restricted access Chapter 10 Beyond Vallenato: The Accordion Traditions in Colombia
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10 Beyond Vallenato The Accordion Traditions in Colombia egberto bermúdez In memory of Jacques Gilard (1943–2008) The accordion1 is considered to be at the core of vallenato style and sound, and vallenato itself is undoubtedly the most widely recognized Colombian popular music genre in and outside Colombia since Carlos Vives’s stunning success with his 1994 pop-fusion album Clásicos de la Provincia (Classics of the Province).2 The Costeño singer had made a name for himself nationally in 1991 starring in Escalona,apopulartelenovela(soapopera)aboutthelifeofthevallenatocomposer RafaelEscalona(1927–2009).Viewedbymillions,the telenovelafurthercemented theperceptionofvallenatoasColombia’sforemostaccordionmusic—aclaimmade by Escalona and other prominent members of the elite of the Valledupar region who, in the late 1940s, began to call their regional style of music “vallenato.” Beforethattime ,thereexistedatraditionalstyleofaccordionmusicinthenorthern Colombian coastal region that had already undergone some modifications after entering the emergent Colombian music industry in the early 1940s. Accordion players, composers, and singers who were part of this early commercialization, however, were fully aware of the co-option of Colombian accordion music by the Valledupar elite.3 One of the music’s main figures, the accordionist Francisco “Pacho”Rada(1907–2003),forexample,refusedtocallthemusicheplayed“vallenato ”becausehedidnothailfromtheValleduparregion.4 Anotheraccordionist complainedthattheValleduparresidents“believedthemselvestheownersofthe accordion tradition.”5 The vallenato composer Adolfo Pacheco denounced the Figure 10.1  Main states and cities of Colombia. Map by Helena Simonett. 201 Beyond Vallenato appropriation of accordion music by the political and cultural elite of Valledupar in one of his songs, “El engaño” (The Hoax). In it, the former president Alfonso López Michelsen and the Nobel Prize–winning author Gabriel García Márquez areblamedforhavingfurtherendorsedtheideaofValleduparasthesolehomeof accordionmusicinColombiathroughtheirunrestrictedaccesstotheColombian national media.6 The conflation of the accordion with vallenato indeed has widespread circulation ,athomeaswellasabroad,andhasledtopeculiarinterpretationsofthehistory of the accordion in Colombia. Two recent films reiterate the legendary stories of the vallenato accordion set in the breathtaking background of the exotic CaribbeancoastofColombia ,suspendedintimeandinnaivebliss:Elángeldelacordeón (The Angel of the Accordion),7 a partly government-sponsored film that tells the magical journey of a boy who becomes the king of the Vallenato Legend Festival , and the documentary El acordeón del diablo (The Devil’s Accordion),8 about the accordionist Francisco “Pacho” Rada, who had previously been fictionalized as Francisco El Hombre in García Márquez’s famous novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Under the spell of García Márquez’s “magic realism,” the documentary starts with the story of the spectacular arrival of the accordion, washed ashore after a German ship loaded with accordions heading for Argentina ran aground at the Guajira coast. This shipwreck tale is not unique, however; it had also been used in El lápiz del carpintero(TheCarpenter’sPencil),a2002 filmbytheGalicianfilmmakerAnton Reixa, based on the novel published in 1998 by his fellow countryman Manuel Rivas.In this version, a ship loaded with accordionssinksoff thecoastof Galicia. Theuseofthisstory in the Spanish-speaking contextcomesasnosurprise,since Basque maritime lore related to the accordion—as part of the novel Paradox Rey, by Pio Baroja (1872–1956)—appears to have been the inspiration behind García Márquez’s first article on the accordion (one of his first published pieces) that in the decades to come contributed greatly to locate accordion music, later called “vallenato,” at the center of Colombian cultural expressions.9 Accordion music in Colombia has a much longer history than the music that is called “vallenato” and is not confined to the Valledupar region that allegedly gave it its name. In this essay, I examine the development of accordion music in Colombia (including Panama before its separation from Colombia in 1903) and itsroleinColombiantraditionalandpopularmusic.Drawingonarchivalresearch and oral history, I will begin with the accordion’s arrival in Colombian territory in the second half of the nineteenth century and conclude with vallenato’s incorporation into the national and international popular-music circuits. 202 egberto bermúdez Early History The first known mention of the accordion in Colombia appears in the travel accounts of Dr. Charles Saffray, a French physician and botanist.10 When disembarkinginSantaMartaonColombia ’snortherncoastin1869,Saffrayrecalledthat he was greeted by the sound of the accordion. Unfortunately, he did not specify whether it was played by a local seaman, a travel companion, or a member of his vessel’sforeign(possiblyFrench)crew.FromthebusyColombianCaribbeanports of Santa Marta, Cartagena, Sabanilla, and Riohacha—including Aspinwall and Chagres in Panama—new cultural influences (including European and American popular music, musical instruments, and dances) made their way into mainland Colombia in the following decades. The accordion seemed to have been popular amongEuropeanseamentravelingtoSouthAmericaandtheCaribbean.Accordingtoareportfromthemid -1800s,sailorsdockinginHavana,Cuba...


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