In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Music in Paraguay

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Music Histories
  • Reference Works
  • Research Agendas and Studies of Music Education
  • Musical Practices and Instruments of Indigenous Groups
  • Music and War
  • The Classical Music Tradition
  • Agustín Barrios, known as “Mangoré,” and the Classical Guitar
  • Instruments: The Harp and Guitar
  • Published Anthologies, Collections, and Editions of Music
  • Identities and Paraguayanness

Music Music in Paraguay
Laura Fahrenkrog
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0321


Paraguay is a landlocked country in South America. With a majority of Roman Catholics among a population of 7.45 million in 2022, Paraguayans speak a blend of Spanish and Guaraní known as jopará. This is a distinctive marker throughout the country, which has succeeded in integrating the Guaraní language in practically all its manifestations of expressive culture, however ambivalent Paraguayans might feel toward the nation’s indigenous legacy, which, since the nineteenth century, has wavered between denial and enshrinement. The legacy of African descendants, on the other hand, has been largely overlooked until recently. The practice of traditional music, subsumed in the expression ñande purahéi (or “our song”) takes pride of place in the lives of Paraguayan peoples and has acquired nationalist connotations in the twentieth century. The southeast border Paraguay shares with Argentina has encouraged the dissemination of genres such as the guarania, polka, and chamamé, all of which have transcended their national boundaries in ways that challenge definitions of identity. In general, Paraguay’s historiography has been focused on landmarks and the narratives constructed around them. Special historiographical attention is paid to the prominent role played by the Jesuit reducciones during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the bloody military conflicts such as the 19th-century War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870) fought between Paraguay and a coalition of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, and the 20th-century Chaco War (1932–1935) between Bolivia and Paraguay over control of the north-central Chaco region; the development of the polka and the creation of the guarania, as well as perfecting a local version of the harp dubbed “Paraguayan”; and to the birth of Agustín Barrios (b. 1885–d. 1944), the guitar virtuoso known as “Mangoré.” The available information on music, written mostly in Spanish by composers, performers, journalists, and orchestra leaders who figure prominently in the musical life of urban centers, has appeared in discontinued editions of difficult access. With the exception of research into the cultural practices and organology of indigenous groups, musicological inquiry is practically non-existent, and, consequently, a wealth of Paraguayan musical traditions has yet to be scientifically studied. This article was translated by Malena Kuss.

General Overviews

Early and systematic research on Paraguay’s musics is associated with Juan Max Boettner (b. 1899–d. 1958), acknowledged as the country’s first musicographer. His most influential text is Boettner 1956; although presently outdated, it set the basis on which music historiography in Paraguay would be modeled. After the customary chronological account ranging from the indigenous past to the modern present, most histories elaborate on the national anthem, traditional popular music, folk dances, and instruments of European provenance such as the guitar and the harp. The most comprehensive overview is by the composer Florentín Giménez (b. 1925–d. 2021); approached from a nationalist perspective, Giménez 1997 captures a holistic vision of the nation’s music within the context of continental Latin America. Rivarola 2012 and Secretaría Nacional de Cultura 2019 represent governmental initiatives aimed at assessing knowledge at specific time-periods. Inspired by celebrations of two centuries of Independence (1811–2011), Sánchez Haase 2011 offers a substantive synthesis of a commemorative character.

  • Boettner, Juan Max. Música y músicos del Paraguay. Asunción, Paraguay: Edición de Autores Paraguayos Asociados, 1956.

    A foundational text that served as a model for periodization whose thematic subdivisions are still viable. Chapters address indigenous music; the colonial period; music during the régimes of José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (1814–1840), Carlos Antonio López (1841–1862), and Francisco Solano López (1862–1865); the Triple Alliance’s War (1864–1870) and the postwar period up to 1919; the national anthem; and traditional music and instruments. An appendix includes brief biographies of musicians. Reprinted in 1957, 2000, and 2008.

  • Giménez, Florentín. La música paraguaya. Asunción, Paraguay: Editorial El Lector, 1997.

    Written from an autobiographical perspective, this subjective text surveys genres, musical instruments, and styles in terms of the role they fulfill in the construction of a musical repertoire viewed as national. Consistent with this approach, Giménez criticizes experimental music for not incorporating specifically “national” compositional procedures. He also distinguishes between accurate and inaccurate notation and performances, pointing to “impurities” in guaranias and polkas caused by a lack of understanding on how to respect their syncopated rhythms.

  • Rivarola, Tessa. “Música en Paraguay desde 1900 y actualmente.” In Consultoría de investigación sobre panorama de las artes en Paraguay. By Tessa Rivarola, 163–210. Asunción, Paraguay: Secretaría Nacional de Cultura, 2012.

    A synthesis of landmarks and fundamental exponents of 20th-century music-making in Paraguay that covers art, traditional, and urban popular music. Based on information culled from secondary sources and websites, this richly illustrated text is an excellent introduction to the historiography of 20th-century music in Paraguay written for a non-specialized audience.

  • Sánchez Haase, Diego. “La música en el Paraguay.” In Paraguay en la visión de dos siglos (1811–2011). Edited by the Comisión Nacional de Conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia de la República del Paraguay, 768–771. Asunción, Paraguay: Editorial Itaipú, 2011.

    A valuable text by a highly regarded composer (b. 1970), pianist, harpsichordist, and orchestra conductor that gathers basic and reliable information on the country’s music. Brought out in a luxury edition of difficult access, it relies on a predictable periodization and thematic benchmarks, such as music in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, highlights during the 19th-century dictatorship of José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (1814–1840), the régimes of both presidents surnamed López, and 20th-century music in the postwar period.

  • Secretaría Nacional de Cultura. La música en el Paraguay: Situación actual y perspectivas de futuro. Ponencias presentadas en el 1er Simposio de la Música en el Paraguay, Ipuporãve hagua ñane remiandu. Asunción, Paraguay: Secretaría Nacional de Cultura, 2019.

    A collection of essays giving voice to multiple perspectives on musical practices and issues of identity presented at a 2016 symposium assessing musical developments in Paraguay and held under the banner of ipuporãve hagua ñane remiandu (“para que suenen mejor nuestros sentimientos”/to enhance the sound of our feelings). Although individual contributions are of uneven quality and some lack bibliographies, the totality of issues broached offers valuable insights into themes of historiographical interest.

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