(Editor’s Note: Bardo Martinez is one-third of Chicano Batman, a great local L.A. group I “discovered” when Sonido Franko sent me their new EP earlier in the summer. Among their other strengths, the group really has a sense of what a good summer song sounds like so I reached out to Bardo for a post and he didn’t just lace us with a really cool cumbia, he provided a huge historical back story behind it. Bueno! He also gets much deeper on this same story, here. –O.W.)
- “Perdi Las Abarcas,” written by the Colombian accordion player/singer/songwriter Andres Landero (1931-2001) and recorded several times in the 60’s and 70’s takes me the to plastic tables and concrete floors of a San Jacinto cantina, where aguardiente (fermented sugar cane) is spilled by the inebriated men and women dancing cumbia on an ardient summer night near the equatorial line.
Musically, this song is a standard example of Landero’s cumbia. It is masterfully articulated in minor tonalities by Landero’s voice, accordian playing, and the electric bass. The rhythm is carried by a wooden guacharaca that makes the rasping chucuchuck sound, a conga or a llamador that marks the & “up beat” in a 4/4 measure (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &), a caja vallenata as the soloing drum, and a block as well as cowbell sparingly playing the downbeat through out the song.
Andres Landero, is to me, the most outstanding Colombian juglar (accordian player/singer/ songwriter) of all the juglares that created the wide Diaspora of Colombian accordion music most commonly known as Vallenato, popularized by the accordion players from the city of Valledupar. His musical singularity is due to the legacy of his hometown of San Jacinto (that sits at the foot of a Mountain range known as Los Montes De Maria), that has nurtured the creation of musical instruments, hammocks, of cumbia and a wealth of rhythms such as the puya played by gaitas (flutes made of the inner core of the cactus) by rural campesinos. As a campesino deeply steeped in his cultural heritage, Landero played the accordion as if it was a gaita, bending and twisting minor melodies and hearts since the 1940’s with cumbias such as “Perdi Las Abarcas.”
Abarcas are sandals. In this song, Landero recounts a true story about how he pawned his abarcas, and his sombrero vueltao (the quintessential symbol of manhood in rural villages within the Colombian coastal region) in order to please a girl he desired. According to Miguel Hernandez, son of Juan “Chuchita” Hernandez (one of the oldest members of the Grammy winning Gaiteros de San Jacinto), Landero gave them up so he could buy food and drink for the father and the family of this girl. Miguel said that this story surrounded Landero with much laughter and celebration whenever it was mentioned.
Just like this song, every one of Landero’s songs are musical representations of not only his own reality; but the mundane, social, and political realities of his town San Jacinto and the Colombian savanna. Landero’s music is truly amazing, inspiring, and a true spiritual embodiment and reflection of the human experience. It is not just “for beginners” newly interested in Colombian music, it gets the core and to the root of Colombian musical and historical reality, that would provide lessons of all kinds to the youngest to the oldest most initiated listener or player of music anywhere.