Although for many Colombians of the interior of the country – specially those from the Andean Region – Vallenato is music of “costeños” – the Colombians from the Caribbean litoral -, it is true that Vallenato in Colombia is one of the most important music types of the nation and represents the Colombian identity in a same way Tango does with Argentina and Uruguay. Not putting aside the other Colombian musics like Cumbia, Joropo and others, Vallenato conquered througout the 20th Century the entire country and went out abroad to become almost the official Embassador of the Colombian culture.
Hundred Years of Solitude, a Vallenato of 350 pages
Picture of Stephano, “Accordion”. It represents the typical instruments of Vallenato.
It was the way Gabriel García Márquez chose to pay a homage to his cousin, Professor Rafael Escalona and one of the most prominent figures of the history of Vallenato in Colombia. He said that his work Hundred Years of Solitude was just a Vallenato of 350 pages. These words of the Nobel Prize to one who would be the Vallenato Nobel Prize if there were such Prize for music, gives an idea of the importance of Vallenato in the culture, society and history of Colombia.
Vallenato can be located in history at the beginning of the 20th Century in the region formed by the departments of El César, Magdalena, La Guajira, Bolívar and Sucre, a region called in the Vallenato language as “La Provincia de Valledupar y Padilla“. As popular music, it is born from the expression of the people where it is very important the oral tradition, the ways of how the people see cotidianity, their life, their conflicts and their dreams. The creativity and originality, the love and problems of the daily life, were combined in the three instruments that symbolized the Colombian joining of three races: the European accordeon, the African box and the Pre-Colombian guacharaca, as it is cited by Daniel Samper Pizano un his articule about Professor Escalona.
Nicolás Maestre Martínez – Colacho -, one of the “Magicians” of Vallenato. Picture by colacho.
Vallenato counts the popular history and for this reason it makes that its listeners get identified themselves in the music when they listen to it, dance it or sing with the singer. It recounts their passions, deceptions or their own dreams. The Vallenato was born to teach nothing, but to communicate what is happening around the town or inside the heart. That is the reason of the story of Francisco El Hombre, the one who is known to be the founder of Vallenato and who was a messanger through the towns of El César and La Guajira departments. They say that he sang the messages he has to communicate using his accordeon. For this reason the history of Vallenato is mixed with legends, because it belongs to the inside of a nation, it is not coming from a thoughtful commercial plan, but from the natural gathering of an entire people. The history of Vallenato is a page of Hundred Years of Solitude or, from other perspective, Hundred Years of Solitude is a Vallenato.
The Valledupar Plaza. Picture by Nicolás Osorio.
Valledupar, the World Capital of Vallenato
The word “Vallenato” (it is pronounced VAJANATO) is actually the name of those who are born in the city of Valledupar, the capital of the Department of El César. “Valledupar” is the compressed name of the location of the city, the Cacique Upar Valley that means the “Valley of the Lord of the Clean and Pure Water“. The city is located 1035 kilometers at the north of Bogotá and it is at 175 meters up the sea level with temperatures among 28 and 30 grades. There are good roads from cities like Santa Marta, Barranquilla, Cartagena de Indias, Medellín and Bogotá, as well from Caracas. The Colombian Caribbean coasts, near to Valledupar, are far from La Habana about 1000 kms, from Florida about 2000 kms and less than 1000 kms from Panama. The Alfonso López Airport connects the city with the main Colombian international airports. Valledupar is the seat of some famous feasts like Leyenda Vallenata Festival, Fine Rooster International Fair, Cattle Fair and the Feast of Virgen of the Rosary. The city is also near to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain system independent from the Andes that has also the highests picks of Colombia.
From La Provincia to the rest of Colombia
Throughout the 20th Century Vallenato started to conquer the south of the Caribbean Region of Colombia (La Costa as it is called). The Colombian Caribbean Region is a fascinating place formed by big and small rivers, hot wheathers, mountains, deserts and, specially, the sea. Even if many continue to see Vallenato as a music of costeños (from the Colombian Caribbean Region), it is true that Vallenato gained a golden place in the big cities of the Andes of Colombia like Bogotá, Medellín and Cali, and as far as Caracas and Quito. The way was opened by young people coming from the Colombian Caribbean Region to study in the universities or to work in those cities, who brought their music and played their accordeons far from the sea and at more of 1000 meters up the sea level. It was also brought by people from the Andes going to work in the Caribe and coming back to their cities with the tone in their hearts. In Colombia, the first radiostations gave the honor to Vallenato to be the first Colombian music to be listen through that Mass Media and since then there is not a city, town or region of Colombia with a kind of “Vallenato FM Stereo” Radiostation. Discoteques of Vallenato are never empty, even in the Amazons region, any Colombian rumbas (feast) must have a Vallenato moment, serenades of love must have Vallenato songs, with Bolero and Ranchera. All of this has contributed to Vallenatize the country and make familiar to all the names of persons like Francisco Moscote (the legendary Francisco El Hombre), José León Carillo, Sebastián Guerra, Calixto Ochoa, Leandro Días and many others.
Although the main figures of Vallenato continue to be men of La Provincia, little by little Vallenato is becoming descentralized. For example, the Department of Antioquia is considered in La Costa as a “cachaco Department” (it means in Colombia a “Department from the Andean Region), although it has a big part of its territory in the Caribbean Region (Urabá and Low Cauca), but has already many Vallenato groups, many conformed by artists who immigrated from the Caribbean region to Medellin and others formed by the same Paisas. But same happens in Bogotá and other cities and departments on the Andes and even Los Llanos. An example of how deep Vallenato came inside the Colombian identity is Jucer Días y su Agrupación Vallenata. It is possible that its name is not well known in Colombia and it is possible that many would think that it comes from any town of the Upar Valley or El César. But it is not. It is nowadays the kings of Vallenato in the Department of Nariño and the most popular Colombian Vallenato group being listened in Ecuador. Although it could be surprising, that a pastuso group is the leaders of Vallenato in a region far from Valledupar almost 2 thousand kms away, it means how meaninful is Vallenato for a country of so different regions.
- Colombia Cultural 2007, Festival Vallenato de Monterrey, Elvallenato.com, Portal Vallenato, 24 de junio de 2007.
- Daniel Samper Pizano, Rafael Escalona… trovador vallenato, Swipnet.com
- El Vallenato y su Historia. Parranda Vallenata.com.
- Grupo vallenato de pastusos homenajeado en Ecuador. Emisora Santa Fe 100.1 Stereo, San Juan de Pasto, Nariño.