CARLOS ARGUEDAS, JAIME CORIHUANCA AND OSCAR CORIHUANCA
Carlos, Jaime and Oscar have been playing Andean traditional music since the 70’s. Bolivia Manta, founded by Carlos during his exile in France, are among the major initiators of a worldwide wave of recognition of the popular music of the Andean people. He has collaborated continuously with the brothers Corihuanca, co-founders of mythic Bolivian bands Kollamarca and Alaxpacha.
INTERVIEW – august 2016
What is music to Bolivia nowadays?
Carlos- Music has always been part of Bolivian daily life. Much more in the countryside than in cities. But with time, countryside music has come to the city. That’s why when they are children, people learn to play an instrument, usually wind instruments, which are more accessible to children. This continues at school, where the kids learn music. Some teachers are keen to organize music classes. That is how, little by little, people get interested in learning more about traditional music.
Traditional music is part of the agricultural cycles. Therefore, some instruments get played only during specific periods of time. We have many different traditional instruments, and for each one there is a specific technique to make it best, to play it, and to harmonize it. Each instrument is characteristic to each region.
Little by little, we learn all this knowledge. We never stop learning. One can never claim he knows all the traditional techniques; that would be very difficult! Because, every village looks for its own original way, and villagers want to perform in a different way than the others. Therefore for every village you have to codify, learn, interpret and recreate the music. It takes quite a long time.
In addition, some music styles have marked a whole generation. For example, our music, the one we were playing during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. During this time some events have changed Bolivian history. That is when we were fighting for the right of speech for farmers, for indigenous people. Because before then, everything was decided and thought by creole classes, who descend from the Spanish conquerors.
There are also other traditional genres, like the ones originating from Peru and the coast, influenced by the slaves’ culture, from Africa. Of course these African musical roots had a great influence on the popular music of these Andean countries. In Bolivia, we have little population descending from African people, which play a very particular music. Young people nowadays are always looking for rhythms, and some music styles with African roots, like the saya, have become popular – mostly, to dance on it.
Oscar – There is a music genre that is very important to me. It originates from the Bautista Saavedra province. Indigenous people play sacred sounds, through chants for example. Or as well the sounds from wind instruments in Italaque are considered sacred. These melodies always refer to the mountains; each one has its own name. People go at the top of a mountain and they play in circle. There are a couple of troupes in Italaque and Charasani who still play this traditional music. The sound is very special, really it is celestial – it sounds like an organ. In Italaque they play the sikuri, and in Charasani the kantu. The latter is considered medicine. It is used as musicotherapy, to cure the soul and the heart. The medicine men from this Kallawaya culture group make medicine with plants for the body, but they also cure the spirit. They have this richness to be able to communicate with the earth and with the universe.
Jaime – These people play using two types of sounds, with an interval of three and a half tone. And they use these two sounds to perform among a troupe of twenty-four people! And this produces a very special sound, something celestial, really. It is beautiful. And the dances that go along are beautiful too. Among these twenty-four people who play in circle, there has to be at least six bombo percussions. The sikus performed in Italaque, which is of Aymara culture, are special: they are called sikuris mayores (“big sikuris”). They play only one note, but the instruments are of various sizes, from full ones to half ones and quarter ones. This represents three octaves. It is a warrior rhythm.
How did you come to music?
Oscar – In daily life, we would listen to music, and then we play it on a string instrument – a charango, or a mandolin. I started learning music when I was about seven. In our family there were musicians, and they taught us. My cousins gave me a charango and to my brother a guitar. Just like that, we started listening, and before long we were playing the music. And up to now we’ve been playing!
Jaime – At the moment we are part of a band called Tunupa. But we have been playing for a very long time in three bands, starting thirty years ago. My brother and I have always performed together. The first band was Kollamarca, in the 1980’s. This band somehow made history here, because we were playing pure indigenous music, with sikuris, kantus, and other instruments. And then, because we also knew how to play string instruments, we decided to start a string section within Kollamarca. With time, we traveled to Europe, and we came back with new ideas. We then started a popular orchestra of Bolivian folkloric music, in which we included more instruments, like violins, violas, cellos, French horns… We were many musicians, up to twenty-five, also including foreigners: Americans, Japanese, Cubans… This was a wonderful decade-long experience. Over time musicians would change, but the two of us had the chance to participate during the most beautiful period of the orchestra. We performed abroad, in festivals in France. And then, the next decade, my brother and I started Alapaxcha, with two other brothers. Today the band still performs without us.
Carlos – I think Bolivia Manta belongs to a generation marked by a historical context, in the 1970’s, when several dictatorships were implanted in Latin America by the United States as part of the well-known “plan condor”. The latter literally destroyed the democratic process in all Latin America. Military people arrived at the head of a number of countries, from Argentina to Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile… This also had repercussions in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, up to Venezuela, Panama, and further North in Central America. These countries experienced a very difficult period of time, from the 1970’s to the 2000’s. The military heads started oppressing and neutralizing intellectuals, union leaders, social movements, students, and also artists of all disciplines: theater, painting, cinema, music, etc. This sometimes led to extreme situations, like in Chile where many musicians were killed, in horrible ways; they cut Víctor Jara’s hands, for example. There are terrible examples like this during all this period. Some of these persecuted people managed to leave their country. And Europe played an interesting role at this time. The countries, which most hosted exiles and political refugees, were the European ones. Because social movements there also started becoming more important, through the communist and socialist parties. This movement therefore started becoming organized and spreading a new concept: solidarity. They gave word to the refugees, who raised awareness about the problems happening in their countries, here.
At the same time refugees were denouncing the situation in Latin America, artists joined and unified to work together and participate in this wave of criticism. And, interestingly, that his how people actually started breaking borders. Because before the 1970’s, the Bolivians wouldn’t look at their neighbors, neither the Argentinians, the Chileans… Every one only cared about their own situation, and suddenly they opened up. From this time also, the Europeans stopped looking at them as if they were the center of the world. And they started implementing extra-European politics. They started getting interested in cultures from other continents. An interest in the popular music styles of Latin America was thus born. That is when one started calling the latter “Andean music”, which was largely spread and appreciated in Europe; maybe because it was instrumental music. Audiences started discerning the particularities of each popular culture that exists on the continent.
Consequently, the musicians started a new reflection on what was uniting them: one same culture. Countries have borders but the real roots are the same throughout the Andes. We started appreciating popular music of every different region of Peru, Ecuador, etc. And similarly in our own country we started looking at regional differences and originalities. Rather than standardizing it all, we were interested in understanding the differences, the techniques, the styles, because this was a complex language to learn.
So I think this was the major idea of Bolivia Manta. We felt the need to learn the musical genres that characterized our own culture. This allowed us to exchange with musicians from other Latin American countries. We funded ourselves our travels to various countries, to go and meet with popular musicians there, and also to invite them to come to Europe. That is how I actually met Oscar, when he was part of Kollamarca! We invited him to come to Europe and work some time with Bolivia Manta. So many people went and traveled, meeting each other. Other bands with the same idea like Bolivia Manta were created. A network of bands interested in making a new form of music was born. It was a great time of music and exchange, and it allowed those musical styles to get known at a greater scale. And today they are even used in nationalist concepts! But generally people became more aware.
Therefore, I think there is a process going on. People are looking for their roots, which are very strong, not only in the mountains but in all Latin America, actually. We only recently started discovering ourselves. I think one of the most interesting things we inherited from native nations is this musical language, our popular art.
Why is it important to continue this musical tradition?
Carlos – When you have such an excellent language living, you have to keep using it! We are not imposing anything; we are just enhancing this music. This process has to continue, with children, at schools, in conservatories… The cultural “un-colonization” process is just beginning in Latin America. The colonization left a negative heritage for the peoples. We have to reverse this negative process. And then, of course, we have to include the positive aspects as well: especially what European music generated. It is a remarkable world. But it needs to be properly valued, in accordance with the cultural development of our people. We can’t just impose a musical genre setting aside the other. Both have to live together and to mutually nourish each other. I believe musicians have the responsibility to lead and support this vision.
Jaime – I participated in the foundation of the Bolivian Intercultural School of Music, which functions in Oruro. All other schools of music start by teaching bases of what we call “classical music”; they teach piano, violin, etc. But at the Bolivian Intercultural School of Music, the first classes are about traditional music. Of course we also teach classical techniques, but the first teachings are about our music, our culture. We give priority to the sikus, the moseños [low bamboo flutes], the pinkuyos [can flutes], the tarkas [wood flutes], all these instruments.
Oscar – During the dictatorship, it was absolutely forbidden to play any instrument in Bolivia. In addition, there was a very harsh racism. It was forbidden for native people to walk on the Prado Avenue or to walk through the Plaza Murillo in La Paz. You can imagine to what point this racism question came. It only recently changed. But musicians have always kept learning and sharing. Musicians are always eager to play together, to start a band, to perform for a night. That is how we are keeping our unity. To me this is very comforting. We have been able to go through so many troubles. The governments haven’t paid much attention to what we have been expressing. And now, there starts to be less and less of us. That is the sad reality.
How do you envision the future of these traditional music forms?
Oscar – The youth have another way of thinking. Nowadays, many cultural manifestations have been created. But the youth have a wrong conception of music: they start learning and they want to be performing right away, and they want to be paid and become famous… They only play music to show off. There is no real work, no research. They don’t care about where a style comes from, and they don’t get interested in instruments from other regions. The knowledge is fading away. Because of a unique popular music style called the morenada, this existing variety is now disappearing. That’s a shame, because we could do a thousand of wonders with traditional music!
Carlos – Every year at the end of July, universities open and at this occasion all students present a popular dance in La Paz. By watching this you can realize that some music and dance forms are already popular among urban people, while some others are the strict continuation of the rural tradition. More and more university students want to promote this traditional culture. But there also are new, urban music styles.
Jaime – This parade in the past always comprised 100% of native music and dance. But then, the youth liked to dance on dynamic rhythms, like the “caporals”, or the morenadas, etc. And so they included these in the show. But the idea at the beginning was to present only rural music. But what can we against the new tastes!
Is there any trend to create new music with the traditional one?
Carlos – There are a few musicians who worked on fusion music. For example they have a classical formation and they use traditional melodic lines to create symphonies. The other music style that then mixed with traditional music is jazz. Because through its harmonic concepts and through improvisation, jazz allows musicians to come closer to traditional music. There are intents to mix these, but I don’t think there’s anything concrete like in other countries.
Here is also a challenge: if there were rhythms able to make traditional music join together with classical music or jazz, that would be easier. In Peru, or on The Ecuadorian coast, or in Colombia, the African influence is very important. This allows bands to work on fusion music. The common denominator is rhythm, and then you add a melodic line, an instrumental coloration, and then you can have jazz improvisation. But here in Bolivia it is a challenge. There would have to be musicians who have this interpretation capacity, who know various musical genres, who learn them, who transmit them, and who create a sharing space. This would allow the development of contemporary music. It will come with time.
Do you a have a message for the world?
Carlos – Come to Bolivia! We warmly welcome you!
Oscar – We want to share with every visitor. Not only friendship, but also music. We have a lot of music we can share.
PORTFOLIO – CH’UTILLOS, A TRADITIONAL MUSIC AND DANCE PARADE IN POTOSI