Pop Life

Sonidos y Mas: Niyireth's Musica Colombiana Andina


Musica Colombiana Andina - Music from Colombia (Arc Music)

When we hear about Andean music, the first thing that comes to mind are those Peruvian pan-flute players who perform on city streets, either playing traditional tunes like "El Condor Pasa" and "Fina Estampa" or adapting American pop songs into their own style. But there is much more music that comes from the South American mountains, like this disc from UK-based label Arc Music.

Classically trained Niyireth Alarcón has dedicated her life to spreading the traditional folk music of the Colombian Andes. While danceable and electronic genres like vallenato and salsa have found a home in the U.S. via the many immigrant communities that have arrived here in recent years, somehow the more organic sounds styles like bambuco and pasillo have failed to fully make it across the border. 

"Sufro Quierendote"

To make matters worse, younger urbanized generations are unfamiliar with them, hence the need to preserve these songs for posterity. On this CD - Alarcón's first to get worldwide distribution - we get some examples of Alarcon's vast repertoire. The program opens with "La Cholita," a song whose first-person lyrics describe a young mestiza's daily life and her daily struggles to take care of her ever-growing brood.

Heartbreak and longing are the themes of "La Chapolera" and "Sufro Quierendote," which appear here as a soft medley whose simple arrangement allows the listener to pay close attention to her voice, which bears close resemblance to Mexican-American singer Lila Downs (another classically trained vocalist dedicated to traditional music).

June marks the Winter harvest in several South American countries. In many communities, farmers eat, drink and dance in honor of St. John The Evangelist and St. Peter (the latter is the patron saint of fishermen in the Roman Catholic calendar). The music is always lively, and the dance is similar to the square dance performed in the U.S. An example of this is "Llano Grande," an upbeat number whose lyrics describe the party mood of the revelers eager to dance the night away.

Musica Colombiana Andina comes in a cool package that includes a detailed biography of the artist, lyrics and instruments, with text in English, French, German and Spanish - leaving no excuse for those who complain that they can't understand what is going on. Let's hope that this release motivates her to tour the U.S. in the near future. - Ernest Barteldes

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Ernest Barteldes