Various Artists

Afro-Hispanic Music from Western Colombia & Ecuador

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Afro-Hispanic Music From Western Colombia & Ecuador is an anthology of 17 recordings made by Norman E. Whitten Jr. while he was conducting fieldwork in South America back in the 1960s. Of particular interest to Whitten Jr. was that area of western Colombia and Ecuador referred to as the Pacific Lowlands. This region stretches from Darién Province in southeastern Panama through western Colombia to southern Esmeraldas, Ecuador. It is a 600-mile-long and 50- to 100-mile-wide strip of dense rain forests (well, they were dense rain forests back when Whitten Jr. conducted his research). Culturally speaking, this area was settled by African slaves as early as 1525. Today many South Americans of African descent call this Pacific coastal region home. While their music maintains strong links to African styles, it also incorporates Spanish musical elements to a great extent. Indigenous Amerindians from this area -- the Cayapa, Coaquier, Noanamá, and the Chocó -- have not played a particularly active role in the overall development of this music. The songs presented on Afro-Hispanic Music From Western Colombia and Ecuador include such forms as currulaos, arrullos, and alavados. In the currulao, or marimba dance, the men sing about their willingness to separate themselves from the matriarchal bonds of the family, while the women bid them a fond farewell. The arrullo is a song of mourning that is performed at wakes held after the death of a child, while the alavado is sung following the death of an adult. Accompanying instruments for these songs are many. The bombo, a large double-headed drum that is often hung about the shoulders and played with two mallets, is used in the arrullo to scare away a specific body-snatching specter. A single-headed conical-shaped hand drum, the cununo is played in pairs in both the currulao and the arrullo (though it is most often heard during street processions and other kids of large social festivities). Other percussion instruments include the Kajima (a small cununo), maracas, guasás (bamboo tubes filled with seeds and kernels of dried corn), marimbas (wooden keyed xylophones), and flutes. Whitten Jr. recorded the 17 songs on this LP and wrote the extensive notes that accompany the record. Unfortunately, some of the jargon used by Whitten Jr. is outdated (even by 1960s standards) and none of the musicians on the recording receive any personal credit for their contributions. Despite these drawbacks, the performances caught on his recordings are sensational and the liner notes he provides with the LP give a great deal of detail about each track. As is the case with all of their out of print recordings, Folkways will dub a cassette version or burn a CD copy of Afro-Hispanic Music From Western Colombia and Ecuador should you decide to order one. See their website for details: web2.si.edu/folkways.