Currulao y Son Sureño, en Nariño

Colaboración especial de: Elizabeth Obando Paz 
- N.M.I.T-  (Northen Melbourne Institute of Tafe) Australia. 2011

This essay will firstly provide some general historical, geographical and cultural information about Colombia, before discussing the musical and cultural influences of the Spanish, Africans, and Indigenous with reference to both general characteristic of the music played by descendents of these different groups such as rhythms and instrumentation, and specific forms that they have created. Thirdly, this paper will discuss the specific music and culture of the different regions of Colombia, demonstrating both the great variety of forms found throughout the different regions of the country and their relationships with the particular people of each region. This will follow into a more detailed discussion of the southern state of Narino, as it provides an excellent example of the variety of musical forms found throughout Colombia and how they are strongly related to the ethnic origins and geographical location of the people who created them. 

Con el Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, en Melbourne.
Colombia, located in the northwest corner of South America is a multicultural country, where Spanish descendant white people, mestizos, blacks and indigenous people blend in a wide geography which its third part, mountainous, reaches eternal snow on its highest peaks, and the rest, flat, corresponds to plains and lowlands, many of which border on some Pacific or Atlantic coasts and the Amazon River basin. 

Colombia is a country rich in music, culture and history. Spanish conquest and colonization of what became modern day Colombia brought large waves of Spanish immigrants and African slaves, who along with the Indigenous, represent the three main distinct ethnic groups in Colombia. Each group brought varied and distinct musical and cultural norms which combined to produce numerous new musical styles and a vibrant society. As the migration of these groups was not uniform, and the Colombian terrain mountainous, separating the country into geographically isolated regions, there exists great variety in cultural and artistic forms nationally and between different regions. 

Colombia, with a population in excess of forty five million people is the fourth largest Spanish speaking country in the world. It is situated at the north east of the South America, and sharing borders with Venezuela and Brazil in the east, Peru and Ecuador in the south, and Panama in the north-west, it is the only South American country to have coastline on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. 
The Palace Theatre, Melbourne CBD
Prior to the Spanish arrival and subsequent conquest in 1492, the land that is now known as Colombia was home to three major indigenous nations, the Quimbaya, Muisca, and the Tairona, Quillacingas, Pastos and others. While a large proportion of the indigenous people were absorbed into the general category of mixed race people (Mestizos), there are currently 85 nationally recognized distinct indigenous cultural groups living on 567 government allocated reservations. Combined, these reservations make up approximately 30 percent of the country. Colombia won independence from Spain in 1819 as part of Gran Colombia, a larger nation which included all of present day Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and a large  north-western segment of Brazil. It was reduced to its current borders through a series of succession conflicts and internal political divisions between 1830 and 1903.

Colombia’s location at the junction of the South American and the broader American continent, alongside its history of mass migration from Africa and Europe (predominantly Spain) has brought a large number of different influences into contemporary Colombian culture. In addition to the contributions of the three largest ethnic groups, the Africans, Spanish, and Indigenous, other recognizable cultural influences include North-America and the Caribbean. The Spanish brought with them Catholicism which they enthusiastically encouraged amongst both their African slaves and the Indigenous people. Sadly, this was accompanied by systematic brutal destruction of the existing Indigenous civilization and methodical oppression of any remaining Indigenous culture. As a result much of the traditional Indigenous knowledge and culture was lost. Colombia is now a strongly Catholic country, and religious festivals and ceremonies are vibrantly celebrated throughout the country, often intertwined with local cultural elements and accompanied with local musical styles and sacred dances.
Carnaval de Negros y Blancos en Pasto
Music plays an important role in contemporary Colombian culture, and is celebrated in many forms from traditional rural musical and religious events to discotheques and concert halls. Colombia has several major music and cultural festivals throughout the year, including Barranquilla’s festival, which takes place for four days before the Christian holy day of Ash Wednesday in the town of Barranquilla, and is regarded to be the world’s second most attended festival after Carnival in Rio de Janero in Brazil. Other major festivals include the Carnival of blacks and whites which is celebrated in Pasto, declared by the UNESCO in 2010 as intangible heritage of humanity, and the Bambuco pageant and folkloric festival in Neiva. These festivals celebrate cultural diversity and feature numerous performances of traditional Colombian music. Some of the most popular styles of music in Colombia are Cumbia, Vallenato, Salsa, Merengue, Bambuco and porro.  Colombian rock music, international pop and more Reggaton are also increasingly being listened to throughout the country. Probably Colombia’s most famous pop star is Shakira, who has enjoyed high ratings in the pop charts throughout the western world for a long time. Other important Colombian composers include Joe Arroyo, grupo niche and Guayacan, among the most nominated. Having provided a brief overview of some key aspects of Colombian history, ethnic make-up, geography and culture this paper will now turn to a more detailed discussion of the cultural and musical influences of the three major ethnic groups found in Colombia, the Spanish, the Africans, and the Indigenous.

As Colombia was a Spanish colony, it is natural that the strongest cultural influence in Colombia has been the Spanish. The Spanish brought their language, religion, economic and land management system, architecture, and caste social system, alongside their musical instruments and artistic traditions. Their caste social system valued Spanish birth or descent over either Indigenous, African, or mixed-race descent and allocated political and social rights exclusively to Spanish men (including those born in the colony to Spanish parents). They used their position as the governing class to establish their cultural norms as dominant and to discredit those of the Indigenous and Africans, which were viewed with disdain and outright contempt, regarded anywhere between being backward or outright heretical. While today Spanish descended people no longer enjoy enshrined political and social advantages, they remain clearly overrepresented amongst the upper class of Colombian society and enjoy considerably more social mobility and power than any other ethnic group.

The Spanish brought with them European instruments, European classical musical and harmonic principals, alongside distinctly Spanish musical forms such as flamenco which had a huge influence on Colombian music. Spanish harmony draws heavily on chord progressions which are derived from the harmonic minor scale. The Spanish immigrants brought with them a passion for the dancing and playing European Waltz music, which over time led to the creation of a Colombian waltz form called Pasillo which is famous throughout the country. 
Estudiante universitaria de la costa pacífica
The influence of the Africans on Colombian culture can be well represented through a metaphor of the music and traditional accompanying dancing style of Cumbia. Cumbia is found and almost universally appreciated throughout Colombia, Latin America, and the wider world and like African music generally, it has had a major influence on music throughout the world. Cumbia is a slow rhythm, and was traditionally danced in slow smoothly executed small dance steps, emulating the dancing of an African slave restrained by a ball and chain. Like Cumbia, elements of African culture, particularly those relating to dance and rhythm have been hugely influential and widely celebrated, but the Africans as a people have always been marginalised in Colombian society. Brought to the country as slaves in large numbers commencing in the early 1500s, they were forced by the colonial government into various manual labour schemes in the cattle ranches, gold mines and plantations.  Slavery abolished in 1851, but the Afro-Colombian people have never enjoyed an equal share of social and political power with compared with the Spanish descended people. Sadly they remain socially marginalised and over represented amongst the lower socio-economic classes in Colombia.
Músicos de las Mojigangas de Funes
The important influence of Native Americans of the Andes in the Colombian music is expressed in bands of pipes located in the department of Cauca and Andean music formats Nariño department, especially in the interpretation of strings and the use of quenas, quenachos, tarkas, moceños, pincullos, bombos, vientos, quenas, zampoñas y charangos. 

In this context, the department of Nariño highlights, a piece of home, where the above characteristics of Colombia are synthesized. Nariño has the largest  mountain mass of the Andean region, the Pasto mountain mass or the Colombian Mass, one of the largest rivers in the country, Patia river; more than half of its territory belongs to the plain and Pacific coast and part of its mountain area initiates the Amazon mount. To these features there must be added the important cultural influence from Ecuador, a border country.
By 2010 "... the population of Nariño is around 1,639,569 inhabitants distributed (...) in different multi-ethnic status: 10.8% of native people located in 67 shelters, 8.83% African descendants settled primarily on the Pacific coast and 70.4% mixed race who converge on the rural communities rooted throughout the territory” (Gobernación de Nariño 2008). This multi-ethnic condition and its consequent cultural diversity, "... are one of the greatest assets of Nariño, since they generate the cultural identity of Nariño in which the sense of solidarity, cosmogonic, bioecological sense of the natives amalgamate with the libertarian impulse and the resistance for survival of the African descendants and with the values of Western Hispanic culture that underlie the race mixture” (Gobernación de Nariño 2008). 

So, Nariño is located "... in a privileged area to receive music information from everywhere. Geographically we are located in the navel of South America since we get influences from everywhere. We get influence from the Pacific coast of Tumaco and Cali. But from the Andean region of Ecuador and Peru Music comes a lot of musical information too” (Urresty 2003). The Nariño person easily adopts different local and foreign musical concepts. For the native of these lands of the south, it is easy to interpret a salsa, a joropo, a reggae, a bolero or any tropical rhythm without losing the Andean feeling.

And in modern times the republic brought  "... the pasillo and bambuco and the ultra modern times, tango, rumba, currulao, the sanjuanitos ..." (Urresty 2003). 
Percusionistas del Trío sin fronteras
Héctor Bolaños Astorquiza, distinguished journalist from Pasto, in his book 100 Lessons from Nariño, confirms that "Music in Nariño has been defined by geography, history and culture. The center and east of its territory correspond to the Andean region, characterized by the predominance of bambuco, a rhythm of blended source; the Pacific coast, the music of black tradition, whose expression is currulao" (Bolaños 1985). The bambuco of the Andean region of Nariño, worth the entry, has twists that make it special and is called the Southern Rhythm (Son Sureño). The Southern Rythm  is a tertiary rhythm that in each time it feels the pulsing three: Ta, pa, ta, Ta, pa, ta, Ta, pa, ta. The bambuco is binary and tertiary; the bass takes two notes on each beat: tun tun ta!: Tun tun ta!. It is equal to the bass the Southern Rhythm (Son) carries and this is the influence of bambuco.

Abadia Morales, quoted by Edgar Bastidas Urresty, defines currulao, subject of this writing, as a "... tune and dance of African origin, that is unique and the most representative of Colombia's Pacific coast. The instrument that is executed is a drum called Cununo, Quechua word, typically using two (male and female) accompanied by the tambora or bombo and marimba de chonta” .
Danzas colombianas en Melbourne, Australia.
  "Currulao - also said by the National System of Cultural Information - SNIC, from the Ministry of Culture of Colombia - is a mixed composition in which the sound of cununos, marimbas, guasas, drums and choked voices of the singers are blended. Currulao pitch goes (no in terms of time) binary 6 / 8 even though its swinging drumming rhythm (drums) can go in ternary configurations. The choir is usually done by women and is carried out using repeated verses in chorus lines and phonemes subject to the rhythmic process, letting that the melody of the song is drawn without vocal relief. The most important musical instrument of currulao is the marimba (idiophone percussion instrument) that performs the semi-melodic accompaniment based on high notes and a very particular hum." 

Similarly, Julian Bastidas Urresty states that "currulao, this fiery rhythm of dark skin, looks like Son sureño (the highlands) in its rhythm, both played in the 6 / 8 pitch and sound very well with percussion elements. These rythms can be switched on the same track and only expert ears can notice the difference (...) The difference between the two genders is most evident in the melody of the mountain keeps sad nuances and the currulao got rid of sentimentality."  An example of this, is the musical piece La Muy Indigna, a currulao song by the well remebered Leonidas -Caballito- Garcés, great composer born in Tumaco, whose lyrics tell the humorous story of a black cheating wife with twenty-four men, including the same husband:

I had a love affair with a little woman, with a little woman
and she was having four, the very unworthy, the very unworthy.
Five with me, six with the worthless of her husband,
seven with her husband with another,
with an old man of the town were eight, were eight.
She had nine, ten with a police sergeant, a police
eleven with Mena,
twelve with a stranger from a foreign land, foreign land.
Thirteen with Perez, fourteen and the jailer of women, of women,
fifteen with Tito… 
Leonidas -Caballito- Garcés
Currulao, is also, according to Colombia Learns, website of the Ministry of National Education of Colombia, "... the dance pattern of the Afro-Colombian Pacific coast. It presents features which summarize the African heritage of slaves brought into the colonial era to the work of mining done in the basins of the rivers of western territory. In implementing the currulao can still observe characteristics of a sacramental ritual steeped in ancient power and magical content” . 

An example of the nuances of the Southern son (Son Sureño), other than currulao, are in the song Valle de Atriz whose lyrics reference the strength of character of people from Pasto, their fondness to work and to the guard of the border with Ecuador:

"My Nariño is firm land
Work is its flag
Sentinels of the country
because here is the border
Vamos todos a bailar
Este ritmo son sureño
Y si alguno es forastero
Complacido yo le enseño”.

Through the veins of Southern rhythm (Son sureño) runs, at high speed, blood of black race. This shows the symbiosis of the music of  Nariño at their top two expressions, Southern rhythm (Son sureño) from highlands and Currulao on the Pacific coast, which get mixed in their rhythmic and differ in their melody. "While the Currulao, historian Arturo Pazos Bastidas says -  is a violent musical rythm (...), the dance has a planimetry of advances and setbacks, elegant and agile turnings, jumps and fights  in gang, also gestures with the help of scarf"  , the Southern Son (Son sureño) "as a set of music, song and dance of recent origin, of different ethnic ancestry and very representative of the Andean region of Nariño (...) has a very cheerful and lively rhythm (...) and melody, of simple cutting, of melancholic air, it is easy to remember. It usually played in a tertiary pitch unlike, for example, Afro-Caribbean music dominated by binary pitch." 
Danzantes de Tumaco en el CESMAG.
In relation to the link between Currulao and Southern Rhythm (Son sureño) the Pasto-born researcher Julián Bastidas Urresty concludes that it is difficult to know when "... was the mixture of fragments of native musical culture, Spanish and African made to form the Southern rhythm as it is known today. It is also difficult to determine who or who created it."   It is precisely this lack of the exact origin of the blending that makes it so charming and attractive while it converts it in the patrimony of the whole collectivity, at the same time it enjoys, and transmits naturally from generation to generation. The Southern Rhythm (Son sureño) are liked by black people from Nariño Pacific coast as currulao impacts for its energy and coquetry to the people of the cold and self-absorbed highlands. 

The department of Nariño, mountainous and coastal, makes of its Currulao and Southern Rhythm (Son Sureño), the perfect transition from the great African musical space, South American and Spanish, said in clearer words black, native and Hispanic.

Gobernación de Nariño, 2008, Development Plan 2008- 2011, Adelante Nariño, Pasto, COL. 
URRESTY, Julián Bastidas 2003, El son sureño,  Graficolor, Pasto, Nariño, COL. 
BOLAÑOS, Astorquiza Manuel, 1985,  100 Lecciones de Nariño, Imprenta Departamental, Pasto, Colombia.
Ministerio de Cultura, 2003, Reseña músicas Pacífico Sur músicas de marimba y cantos tradicionales currulao y otros, Viewed 5 august 2010:
BASTIDAS URRESTY, Edgar, 1995,  Nariño: historia y cultura, Ediciones Testimonio,  Pasto, Nariño, COL
Sistema Nacional de información Cultural, 2004, Colombia cultural, Ritmos Valle del Cauca, viewed 05 Sep 2010:
Colombia aprende, 2002, Movimiento y ritmo, El currulao, viewed 10 sep 2010

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