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Land of winds > Rhythms and styles > Dance | Issue 03. Jan.-Feb.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Sanjuán and sanjuanito

Sanjuán and sanjuanito
The sanjuanito or san juanito and the sanjuán or san juan are two musical genres of Ecuador closely related with each other which, according to scholars Gabriel García Ceballos and Pedro Traversari Salazar, would have originated in the region of San Juan de Ilumán, Otavalo canton, Imbabura province. For their part, scholars such as Segundo L. Moreno and Polio Mayorga believe that both of them would have been danced during the winter solstice celebrations (the Inti Raymi of the Incas), which would later match up with the Spanish Saint John’s feast (San Juan), giving such musical expressions their current name. Although both rhythms are commonly mistaken with each other, musicologists and anthropologists alike have found several basic differences between them. The sanjuanes are mainly performed in native Quechua communities in Otavalo and its surroundings. Their melodies, in 2/4 time, are bimodal (consisting of two modes of unequal prominence that complement one another, with the minor mode more poignant than the major one), usually pentatonic and played using flutes and drums. On the other hand, the sanjuanitos are a mestizo adaptation of the former. Both have similar tempo and character (maybe a bit more lively the latter) but different structure: in the sanjuanitos the minor mode is not strengthened and the melodies are usually heptatonic.
In addition, chordophones and even electronic instruments team up with flutes and drums to play the latter.
The sanjuanito, which is more popular than the sanjuán, can be heard not only in native communities but also in big cities, mestizo and Afro-Ecuadorian populations, as well as in the forestry eastern part of the country and in some regions to the south of Colombia such as Nariño and Putumayo.
The sanjuanito has become known as the “national rhythm of Ecuador” and its popularity has increased tremendously, crossed national boundaries and spread to different parts of the world promoted by such emblematic groups as Charijayac, Ñanda Mañachi and Trencito de los Andes. Its stanzas refer to such different subjects as love, breaking up, nostalgia, one-way trip, farm work or Ecuadorian Sierra landscapes. It can be stated that the sanjuanito conveys a characteristic melancholy and most of its lyrics exude an underlying heavy sadness in between the lines; however, it is a danceable rhythm which has several dance forms, sometimes in circles and sometimes in lines.
As it was hinted above, sanjuanes are played on traditional instruments of the Ecuadorian Andes, ranging from rondadores to pallas, tundas, pingullos (pinkillos), dulzainas, drums and the bombo. For their part, sanjuanitos also include guitars, bandolines, charangos, violins, harps and electronic instruments besides the already mentioned ones, and a lot of Ecuadorian Quechua exclamations (even monologues and dialogues).
The origins of the sanjuán/sanjuanito attributed to the Incas by the D’Harcourt spouses have recently been questioned by Ecuadorian musicologists. Today, scholars are of the opinion that the sanjuán/sanjuanito would be a pre-Incan rhythm which would have suffered many influences, adaptations and styles combinations through the centuries. Such a rhythm is to be frequently found in the repertoire of many Andean musical groups of Ecuador, much to the delight of an audience that enjoys this music as much as their ancestors probably did centuries ago.


Sanjuanito, in Wikipedia [es].
Sanjuanito, in “Los ritmos del Ecuador”, by Ballet Andino Ecuador [es].
Sanjuanito or San Juan, in Ballet Folklórico del Ecuador [es].
Ecuadorian rhythms, including an example of sanjuanito [es].
Ecuadorian rhythms, including the sanjuanito in the blog “Música ecuatoriana” [es].

Song 01. Traditional sanjuanito performed at the Inti Raymi festival in Peguche.
Song 02. Sanjuanito “Perdonawanki”.
Song 03. Sanjuanito “Chimbaloma”, by Ñanda Mañachi.
Song 04. Sanjuanito “Peshte longuita”, by Grupo Antara.

Video 01. Huashapampa dance group from Azogues performing sanjuanito “Peguche”.
Video 02. Group and ballet Kkoyaruna performing stylized sanjuanito.
Video 03. Ballet Chela Urquidi performing traditional sanjuanitos.
Video 04. Ballet Arte Cultura Intipakary from Ambato performing stage set-up including sanjuanito.
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