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Andean rhythm Andean music
Land of winds > Rhythms and styles > Rhythm | Issue 06. Jul.-Ago.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza


Bambuco Colombia Andean music
Regarded as one of the most distinctive traditional music genres of Colombia, bambuco is a rhythm (and a dance) that has gained a foothold in the Andean region of this country. It is a rural music, fanciful and changeable, which originally accompanied songs in octosyllable meters. Usually written in 6/8, it can also be rendered in 3/4 time to simplify its execution losing part of its flavour. This peculiar characteristic makes it rather difficult to play the bambuco correctly.
The origins of the term remain obscure. According to researcher Pedro Ramírez Sendoya it might derive from a word from the Pijao people language, formed by bemb, a tribe of this people, and coh, meaning “dance”. Another explanation lacking evidence maintains that the term is originated from the Quechua word wanp’uku (allegedly derived from the verb wanp’uy, “to sail”). There is also an academic current that believes the origin of the term comes from Africa as writer Jorge Isaacs suggests in his novel “Maria”, where he argues that it would derive from bambouk, a geographical region in Senegal. For his part, musicologist Guillermo Abadia explains that Caribbean black people would give the name of “bambucos” to a type of musical instruments made of bamboo. Finally, some folklore scholars advocate the theory of the Spanish origin of the term, bringing attention to the similarities between the bambuco and Spanish rhythms such as the fandango.
Bambuco has spread its popularity through the country though it is mostly played in the Andean region, departments of Antioquía, Boyacá, Cauca, Cundinamarca, Huila, Nariño, Santander, Risaralda and Tolima. It is usually played on chordophones (primarily the guitar, the tiple and either the bandola or the requinto), though flutes are also commonly introduced along with some percussion instruments.
It is common to speak of “types” of bambuco: in Cauca department it is slow and melancholic; in Tolima and Santander there is the “fiestero” (from Spanish “fiesta”, any festive occasion); while in the high plateau of Cundinamarca and Boyacá there is another one known as “campesino” (referring to rural life).
The largest and most important celebration in the city of Neiva, Huila department, is the Festival Folclórico y Reinado Nacional del Bambuco (the Bambuco Pageant and Folkloric Festival), held annually during the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul and declared National Cultural heritage by the Congress of Colombia in 2006. The Festival celebrates bambuco music as well as its lyrics and dance.
In the early 19th century bambuco music was already considered as a national rhythm: according to historical tradition it was a bambuco piece that stirred up the Colombian people to fight for independence in the Battle of Ayacucho in 1825. In the second half of the century, Pedro Morales Pino wrote “Cuatro preguntas”, which became a model for composers to continue in this vein, such as Luis Calvo, Alberto Urdaneta and Alberto Castilla who developed a type of bambuco to appeal to a more urban taste. Singers such as Julio Flórez, Diego Fallón, and Wills y Escobar duet first spread those compositions through the country, followed long after by such famous figures as Cantalicio Rojas (“Ojo al toro”, “Canta un pijao”), Luis Carlos González (“La ruana”, “Compañero”), Miguel Ángel Pacheco Quintero (“Ocañerita”), or Gentil Montaña (“El tolimense”).
Pelón Santamarta (“Antioqueñita”) brought the rhythm to a new audience in Mexico, Central America and The Antilles with his duet Pelón y Marín.
The “estudiantinas” (ensembles formed by students) introduced instruments such as the double bass and the violin; other bands made arrangements for metal aerophones; and modern trios and quintets are exploring new arrangements merging bambuco with different styles like jazz.
However, bambuco’s original character still remains in places such as the valleys of Tolima Grande, where peasants continue to play it on the requinto, the tiple and percussion instruments such as the carrasca, the chucho, the zambumbia, the carángano and the esterilla.


Bambuco, in Wikipedia.
Bambuco, in Bambuco: La Música de Colombia [es].
Bambuco, history and tradition, in [es].
Festival Folclórico y Reinado Nacional del Bambuco, in Wikipedia.

Video 01. “Cuatro preguntas” (traditional bambuco), by Obdulio y Julián.
Video 02. “Ojo al toro” (experimental bambuco), by Trío Nuestra Herencia.
Video 03. “Canta un pijao” (bambuco fiestero played on brass band instruments), by Dueto Tradiciones.
Video 04. “La ruana”.
Video 05. “El tolimense”, by Frulatto Ensemble.
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