By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza
The traditional tonadas of the Tarija department (south of Bolivia), known as tonadas tarijeñas or tonadas chapacas, comprise a handful of well-known melodies of a very simple type (largely influenced by the pre-Hispanic tritonic music, which also left a mark in the vidalas sung in northern Argentina), associated with a certain time of the year, a particular celebration or even a town.
Improvised verses known as coplas are built on these melodies, usually in the form of a spicy dialogue between a man and a woman. They can either be sung with the only accompaniment of a caja (small drum double-headed drum) or accompanied by various traditional instruments including the erque or erquencho, the caña, the kamacheña or flautilla and the violin, especially when they go along with the performance of popular "ruedas" (circle dances). With the exception of the violin, the other instruments mentioned above have a very small range of notes, what somehow limits the complexity of the melodies.
Over the course of time, the tonadas chapacas have been adapted following the pattern of other popular genres of traditional music in Tarija such as the cueca or the chacarera. And so, they are now being played on guitars and violins, mixing well-known melodies and various sets of coplas more or less popular. Some famous tonadas tarijeñas include "La vidita San Lorenzo", "Tonada para Remedios" and "Guadalquivir".
As happens in other parts of South America, in the department of Tarija the performance of one type or another of traditional music depends on the time of the year. The year is divided in three periods, and each period is associated with a particular set of tonadas and instruments that will accompany the dancing and singing of specific coplas. The first period is the rainy season (summer). It lasts from All Saints' Day (November) to the beginning of Carnival, and includes minor festivals such as San Patricio, San Andrés, Santa Bárbara, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Both, the caja and a type of idioglottic clarinet called erque (irqi, erque, erquencho) are the instruments used to play the "tonadas de erque" that accompany the "ruedas de erque" at this time of the year.
The second period comprises Carnival, Lent and Easter, and ends with the celebration of the "Pascua florida" (from Saturday night to the dawn of Easter Sunday). It is the time for the violin, the "ruedas de violín" and the "coplas de Pascua" (whose verses refer to this particular celebration).
Finally, the dry season (winter) stretches from Easter Sunday (which marks the end of the harvesting season) to All Saints' Eve, including all the festivals in between, such as famous Virgin of Chaguaya, in August, and Saint Roque, in September. During this period, the caña tarijeña, a huge natural horn, is used to play the "tonadas de caña" that accompany the "ruedas de caña".
Article. "Coplas y tonadas chapacas", by Mónica Sánchez Fernández. In Tarija: coplas y tonadas [es].
Video 01. "Pecho de cristal", by Taricanto.
Video 02. "Pollerita coloraíta", by Taricanto.
Video 03. "Tonada para Remedios", by Enriqueta Ulloa and Zulma Yugar.
Video 04. "El Guadalquivir".
Video 05. "Tonada tarijeña", by Aldana Bello.