous dance–dramas performed annually at village festivals, or the frequent processions in which the images of the saints are carried through the streets. Vocal music stemming from colonial Spanish liturgical music is used for Catholic ceremonies that have been incorporated into Maya ritual. Examples of Latin and Spanish hymnody, psalmody and plainchant, such as the yearly singing of Tenebrae in some villages, have been found.

Garífuna Music

A black Carib population known as the Garífuna inhabits the Caribbean coast from Belize to Islas de la Bahía in Honduras. In Guatemala they live mainly in the urban centres of Livingston and Puerto Barrios. They stem from the indigenous Arawak of the island of St Vincent and from African slaves, and came to Central America in the late 18th century. Their culture and musical traditions are distinct and separate from those of the rest of Guatemala. The principal instrument of the Garífuna is the garaón, a wooden membranophone about 60 cm in length and slightly conical, with a deer-skin head. The Garífuna also play a fusion of popular and Caribbean styles on electric guitar, electric bass and keyboard with drums and percussion, sometimes adding trumpet, trombones, saxophones and voices. Vocal music is mainly responsorial between a small group or soloist and chorus. The punta is the best known Garífuna dance-song genre, with texts that may be topical, erotic or moral and serve as social regulators.

Citation (3)

Composer Highlight: Jesús Castillo

Guatemalan composer Jesus Castillo

Jesús Castillo


 He studied in Quetzaltenango with Miguel Espinoza (piano) and Rafael Guzmán (composition). As a composer, Jesús Castillo is regarded as the initiator, and, with his younger brother Ricardo Castillo one of the masters of Guatemalan musical nationalism. From his early youth he showed a special interest in Guatemalan indigenous and folk music, which he began working into his own compositions such as the Cinco oberturas indígenas (begun in 1897). For 30 years, until 1929, he taught music in the city of Quetzaltenango. At the same time he collected folk music in various regions of Guatemala; as a result, many of his original works of that time feature autochthonous melodies and rhythms. The opera Quiché Vinak (1917–25), parts of which were first performed in 1924 at the Teatro Abril in Guatemala City, deserves special mention. His research on Guatemalan folk and indigenous music was published in his book La música maya-quiché: región de Guatemala (Quetzaltenango, 1941). Already during his lifetime, his compositions constituted an important part of the repertory of the most outstanding marimba bands of Quetzaltenango, and they continued to be played frequently throughout the remainder of the 20th century. Some of his works have been published by the Pan American Union in Washington, DC.

Citation: Lehnhoff, D.  Castillo, Jesús. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 17 Sep. 2021, from


(1): "LAGO ATITLÁN - Guatemala" by "Javier Gallego

(2): Location, Climate, Language, Religion, Flag, Capital (Guatemala), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Retrieved 15 September 2021 from

(3): Béhague, G., & O’Brien-Rothe, L.  Guatemala. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 15 Sep. 2021, from

(4): Country Map (Guatemala), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Retrieved 7 June 2023 from