Tohono O'odham dancers, elders and youngsters, dance to waila music at the 1997 Waila Festival. Photo: Scott Baglione
Annual Waila Festival
Founded in 1989 in Tucson, the Annual Waila
Festival celebrates the social dance music, waila, of the
Tohono O'odham, the Native peoples of the Sonoran Desert. Waila is an O'odham word derived from the Spanish word
"baile," to dance. The mission of this two-day event is three-fold:
to encourage and facilitate the artistic development of waila music
and musicians; 2) to showcase this one-hundred-year-old musical
form in a professional setting; 3) to bring this aspect of the
Tohono O'odham culture to the public of southern Arizona. Since
1989, 60 waila bands have been presented to a total of
approximately 55,000 people.
Also known as "chicken scratch," waila evolved from
the music of earlier acoustic fiddle bands that adapted European
and Mexican tunes heard in northern Sonora. By the mid-1950s,
groups with a combination of different instruments, including the
button accordion and alto saxophone, became known as waila bands.
Today's Tohono O'odham waila bands also include electric six-string
and bass guitars and a drum kits. The musical arrangements may have
disparate phrases from familiar tunes woven into them; some waila
pieces are adaptations of music heard on Mexican and American radio
stations. Waila music uses no vocals and generally does not
incorporate a keyboard. The dances performed in the waila tradition
are the waila (polka), the chote (schottische), the cumbia, and the
mazurka. Regardless of the beat, all waila dances are performed
while rotating around the floor in a counter-clockwise
Along with the dance music that is the heart of the
event, the Waila Festival committee has also sponsored three Young
Waila Musicians Workshops. Since the first Festival, several
O'odham groups besides the musicians have given the event its
special flavor. The O'odham elders have attended every year,
teaching the traditional dance styles by example. O'odham food
organizations have provided popular and traditional dishes for the
hungry crowds. And O'odham artisans have introduced all forms of
traditional arts, such as fiber, wire, and horsehair baskets,
carvings, pottery, and traditional clothing, to the public. The
festival will celebrate its twelfth year in May 2000.
Project documentation comprises a program from the
1998 Festival, a written report, and sixteen 8 x 10 black and white
photographs and accompanying descriptions.
Originally submitted by: John McCain, Senator.
The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.