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Friday, August 26, 2011

There's More To The Galápagos Than Iguanas, Nazca Boobies And Albatrosses

My friend Kelly works for a cruise ship line that travels all over the world, including to a place I've always wanted to go but still haven't reached yet-- the Galápagos. I asked him to give us a taste of what it's like and thought we'd wind up hearing a lot about strange animals and birds. Instead, he wrote about an important and wonderful component for any traveller: indigenous music.

Rock the Islands: The Growing Rock Music Scene in Galápagos and Ecuador

-by Kelly Darmer

Over the course of the last 20 years, as it has become increasingly simple to exchange ideas, opinions, and content across cultural and physical boundaries, music has served as a vital conduit for communication. A truly universal language, music is enjoyed the world over, and there is seemingly little rhyme or reason for why a style becomes popular with a particular group. The music that emerges from a particular region or population is often heavily influenced by the indigenous musical roots of that region or population. Over the course of the last twenty years, however, music from different cultures has spread, collided, and mixed to form some very interesting contemporary sounds. Tune into any online radio station and it is as if you have found yourself aboard one of many musical world cruises. This mixing of sounds has become most noticeable in the world of rock. Rock bands crop up in surprising places, and the rock sounds emanating from Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands have a distinct vibe all their own.

The Galápagos Islands and Ecuador are most commonly known for three types of music, Andean folklore, pasillo, and cumbia. Andean folklore is characterized by the use of a bamboo panpipe called a rondador. Go just about anywhere in the world, and at some point in a street market you will probably encounter two or three men with speakers and CDs, playing a rondador arrangement of a Celine Dion hit. The sound of the pipes has become synonymous with the region and their haunting quality has proved popular worldwide. Pasillo is the oldest music of the region and is a close cousin of the waltz. It has fallen out of favor since the late 70s, but has still managed to influence contemporary artists all over Latin America. Cumbia, which was developed in Colombia, is a relatively new form of music in Ecuador and the Islands, and the Ecuadorian population has altered it a bit, creating a rawer, funkier sound that is played everywhere from backyard barbecues to high-end clubs. All three of these musical traditions have had an impact on the sounds of the rock bands of Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. However, what makes these groups so interesting, are the elements of punk, ska, reggae, rap, hip hop, and jazz that have been liberally combined to create some fascinating sounds.

Every country needs some head thrashing rock, and a heavy metal group named Viuda Negra fills that bill. Formed by two friends in the late 90s, the group is known for their heavy music and socially conscious lyrics. They released their first album in 2003 and continue to perform together to crowds as large as 10,000 in Latin America.

The group that has managed to have the most crossover success is Esto Es Eso. With their funky, accessible mix of reggae, rock, hip hop, pop, pasillo, and folklore, Esto Es Eso has toured Europe and the US, and was formed by an Ecuadorian musician and a former Californian. Their sound has been described as “Ecuafornian”, and there is no denying that it rocks. Check out the video below.

Afrik’ns Homosapiens created their own form of rock music under the direction of famed folkloric artist Guillermo Avoyi, also known as Papa Roncon. Combining sounds particular to coastal regions of Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands, including Bunde, Arrullo, Chigualo, Alabao, with ska, reggae, calypso, and other musics of the Caribbean, Afrik’ns Homosapiens developed what is now called Bao. Their slowed down groove is characterized by the use of hand drums, marimba, and other traditional instruments alongside electric guitars and bass. (One of their videos is up top.)

Since 1996, one band has dominated the ska and punk scene in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. El Retorno de Exxon Valdes was formed in 1996 and fifteen years later, they are still going strong. In the tried and true fashion of all ska/punk groups, their early albums focused on issues of identity and feelings of disassociation. Their lyrics have matured along with the members of the band, and their popularity continues to grow.

If you are headed to the Galápagos Islands, make sure to take a trip to some of the local music venues. There is a long tradition of excellent music making in the region and the energy surrounding the live music sceneis infectious. You never know, you just might stumble upon the next.

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