This is as good a month as any to invite Alejo Durán, el Rey Negro Vallenato, to tell us a bit of American history. This is “Los Hermanos Negros”, from the album I posted a few weeks ago
That reminds me of “El Indio Sinuano”, a strong, proud track on Zenú history written by David Sánchez Juliao. It’s a simple thing, but the break at 3:20 is one of my favorites in vallenato. I don’t think I have the energy to translate the lyrics to the English speakers, but I’m sure the internet does. You can find them here
Este post va para Carlos Mendoza — el joven inquieto de 51 años que está tratando de redefinir el sonido de la música chilena de Oaxaca desde el Valle Central de California — y para las cumbiamberas Marië y Julie, que cuentan un poquito de la historia de Carlos en el radiodocumental Squeezebox Stories (When are you writing a guest post for us?)
Pajarito by Alejo Durán
I’ve met several accordionists from all over the world (and Carlos is one of them) who, when they find out I am from Colombia, won’t stop raving about the virtuoso accordionists in vallenato. And yes, no doubt I agree, and I love listening to them, but I keep coming back to the down-home vallenateros who leave the fancy tricks aside, who keep it simple and honest and deep. Not many do that better than Alejo Durán.
Anything I try to write about Alejo Durán is outdone by a beautiful chronicle written by Alberto Salcedo in the book “Diez juglares en su patio”, where Alejo talks about his love for accordion, women, and his sombrero vueltiao, his disinterest in alcohol and new vallenato, and his encounters with Gabriel García Márquez. (Muy recomendado este libro, si lo consiguen! El último libro de Salcedo también está buenísimo.) So maybe I’ll just let them talk, and hope my translation doesn’t get too much in the way:
Alejo: “When someone talks to me about fingering, it is as if they talk to a deaf man. I have nothing to do with fingering. I am an accordionist of style. […] I don’t crack my fingers trying to make the notes run fast, but I assure you that I have my style, and if you hear me from far away you will now that it is me who is playing. You’ll mix up the other accordion players. Not me.”
If you want style, check out his accordion work in this song, especially towards the end; I never heard anything quite like this.
Nazira by Alejo Durán
Alejo, father of 24 children, “all with the same one but with many different women” says “…I had to be in love to keep composing. Or heartbroken. Because, really, there are two topics to compose about: love and sorrow. Everything else is make-believe, and I don’t like to make things up. […] If some guy can get excited singing about lies, things that haven’t happened, let him do that. We, the old guys, prefer to sing about what happens to us.”
Cuerpo Cobarde by Alejo Durán
Salcedo: “Durán’s main merit is that he understood that the accordion has its voice, and it’s important to let it speak. Not like most of today’s interpreters, for whom the accordion is simply an instrument; as if it wasn’t an extension of our feelings.”
Durán: “My life, my trusted friend, and part of my soul is the accordion. I tell my secrets to him.”
I can’t think of a better way to come back than with this monster of a record. Much has been written recently about Andrés Landero – our friend Bardo from Chicano Batman even wrote his thesis about him; recommended reading! For many of California and Mexico’s cumbieros, Andrés Landero defines the sound they work hard to try to achieve: strong, rooted, heavy, proud. (But then he makes it seem so effortless too, makes everyone else sound like a little kid!) Oddly enough he is much lesser known in Colombia, and whenever you ask around for Landero records there, the nationalistic record sellers will complain that the Mexicans took them all. I’m not one to spend big dollars on records, so I’m always excited when I manage to find one of his for a decent price.
Here’s a song of strength for the campesino trying to make ends meet while the plague is taking over his field:
Here is one of the rare songs where I can actually imagine Andres Landero breaking a sweat.
This one is a relic! Judging from the lyrics, it must be 1974 in this followup to Adolfo Pacheco’s La Hamaca Grande. Landero sets San Jacinto – Valledupar rivalries aside (which La Hamaca Grande didn’t) to endorse Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, who had co-founded the Festival Vallenato in the 60s and almost never missed it since. Lopez Michelsen was later elected to be president of Colombia, and probably did govern from the big San Jacinto hammock that Landero gave him. Did he defend the worker and help the campesino, though?
La Hamaca Del Presidente by Andres Landero
Those of you who are fans of cumbia and live in or around Oaklandia are probably already up on Cumbia Tokeson. Over the past year when groups like Bomba Estereo, Celso Piña, and Cafe Tacvba’s Ruben Albarrans have come to town it’s been Cumbia Tokeson who have been heating up the stage with them. The first time you saw them you probably thought, “Wait, I know these dudes”. That’s because they consist of members of tex-punk-cumbia heroes Fuga and Oakland’s La Colectiva. With Tokeson you’ll hear hints of those former groups, but with a fresh take—mixing up Peruvian Chicha, Colombian Cumbia and Mexican Sonidera.
Of course La Pelanga loves digging for 30+ year old records, but make no mistake discovering new music is just as exciting. Here are a couple of blazing tracks off their debut EP, Los Chuchos Vol.1 For info on their upcoming shows and future releases checkout their FB page.
(Photo: Lima, 2001)
“La vida es una tragedia para el que no tiene nada.” – Ranil.