Alejo Durán – El legendario caballero del canto vallenato


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.”

Son Pesares by Alejo Durán



Andrés Landero 1974


Friends, it’s been a busy, busy summer but we haven’t forgotten about you!

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:

El Pobre Llorando by Andres Landero

El Pobre Llorando

Here is one of the rare songs where I can actually imagine Andres Landero breaking a sweat.

Carnaval En Cartagena by Andres Landero

Carnaval En Cartagena

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

La Hamaca Del Presidente



March 2

Governor Brown’s 2011 budget proposal for the state of California includes a (best case scenario) massive cut of 1.8 billion dollars, or 15.8%, to the system of higher education. There is little else to cut, given that, for instance at San Francisco State University, 78.3% of the budget pays for salaries and benefits. This has meant, among other things, cutting hundreds of classes, delaying students’ graduation dates, denying admission to tens of thousands of students, and massively increasing the cost of tuition (over 242% since 2002).

Last year I posted this song on the occasion of the March 4, 2010 Day of Action to support public education in California. Sadly, a year later, it is even more relevant, and I’d like to repost it on the occasion of the March 2, 2011 Day of Action.


Estudiante En Marcha by Carlos Lleras – Huber Araujo

Estudiante En Marcha

This is not a blog about politics; but these are songs that were written about Colombia’s educational system in the 70s, and are perfectly on point in this “first world” country, in 2011.  So I thought I should share.

Besides, I *know* you want to hear a “vosotros” conjugation in a vallenato, no joda!


Los Maestros by Los Hermanos Zuleta

Los Maestros

papicultor, in support of public education.

come to the knockout on thursday night!

Friends, I’m bringing a heavy stack of old records to the Knockout on Thursday at 10pm. That’s in the Mission (SF), at 3223 Mission (where Mission and Valencia meet). $3 only.


If you’re into that, here are the facebook pages to this party and to La Pelanga.


You want to hear what Phengren Oswald and Special Lord B. have in store, too –  just look at the poster they put together!

In the meantime I’ll leave you with some vallenato. Espero que le guste a mi compadre César en Istmina!


El Batuqueo by Silvio Brito Con Los Hermanos Meriño

El Batuqueo


Leandro Díaz


Leandro Díaz is best known as one of the *classic* vallenato songwriters. Here’s “Matilde Lina” sung by his son Ivo Díaz in the Smithsonian Folkways’s incredible, compilation Ayombe – fresh, elegant, and faithful to tradition.

Matilde Lina by Estrellas Del Vallenato

12 Matilde Lina (Paseo) 1

A few years ago I picked up Ocora’s Le Vallenato and was *floored* when I got to hear Leandro Díaz sing for the first time. These guys prefer it stripped bare, and “A Mí No Me Consuela Nadie” (“Noone can console me”) is one of the most powerful recordings I know…

A Mí No Me Consuela Nadie by Leandro Diaz

6AM No Me Consuela Nadie

This track reminds me of a great interview where Leandro Díaz explains that he has this great weapon to impress the audiences during a show: he’ll just start crying in the middle of a song. It works, I’m sure, though I have to wonder how much control he has over this “weapon”.


I’ve been trying to find old recordings of Leandro Díaz for years with no luck. So I was really excited to find this compilation. (Not a promising cover, but if it has the name of Egberto Bermúdez on it, I buy it). This has a historical recording of Leandro Díaz on voice and guacharaca, el viejo Emiliano Zuleta on accordion, and Pablito Flórez on caja. They’re playing “La diosa coronada”, a surreal account of a heartbreak that Gabriel García Márquez chose as the opening to “Love in the time of cholera”.

Diosa Coronada by Leandro Díaz, Emiliano Zuleta, Pablo Flórez

Diosa Coronada

This compilation is just amazing, I might have to post some more tracks from it later.





Los Viajes Del Viento

While perusing Netflix the other night to my delight I discovered Los Viajes Del Viento was available for rent/streaming. I had seen this amazing film by Ciro Guerra in the Spring as apart of San Francisco’s International Film Festival with Papicultor y China Tu Madre. Watching a second time left me just as inspired as after seeing it in the theater. If there was ever a Pelanga film festival this epic movie would be at the top of my list. Most reviews speak of the breathtaking Colombian landscape that Guerra beautifully captures, but the visuals are equally matched by the sounds of vallenato music.

One of the best examples comes during an annual festival where juglares (vallenato troubadours) duel each other for prize money. This type of duel is all about the lyrics, where each juglar disses the other while boasting their skills – essentially a freestyle battle! The previous year’s champion welcomes all challengers and ends up taking down his competitors 1 by 1 to a folkloric song called El Amor Amor (perhaps originally by Samuel Martinez or Francisco Rada?). Well that is until the Ignacio and his devil’s accordion steps into the ring. This recording is from the film that will be on the forthcoming soundtrack. Enjoy!

DJ Posoule

Juancho Polo Valencia / Los Acordeones de Aguachica


El duende

El duendeJuancho Polo Valencia 

A true vallenatero misses his wife’s death and funeral because he was out partying in the neighboring towns. (His tragic “Alicia Adorada” tells the story…) Here is one of my favorite singers/accordion players, lacking in teeth (literally, only literally) but exceeding in raw talent. In this song he is being chased by a dwarf. (?)

Puya en la fiesta

Puya en la fiesta – Los Acordeones de Aguachica

I can’t tell you much about Los Acordeones de Aguachica. Apparently you can hire them if you’re in Bogotá (call 7111473). You’ve gotta appreciate the honesty of the guy who sold me this record – it does look like someone pretty deliberately took a knife to the first three tracks (of side A actually, not side B.)




El Duende by Juancho Polo Valencia
Puya En La Fiesta by Los Acordeones De Aguachica

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