Latin Style Harp Music Still Trending Around the World

Harplist friends and others,

Tomorrow I will leave Bogota for 12 days, then return here in early August to catch my flight back to West Virginia on August 7.

Last night I sold my little 26-stringed travel harp to Alejandra, a young woman who will play it on the Trans-Milenio, a network of express busses that travels throughout the city on dedicated lanes. My host, Hildo Ariel, encourages this “busking.” He notes that in such circumstances a woman will often get better tips than a man would, and can make a living working this way for 6 hours a day.

(He uses his two given names - Hildo Ariel - for publicity, leaving off his two surnames: Aguirre from his father, Daza from his mother).

Hildo is devoted to promoting Latin American harp music, and particularly the traditional regional style known as joropo or arpa llanera. I share this devotion, that is why I came here. I still insist that Latin American harp styles are “trending” in the US and around the world. A good example is Japan, where Latin harp styles have been adopted and polished to a high level of performance. Examples:

Yoko Yoshizawa - Pajarillo (joropo style) 

Mika Agematsu – Quirpa (joropo style) 

Mika Agematsu - Moliendo Cafe (Grinding Coffee, a Venezuelan popular song) 

Shinsaku Yokoo - Tren Lechero (“Milk Train”, A Paraguayan “Orange Blossom Special”) 

Rieko Kamiyama - Cascada (Paraguay)

Paraguayan style has penetrated much more widely around the world, but there is room for more diversity. Besides the joropo tradition of Colombia and Venezuela, we need more of the jarocho from Mexico and the huayno from Peru, among others.

Has anyone else on harplist been to Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City, where musicians display themselves and look for customers? I have. Last night I learned from Hildo that there is such a place in Bogota, called La Playa (the beach). Various styles are offered – joropo, mariachi, vallenato, etc. There is competition for business. Hildo does not go to La Playa. His prestige allows him to command fees for a musical group amounting to US $500 or more. There are good musicians who will work for much less, under $100 for a group of four or five musicians.

Hildo points to a problem that musicians have everywhere: clients are often looking for cheap or free music. When they offer him food and drink, he refuses, saying “I have food at home, and I don't drink!” Here at Academia, students are taught stage presence and grooming for professional appearance, and the business of music.

Hildo's students have been very successful winning competitions in regional festivals throughout the country. As a result, he says, his students are no longer invited in some places where a community wants locals to win.

The regional festivals promote “queen” contests which are more than just beauty contests. In these competitions, the winner must display a range of talents – specifically harp, cuatro, maracas, dance, and singing. Hildo is grooming his niece, Tatiana, for these competitions. Tatiana is especially good with maracas, and good also with dancing and cuatro, but he says that to win she needs more practice with harp and singing. These awards can amount to thousands of dollars.

As I've said before, this centuries-old musical tradition is alive and well; it is not a “revival.” And, I'm determined to say, joropo music is trending once again.

Tomorrow I will go to Arauca, Colombia, in the llanos, the plains, on the border with Venezuela. This is the heart of the region that gives us the joropo, musica llanera, featuring harp, cuatro and maracas. After more than three weeks in Bogota, I'm eager for the change of scenery.