Also:       clavallinas      

Title: Si Soy Llanero: Joropo Music from the Orinoco Plains of Columbia--Pajarillo; Grupo Cimarrón, Omar Edgar Fandiño Ramírez, maracas. Label: Smithsonian Folkways. Format: CD. Catalogue#: SFW 40515. Track: 18.

Contextual Associations

Maracas are shaken vessel idiophones with internal seed beaters (rattles) associated most strongly today with Latin American, and especially Afro-Cuban, dance music. They come in a range of sizes and can be made from a variety of materials. As a type of instrument (internal-seed gourd rattle) their use in Latin America is actually much broader than dance music, including shamanic rituals as well as regional non-dance oriented vocal and instrumental ensemble music (such as the Columbian joropo tradition). Outside of Latin America they are used as as an auxiliary percussion instrument in the Western concert music tradition and occasionally written for in orchestral, band, and percussion ensemble compositions. Hand drum ensembles and elementary school music programs also make use of maracas.


Three pairs of maracas are pictured in the gallery image. The material from which the vessel section is made is different for each pair--from left to right, plastic, wood, and varnished rawhide. All three pairs have wood handles. It is not possible to identify the materials used for the internal pellets, but dried seeds and shot are likely candidates.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A performer most often plays two matched maracas, one in each hand held by their handles. Sometimes a player uses only one rattle. While the rhythms produced on maracas often dovetail with those of other idiophones and membranophones to create the appropriate groove for a particular style of dance, is some Latin American traditions the maraca player is at least momentarily spotlighted as a soloist (listen to the audio example of Colombian joropo music for which the maraca player uses a small pair of rattles called clavallinas).


The internal-seed gourd rattle is such a widespread and ancient instrumental idea that it is difficult to pinpoint its time and place of invention, if indeed it was not invented in multiple places at different times. Maraca-like instruments are found widely distributed on the African continent, but their presence in the Americas is unlikely to have been solely the result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Maracas existed in pre-Columbian Americas, and the name ‘maraca’ itself is thought to be derived from the Araucanian peoples, who lived in what is now Chile. The use of maracas in Afro-Latin musical traditions might well have been the result of the introduction of African internal-seed gourd rattles to the Americas by African slaves, but this cannot be seen as the sole source of the instrument concept in the Americas.

Bibliographic Citations

Blades, James. 1970. Percussion Instruments and Their History. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.

________, and John M. Schechter. 1984. “Maracas,” in Grove Music Online. Accessed December 12 1914:

Marcus, Sibyl. 1975. A Survey of Musical Instruments. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers.

Rojas, Carlos, and Daniel Sheehy. 2004. Sí, Soy Llanero--Joropo Music from the Orinoco Plains of Colombia. CD and liner notes. Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40515.


Instrument Information


Continent: Americas

Region: Latin America

Nation: Colombia

Formation: cosmopolitan (Latin-American)

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

112.13 idiophone--vessel rattles: rattling objects enclosed in a vessel strike against each other or against the walls of the vessel, or usually against both

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: shaking

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: hollow spheroid vessel - closed

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded discretely

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - indirect

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - pellet/s, seed/s, bead/s inside closed vessel/s

Energy input motion by performer: shaking

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


10.6 in. length (left pair) 11.7 in. length (center pair) 11.2 in. length (right pair)

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin


Latin Percussion



Entry Author

Roger Vetter