Sunday, 5 October 2014

Let's Face the Music and Dance!

As you are probably aware, life in Colombia is full of music of all varieties - it is extremely rare to walk even 100m down the street without hearing some kind of beat pumping from a nearby stereo, if not several at the same time! What's more, a Colombian cannot hear music and stand still. I'm convinced that if you tied one of them up and played some music - even if it was in the next room - they would start twitching and eventually implode. I mean, it's in their blood. I even walked past a nursery school where they were teaching little two-year-olds how to dance salsa. So unfair!

Locals in 'La Troja' bar, showing off their well-practised salsa skills.
Image: Golden Colombia

Banda de la Escuela Naval de Barranquilla
With this in mind, this past week has been particularly musical. To begin, my university decided to have a 'Semana Cultural', or 'Cultural Week', which involved live music on campus every day after class - fantastic! On Monday I was greeted with a local military band (pictured), on Tuesday a song competition, on Wednesday a rock band and dancers, and on Thursday there was even a Bohemian night at the Fine Arts Campus (which I sadly didn't make it to). I was particularly impressed by the amount of percussion instruments in use (see how many you can spot here), and also the variety of entertainment on offer. Having thoroughly enjoyed all of these different events, I felt spoilt when Friday evening came around and I realised it was time to go to yet another concert... Carlos Vives!
Carlos Vives in concert! Worth the wait (in the end...)
Now for those of you who don't know, Carlos Vives is probably the third most famous Colombian musician in the world (no Flight of the Concords references here please). He mostly plays a genre called Vallenato, a form of Colombian folk music mostly popular here on the coast, in the Caribbean region. It involves heavy use of the accordion (never have I seen people so glad to be holding one of those things), a small, hand-played drum and a percussive instrument called a guacharaca, which works a bit like a cheese grater being rubbed by a whisk. Use your imagination.

Now, obviously, a world-famous musician (honestly, he is) is going to spice things up a little bit, and therefore he had a rather larger band than the simple three-man group that traditional Vallenato involves. That may have been the reason it took him three hours (three hours!!!) to set up and start playing after the support act had left the stage. Oh, that and the torrential rain that started pouring down just after they went away. All in all, it was a rather sorry affair, right up until the moment when we made some friends with an umbrella, and aguardiente, (the local spirit of choice), and things livened up a bit! A while after that Mr Vives decided it was time to start playing, and things were all right in the world. Apart from my rather soggy trainers, which took over 24 hours to dry out again, poor things...

Dancing the night away to electronic Caribbean rhythms
To finish off my week of all things musical, on Saturday I headed to the Alliance Française (yes, there is a French Alliance in Barranquilla) to try my luck with some electronic muisc. Now, I am not the world's biggest electro fan, but, let me say, when electronic music is combined with the chilled-out beats of the Caribbean, I'm all for it! I spent a great night dancing my heart out on the patio of the AF, occasionally glancing upwards through the palm trees to the starry sky and thinking 'This is the life!'. Oh, and I even managed to bump into the drummer of a jazz band I'd seen the week before (so many gigs, so little time...).

A pretty successful week, all things considered! My love of Colombian music continues unabated, and I am one more step along along the way to becoming a true Barranquillera. Tune in next week for more music, mayhem and madness!

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