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Vallenato Music

Valledupar is one birthplace of Vallenato, a musical genre reflecting the region's three cultures. A trio of instruments set the tone: accordion (from Europe), caja drum (from Africa) and the guacharaca (wooden scraper, from the indigenous nations). In recent years, keyboards, guitar, bass and other voices have been added.

The three ethnicities are also reflected in the rhythms: Spanish décima lyrics, African syncopation and indigenous melancholy. The four styles of Vallenato are merengue, paseo, puya and son. In olden days, accordionists wandered Colombia's Caribbean region, spreading the news — much like mediaeval troubadours. The most legendary accordionist was Francisco el Hombre, famous for having beat the Devil in a squeezebox competition. The songs also are lauds. At parrandas (street parties), friends gather to honor someone, singing and drinking whiskey for several days on end. At these events, dancing is not done: the purpose is to listen and share.

Vallenato does have a traditional dance called El Pilón. Women, dressed in long, full-skirted dresses and men in white outfits, sway through Valledupar's streets on the opening day of the Festival de la Leyenda, which is a five-day musical feast beginning the last Wednesday of April (URL: Competitions decide the new kings of professional, amateur, youth, children and unrecorded song categories. Another contest is of Piquería, or improvised Vallenato song. The festival was founded in 1968 by composer Rafael Escalona, cultural promoter Consuelo Araújo Noguera and Alfonso López Michelsen, Cesar Department's first governor. Thousands of musicians, celebrities and common folk descend on the city to sing, dance and drink.

During the rest of the year, visitors to Valledupar can enjoy Vallenato rhythms at holiday concerts. Café Plaza Mayor features the music on Friday and Saturday nights, and Centro Comercial Guatapurí brings the best musicians to its grounds on Wednesdays. The generation of talents may be heard at the music schools Escuela Talento Vallenato Rafael Escalona and Academia Andrés “Turco” Gil.

Sayco, headquarters of the region's Vallenato composers, has a small museum. On display is a Chinese sheng, the accordion’s ancestor (Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-noon, 2-5:30 p.m. Carrera 5, 13C-40. Tel: 574-3448). Tienda Compai Chipuco also has a museum, dedicated to Consuelo Araújo Noguera. The shop sells books, music CDs and local artesanía (artwork). On the back patio is a restaurant that serves cheap meals (Calle 16, 6-05, Plaza Alfonso López. Tel: 316-454-2235). Many of Valledupar's monuments represent symbols associated with Vallenato music, or illustrate famous songs. Patillal village, birthplace of many composers, has a monument-studded plaza dedicated to its native sons (30 km / 18 mi northwest of Valledupar).

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

26 Apr 2011

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