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Music in Ecuador

Ecuadorians love music. On the streets, in homes, at parties, and on buses—if you’re traveling in Ecuador, you're going to hear plenty of sound. In tourist areas such as Otavalo or Baños, you’re bound to encounter a native band (called a grupo or conjunto) composed of anywhere from four to 10 Ecuadorians, often dressed in native clothing, playing folkloric songs on traditional instruments. The group is bound to have at least one guitarist, a drummer and at least one musician producing a haunting melody on a panflute, a traditional Andean instrument composed of varying lengths of bamboo lashed together.

In towns like Baños, the groups make the rounds of the more expensive tourist restaurants, stopping by and playing three or four songs, then passing the hat for tips and selling CDs of their music. Some fancier places, such as haciendas that have been converted into hotels, have their own native bands that play for guests in the evening and during dinner (they'll probably have CDs, too).

If you’re lucky enough to get invited to a private party or make it to a local festival, you may see a banda del pueblo. These bands are composed of locals who get together on special occasions to play mostly traditional music. The instruments are often old and fairly beat up, and occasionally the musical talent is questionable, but whatever they may lack in skill or instruments they more than make up for in exuberance and volume.

Ecuadorians also perform modern genres, like cumbia, reggaetĂłn and salsa. Paulina Aguirre and her producer-husband Pablo Aguirre were the first musicians of this Andean nation to win a Latin Grammy, in 2009 for Best Christian Album.

Ecuadorians have diverse musical tastes in regards to international music. If you spin the dial on a radio in Quito, you’ll find different stations playing salsa, rap, Spanish oldies, elevator music, pop, rock, reggaetón and everything in between. Some stations consider “music in English” to be its own genre, which means that the same station plays music that would never be played together in the U.S., like Britney Spears, Eminem, Korn and the Bee Gees.
International Spanish-language music is widely popular in Ecuador. Salsa, merengue and cumbia—all different forms of dance music from Latin America—can be heard around the nation. Each is a different genre of music that requires different dance moves, but to the untrained ear they can be difficult to tell apart. If you plan on visiting a salsateca (salsa dance club) while in Ecuador (and you should, they’re a lot of fun) you may want to take a dance class or two first. The Mariscal area in Quito (see Quito section) is full of dance schools. Alternatively, check out a dance show if you can. They’re hyped up by the tour companies for a reason. You should also see what is happening at major cultural centers such as the Casa de la Cultura and Teatro Sucre, as they often have special events and shows.

Notable singers in recent history have been: Paulina Aguirre (Grammy Winner), Fausto Miño, Mirella Cesa, Pamela Cortes, Beatriz Parra Durango, Daniela Guzmán, Jaime Enrique Aymara Olimpo Cárdenas, Julio Jaramillo, Danilo Parra, Delfín Quishpe, Juan Fernando Velasco, Mirella Cesa, Pamela Cortes, Daniela Guzmán, Gabriela Villalba and Gerardo.
Julio Jaramillo
Born in Guayaquil in 1935, Julio Jaramillo would become the most famous Ecuadorian singer and a major cultural icon—sort of like an Ecuadorian Elvis Presley. Like Elvis, he became famous at a young age, and died young at the age of 42 in 1978. Because Ecuador was considered something of a musical backwater, he spent much of his career elsewhere, mainly in Venezuela, Columbia, Mexico and Uruguay. Jaramillo recorded songs in several different genres, including boleros, pasillos, waltzes, tangos and rancheras. He is most famous for the boleros, which are commonly referred to as corta-venas, or "vein-cutters," in Ecuador because they are remarkably depressing.
At the height of his career he sold records from Mexico to Argentina and was greeted by huge crowds wherever he went. His most famous song was “Nuestro Juramento” (“Our Oath”). It became so famous that he was known as “Mr. Juramento” for most of his career. He returned to Ecuador in 1976. By then, he was very popular in his native land, and was treated like royalty. When he died two years later, thousands of sorrowful fans filled the streets near his home. Today, he is still widely popular, particularly in his native Guayaquil: Whenever someone plays a Jaramillo song on the jukebox in a bar—and every jukebox has at least one of his songs—the crowd will stop whatever they’re doing and sing along.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Ecuador: Dance, Theater and Comedy, Latin America: Top Ten Things You Didn’t Know Were Food! and Holidays and Fiestas.

09 Oct 2013

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