Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Featured CD: Bovea y Sus Vallenatos (Los Cantos Vallenatos de Escalona)

This CD review is, by necessity, about much more than the CD. There is a whole context behind it that I have to explain in order to transmit the significance of a particular piece of music.

Back in 1983, when my interest in the folklore of Latin America was confirmed, I had the opportunity to visit Colombia again for three weeks after having spent a year there on a Fulbright scholarship in 1980-81. This time, what brought me there was my then-fiancée Adriana and my first "meet the parents" visit to their home in Bogotá. We had met in Philadelphia in 1982, got engaged, and after her visa expired later that year, communicated through snail mail and very infrequent, expensive long-distance calls. Remember, this was pre-Internet, pre-Skype, pre-Facebook and pre-everything else.

When I arrived at the airport, I was humbled and overwhelmed by the reception of many people, not only Adriana and her family but also several friends I had met during my year of study. So many had come out, it looked like an official welcoming committee.

While I was in Bogotá and juggling visits to Adriana´s family and my friends, I also had an enormous curiosity to delve further into an interest in culture, and particularly music, that had grown since I finished my one-year grant. One of the styles of music was the popular "vallenato" music, a regional style from
Colombia´s Caribbean coastal region, though not exactly from the coast but rather a valley slightly inland, the same area where Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez was born.

The word "vallenato" refers to a person who lives in the area surrounding the principal city in the valley, Valledupar. This style of music has a relation with the merengue from the Dominican Republic and developed during the 20th century. One of its principal composers was Rafael Escalona (1927-2009), who began creating songs in the 1940s and was a legend in his country. Like García Márquez, Escalona had a great gift for storytelling.

With this information I proceeded to one of the largest record stores in Bogotá, called "Mercado Mundial del Disco" ("World Record Market") whose slogan was "Disco que no tengamos, no existe!" (A record that we don´t have, doesn´t exist!) Of course, this was in the days of LPs and cassettes. I asked about classic vallenato music, and the seller produced the LP of the songs of Escalona, sung by the group (Julio) Bovea y Sus Vallenatos. When I first listened to it, I was disappointed because I expected to hear the accordion, whereas this music was with guitars, along with the scraper and drum. It was explained to me that there was vallenato music interpreted on the guitar, and the more I listened to it, the more I liked it, and it quickly became one of my favorites. When CDs became available, I was able to purchase the album, which added a few songs from the same group that did have the accordion as the lead instrument.

Escalona´s life was often the subject of these songs, and the best known song on the album is "La Casa en el Aire" (The House in the Air), which has the "son" rhythm. In the song Escalona fantasizes how he is going to build a house in the air so that he can protect his daughter Ada Luz from any potential suitors. While I like this song, my absolute favorite is "El Testamento" (paseo rhythm), which describes how Escalona has to leave his girlfriend to travel to Santa Marta to attend school.

As you can imagine, I identify that music with that whole period in my life, which has led to many wonderful things, especially my marriage to Adriana and the ties to her family. Even without that context, the music is highly infectious and will motivate you to dance.

A side note: Colombian singer Carlos Vives began his climb to fame by starring in the soap opera "Escalona" in 1991, based on the life of the composer. My favorite episode was a fictional one that appropriated the legend of "Francisco el Hombre," an accordionist who wins a duel with the devil by singing the Creed in reverse. The segment can be found on

This album is available on iTunes. doesn´t have mp3 files of this album for sale but you can find the link to the CD at

Please check out my Facebook pages "Mike Esposito´s Travel Blog" and "Folklorelatino" (in Spanish).