"Waila Music"
contributed by Heather Meeks, Michael Mensah, and Ashley Cobb
Music 334 Professor Sturman
October 14, 2002

Waila music is the traditional social dance music of the Tohono O'dham Native Americans of southern Arizona. Pronounced why-la, it is a hybrid of popular European polka and waltzes with a variety of Mexican influences mixed in. It originated in the 1800's and comes from the word "baile" which is Spanish for "dance". Waila music began with early fiddle bands, and the performers adapted music from European immigrants as well as northern Mexican tunes. Unlike norteño music, which it resembles, waila is mainly instrumental; only rarely is it performed with sung lyrics. A typical wail band today features an accordion, one or two alto saxophones, an electric six-string guitar, a bass guitar and a drum kit.

The dances that accompany this music tradition are also a blend European influence with a Native mix. There are five common styles: 1) the waila, which is like a polka dance, 2) the chote (comes from a folk dance from Scotland or Germany, the schottishe), 3) the mazurka (a Polish folk dance), 4) the watersaw (redowa or redova - a Bohemian dance in three quarter time, an older form) and 5) the newest form, the cumbia (which originates from Colombia but came to the O'odham via Mexico). O'odham dance waila in ways that connect with older ceremonial music and dance traditions in addition to long-standing cultural values (Struman, Janet). Dancers move with a smooth gliding motion using more of a walking-step instead of the hopping steps associated with vigorous European polka-dancing. The O'odham way seems designed to conserve energy when dancing in the blazing sun or in the lingering evening heat of the Sonoran desert.

Waila music is performed throughout southern Arizona by Tohono O'odham, Pima and Maricopa musicians. In Tucson, waila music can be heard at the Annual Waila Festival. The first Waila Festival took place in 1989 and continues to this day. Overall, 60 bands have been presented and approximately 55,000 people have attended the festival. Presently, this springtime festival is a place where people can listen to music, dance and eat O'odham food. Traditional O'odham food such as, cholla buds, red chile and tepary beans may be served. The Annual Waila Festival is sponsored in part by the Arizona Historical Society and is directed by Angelo Joaquin Jr.

Works Cited
"Arizona Waila Festival." Library of Congress Bicentennial. Local Legacies. 26 June 2001. <http://lcweb.loc.gov/bicentennial/propage/AZ/az_s_mccain4.html>

"Arizona." <http://www.travelcafe.tv/arizona.html>

Metzner, Jim. Pulse of the Planet Waila Chicken Scratch. Program # 2124 2000. April. 2002 <http://www.pulseplanet.com/archive/Apr00/2124.html>

Metzner, Jim. Pulse of the Planet Waila Genesis. Program # 2123 2000. April. 2002 <http://www.pulseplanet.com/archive/Apr00/2124.html>

"Contemporary Native American Music." Teachervision.com. 2000 Netscape.

Sturman, Janet. Movement Analysis as a Tool for Understanding Identity: Retentions, Borrowings, and Transformations in Native American Waila. 1997:51 69


Griffith, James S. Southern Arizona Folk Arts. The University of Arizona Press, Tuscon: 1998.

Nettl, Bruno; Ruth Stone, James Porter, Timothy Rice. Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. New York: Garland Publishing., 1998-2000.

Tucson Meet Yourself. October 13, 1984. Reel 11, Tape II. Accordian Styles Workshop

Old Time Fiddle Band, Tucson Meet Yourself, October 9, 1993, TMY 1993-R6

During his introduction, Jim Griffith said that the Old Time Fiddle Band was from the western part of the Tohono O'odham reservation. He added that "one way to appreciate a dance band is to get up and dance" and had a space cleared for dancing to the music.

Big Jim Griffith discusses the dance steps for Waila music
Untitled No. 2
Mazurka Mazurka is "very like a waltz" and ususally an early morning tune
Untitled No. 4
Untitled No. 5
Untitled No. 6
Untitled No. 7

Tohono O'odham Veteran's Band, Tucson Meet Yourself, October 9, 1993, TMY 1993-R6

During the introduction to their performance, The O'odham Veterans Band explained that there are four types of Waila music: Waila, Choti, Watersaw and Mazurka. A fifth and more recent addition, they added, is the Cumbia.

Participants: Francisco Antone (Marines) saxophone; Sylvester Oliver, Sr. (Army) guitar; Mr. Henry (Marines), accordian; Irving Lopez (Marines), drums; Phillip (Marines)


Untitled Two-step
Untitled Two-step
Untitled Two-step
Untitled Cumbia


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