Inspiration from Smithsonian Folklife Festival
This past weekend my wife, a friend and I went to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC, an annual festival whose goal is to strengthen and preserve diverse, authentic, living traditions – both old and new. This year has 3 focuses – Rythm and Blues, the Peace Corps (it’s their 50th anniversary) and the culture of Colombia.
I was interested in all three – I like r&b, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica, and I wanted to learn more about the rich culture of Colombia.
Los Viajes del Viento
A few months ago I saw a Colombian movie called “Los Viajes del Viento” (The Wind Journeys), about a vallenato singer who spent his life travelling the villages of northern Colombia playing vallenato songs on his accordion, which is said to have been cursed by the devil. After his wife’s sudden death, he swears to never play his accordion again, and begins a journey across the vast Colombian terrain with his young pupil Ferman, to return the accordion to its rightful owner. Along the way, they are enveloped in the musical diversity of Caribbean culture in Colombia.
It’s a really good movie and seems to me to be very authentic, although I have to admit that I’ve never been to Colombia. I really liked seeing the beauty of vallenato music and dance.
What is vallenato?
I found this description here –
“The vallenato music, as it is known today, is said to have been influenced by a combination of African, European, and Colombian rhythm and folkloric sounds. At first, native people from Valle de Upar played their music with flutes called gaitas made of bamboo and African drums made of hollow wood with goat skins secured by wooden rings and strings.
It is estimated that a century after the invention of the accordion in 1829, Europeans introduced the German Hohner accordion to the northern coast of Colombia where it was primarily used to play European music. Fortunately, the famous German instrument, now most commonly known as the acordeón vallenato, found its way to Valle de Upar where it was adopted as part of the vallenato folklore. According to vallenato historian Tomás D. Gutiérrez Hinojosa (1992: Cultura vallenata: origen, teoría y pruebas ), the European accordion migrated to Valle de Upar not to create music but to be physically and culturally transformed by the vallenato musician so that it can be used to interpret the different vallenato styles.
I Walked Right into my Inspiration for a Painting
Lucky for us, we were walking around the Colombia section and happened onto a spontaneous vallenato performance! This vallenato was without the accordion – only a gaita (flute made of bamboo), African drums and dancers. I snapped some photos, knowing that it would make a really cool painting. Check these out:
I have a few paintings in line to be completed before I start the vallenato ones, but I’m going to do 2 or 3 vallenato-themed oil paintings this summer.