Nostalgia (Bunde). Autora: Elsy Montaño, Intérprete: Elver Paz; Legado Pacífico. Guapi, marzo 2020. Grabación sonora: Investigación Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico (UdeA – RHUL).
Guapi is recognised for its traditional marimba music, dances and traditional songs, which combine in songs and dances such as the currulao, the bunde, the juga, the bambuco viejo, the mazurca negra and many more.
The marimba, or ‘jungle piano’ as it is known in the Pacific, was brought from Africa by the ancestors “on foot, like how you came to Guapi today”, says Pacho Torres, a virtuoso of the bombo drum from the Torres dynasty. Since then, great-grandparents, grandparents and sons and daughters have “cultivated” it until the present day.
Francisco (Pacho) Torres playing the marimba. Sansón village (Guapi), 8 March 2020. Photo: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA – RHUL).
Marimba performance Performer: Francisco (Pacho) Torres. Sansón village (Guapi), 8 March 2020. Sound recording: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA – RHUL).
Exploring these musical styles typical of Colombia’s South Pacific region reveals a universe of traditions and stories that lead us deeply towards broader meanings of music, of the Pacific and of the being of the people of Guapi.
Peach palm and bamboo marimba. Writer and performer: Ruth Marién Vásquez (Nany). Guapi, March 2020. Sound recording: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA-RHUL).
Elver Paz, a member of the Legado Pacífico group, associates the shape of the marimba with a bridge or a stairway that connects him through time to his ancestors and his future:
“If I sing a juga, that my grandmother used to sing, I think about her while I’m singing; if I sing a bunde that my grandfather used to sing, I sing it thinking about my grandfather, I make him present, I resuscitate him. So, this is something more… it is a bridge that connects us to the past, it connects us with the present and pushes us into the future, into a future where we will no longer be, where people won’t see us anymore, but where others will sing our songs and will remember us.” Elver
This association reflects the complexity of musical creation in Guapi, which goes far beyond the marimba and involves a system of life and beliefs where the human and the divine, the living and the dead, the jungle and the cosmos, come together in a tapestry of instruments, bodies and songs that reflect the very essence of the people of Guapi.
San Antonio tiene aoyae una peroleta [San Antonio has a little pan] (Juga de arrullo). Author and performer: María Natividad Caicedo. Sound recording: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA – RHUL). Guapi, March 2020.
Beings who sing to the saints and to their ancestors while doing everyday tasks, just like the living do, all of them filling a space and a task in the present.
Different generations come together around music and dance and live their day to day lives; in festivals for patron saints, for Easter week and in December, in homes, in arrullo songs and funerals, or in the streets and bars.
“Music in us is pure peace, harmony, brotherhood, because when our people went to the fields to work the land, when they went out into the populated areas or the house, anyone who didn’t have a marimba would have a guitar; so there has always been this system of unity around music”Silvia Mancilla
“When you sing and you feel the joy … you don’t remember anything in those moments, just the joy itself” Doña María
“It’s like ecstasy… excitement!… It’s like being in paradise” Pepe
Singing is present in everything and through it the people tell their stories, their beliefs, their everyday lives. It is the women, the cantadoras, who teach future generations to sing; they sing and the learners respond.
Through this process of repetition, ‘el respondido’, the women teach future generations to sing, creating a system of memory that not only preserves the lyrics of their music and dances, but also the teachings of their ancestors, their sources of inspiration and hope.
“When someone dies, we sing; when someone is born, we sing arrullos; there is a patron saint’s festival and we have to sing arrullos; there is always singing. If people are picking rice, they sing, if they are gossiping, they sing, their verses, their things; songs are always there.” Nany
The men, in turn, make and play the instruments, activities that are linked to hunting and to the deep and mystic knowledge of the jungle. As well as offering food and shelter, it also provides the wood, reeds and animal skins used to make the instruments.
They collect peach palm and balsa when the moon is waning, as this is when these materials have the right amount of humidity to give the instruments solidity and strength. Animal skins are carefully chosen for the sound they produce. For bombos, the best skin is that of the deer, which “gives a unique sound”. They avoid using the skin of the jaguar because as it is an animal that attacks from behind and so it is believed that it returns its ferocity when played.
“The animals from the forest like the saíno and the deer are the best, even the jaguarundi” Pacho Torres
Ritually, viche is always present in music and in everyday life; it helps warm the body and prepares the atmosphere for playing. It is also a symbol of respect and appreciation; Doña Marta, a cantadora from the district of Limones says that what she enjoys most when people invite her to sing is that they treat her very well, they make her feel “very welcome”.
Traditional medicines are also prepared using viche. These are used to cure illnesses such as the evil eye, espanto, where a severe fright makes people lose their soul, malaria, and typhoid; traditional drinks such as curao and toma seca are made using viche. When the fishers go out to fish in the early morning, they have a couple of drinks of curao to keep the body warm, and midwives use toma seca to get the cold out of women’s wombs when they have problems conceiving.
“This is what we use here… and look how we are here, full of life!” Doña Ceferina
“You call the people, you have a drink, you all get together, and you start playing” Pacho Torres
In Guapi, people learn to make music through repetition, watching, listening and repeating. They perfect their technique and skills through this almost-ritual repetition. Doña María learnt with her mother; paying attention to “the elders”, hearing how they sang, seeing “how they did it” while Chela Torres grew up with the marimba, as her father made them while she did the housework with her mother. It was her mother who called her to practice singing, teaching her the verses as she copied her.
“You are a good singer, because you have the same blood as me”her father Genaro, the first-born of the Torres family, said to her. These words and her faith in God gave Chela the confidence that she would do well and encouraged her to sing.
Faith in God, in her dreams, and in her ancestors, who show her the path and are always present along it. This is how people learn to weave, cook, and prepare traditional medicines and drinks, combining ancestral knowledge with their own ideas and innovations. Nayibe Torres, owner of the ‘Nayibe’ beauty salon and manufacturer of ‘Nayi, tasty, delicious and vigorous’ drinks, tells how her father prepared the drinks and that she later on learned with a close friend. Little by little, she innovated with the recipe, adding new plants and methods, trying new packaging until she produced her distinctive drinks.
The processes of musical learning and creation also enjoy the support of the Catholic Church owing to the role it has played in culture and in establishing the first schools in the Pacific region and in Colombia. The Church is nowadays not just a stage for music but also a cultural support as it backs training programmes initiated by local musicians to preserve the ‘legacy’.
Preserving the legacy that identifies them as guapireñas and guapireños, as Pacific communities, is the aim of Tejiendo Saberes, Semblanzas del Río Guapi, Legado Pacífico, and a large number of groups that nowadays work to innovate within their culture and transmit the knowledge of their great masters.
“Because they carry the essence of our land, in the instruments and in all of their knowledge” Pepe
Displacements and movements, voluntary and forced, within and beyond the Pacific region, have also played a fundamental role in musical creation and change.
Nowadays, more and more women play instruments, including the marimba which only used to be played by men. The men in turn sing arrullos and alabados along with the cantadoras, leading and responding.
Young people who ‘when they grow up’ want to be a “maths-physicist” (Santiago), a “reggaetón singer” (Yeimy), a “marine” (Yumeli), a “professional footballer” (Pepe), “teach Pacific music” (Pichi), or “so many things I still don’t know what to choose” (Camilo). Despite this, they all want to combine their profession with “the culture of the Pacific”; they want to learn and teach how to play and sing. And in turn, tell people that when they speaking about culture, they “even speak about what we eat” (Elver) because there is a specific and very particular way of preparing and serving food in the Pacific; of making fishing nets or building wooden houses.
Young people from Guapi doing their everyday activities. Guapi, March 2020. Photographs: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA – RHUL).
Music in Guapi then is a system of unity where the living sing to the dead and to the saints; where the jungle provides food and instruments; where the cycles of the moon determine the exact moment for cutting peach palm and wood. Where faith and God, but also dreams, mothers and fathers, ancestors, tell people that they were born to play, sing and dance, or to do any other job.
Interview with Elver Paz, member of Legado Pacífico. Casa del Río (Guapi), March 2020. Sound recording: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA – RHUL).
“It is not a sleeping faith but a wide-awake faith that leads you to question without doubts” Elver
Practices and customs that do not sleep over time, but are transformed and brought up to date. A culture that identifies them and asserts them in time; through which they exist and re-exist in the midst of forgetting and conflict; silently demanding a differentiated presence in the world through their cultural framework. A system of unity constantly threatened by and neglected by the state and its selective presence, drug trafficking, glyphosate and excessive extraction of resources.
El clamor de un pueblo. Author: Moncho Segura. Performer: Ruth Marién Vásquez (Nany). Sound recording: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA-RHUL). Guapi, March 2020.
Lo bonito que es Guapi [How beautiful Guapi is]. Message from Juana Renteria to the audience of Corpografías. Barrio Santa Mónica (Guapi), March 2020. Sound recording: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA-RHUL).