While eating lunch with Angelo Joaquin at the Desert Rain Café I asked him about the origins of Waila music. This style of dance music created by the Tohono O’odham is a unique style of polka featuring horns, bass, guitar, and drums. Angelo said Waila is a blend of three different cultures. Underlying it all is the traditional Tohono O’odham folk dances and rhythms. These traditional forms blended with Spanish music when missionaries like Father Kino introduced the O’odham to horns and stringed instruments. Waila truly developed into its current style in the mid 19th century when the O’odham were introduced to the polkas and mazurkas of German immigrants. Drum sets and electric guitars were introduced in the mid 20th century and helped shape Waila into the form we recognize today.
The way Waila combines a multitude of cultures well represents the history of the Tohono O’odham’s interactions with different groups. In our studies we often focused on the negative outcomes of these interactions but Waila is different. Instead of showing the domination of one group or culture over another Waila represents a true melting of cultures into something that can be enjoyed by all. Waila thus serves as something that reminds Americans, Europeans, Mexicans, and Tohono O’odham of our similarities rather than our differences.