Trust me, when talking about Colombian music, you’ll never get bored! Why? Because it’s so diverse and yet so unique, that you’ll have plenty to learn and talk about. Colombian music and dance genres, like joropo, are such an indispensable part of our culture and identity, that if you love Colombia and Bogotá, then it’s guaranteed you’ll also love our music!
Music follows us everywhere and Colombians know that pretty well! We wouldn’t be who we are without the hundreds of music genres and dances that characterize our culture. Actually, within the bigger picture, we have what I call “subcultures,” and each one is unique and characteristic of a particular geographical region. Here I’m going to focus on the Llanos Orientales or Orinoco region, which has joropo as its main music and dance genre. Joropo has a very special place in my heart because when I was about eight, we had to dance and sing it at school, and it was (and still is) one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done in my entire life! Keep reading and you’ll know why it was a unique childhood experience to have.
Like most Colombian music and dance genres, joropo (pronounced ho-ro-po and also known as “música llanera” which literally translates to “music of the plains”) has African, indigenous, and European influences. Actually, it didn’t even originate in Colombia, but rather in Venezuela (it’s even their national dance), and with time (around the 18th century), it transformed and became popular in the Llanos Orientales region.
Joropo resembles the Spanish Fandango (Scaramouch, Scaramouch will you do the Fandango… Great song huh? But it doesn’t have anything to do with Queen). Originally it meant “party,” but now it just means the music and dance genre. Nowadays, joropo is recognized nationally as one of the most traditional genres, and even in Villavicencio (read our article about warm places near Bogotá), they host the biggest international joropo contest every June.
Style of music and instruments
Joropo is inspired by nature, landscapes, and the lifestyle and traditions of the Llanos Orientales region. In musical terms, it’s easily identified by three main things: the harp, the fast-paced maracas, and the very high and loud pitched vocals. Seriously, and with all due respect, if you don’t have the technique and the voice, you’ll sound like a loud and annoying sheep when you try to sing it (and that’s reason one of why I was so embarrassed when I had to sing it at school).
Joropo has a forceful and energetic intensity incomparable to other calmer and slow genres (like Currulao, read my article about it). I’m really not joking when I say that joropo will make you feel like you’re in a rush. The typical ensemble is made up of these four instruments (read my article about Colombian traditional instruments as well):
- Cuatro Llanero: small guitar with only four strings and very similar to the Hawaiian ukulele. It’s in charge of harmonic and rhythmic support.
- Harpa (harp): the most important and distinctive instrument of joropo. It’s in charge of the melody and counter-melody. It has a straight wooden neck that holds 30 to 34 strings diatonically-tuned.
- Bandola: a four-stringed pear-shaped guitar that produces a particular sound (called
segundeo) which is very characteristic of joropo. It’s the lead melodic instrument until the introduction of the harp.
- Capachos or Maracas Llaneras: They’re in charge of the percussion and rhythm. Basically, they’re a pair of rattles; the sound is produced by seeds or little stones on the inside that strike one another when you shake them.
Joropo showcases the impressive percussive capability of stringed instruments and the also impressive musician’s ability to improvise and play at a super fast tempo. Singers also have a chance to improvise lyrics while echoing the super fast, hard-edged, nasally and loud vocals that literally sound like you are harmonically shouting notes into the air.
There are numerous genres within joropo that vary based on the tempo, lyrics, and style of melodies. The most common are Pasaje, which is slower and more lyrical, golpe, which is hard-driving and way faster, and Contrapunteo, which consists of vocal duets and repartee.
Style of dance
In Colombian schools, it’s very popular to dance and sing traditional musical genres so we learn about our culture and traditions. I’ll never forget the day of my joropo presentation. Besides having to dance with a partner (remember that when you are eight, you are like “OH NO, BOYS”), the choreography was so fast and strong, that it was difficult to do (almost impossible) and it felt like I was just cracking the floor with my small feet. And truth is, I was not a very skillful dancer either, but rather a clumsy one. This is reason two of why I was so embarrassed!
Joropo’s dance is quite difficult if you are not an expert and if you don’t have a considerable amount of agility and skill on your feet, however, watching it with a live band is a mesmerizing show. Joropo’s dancers masterfully perform quite strong and rhythmical steps that knock the ground at a super fast tempo. It’s an impressive work of stomping your feet similar to the waltz, with couples holding each other tightly and then making small steps forward and backward as if they were literally sweeping the floor.
I’m not going to show you the video of my childhood joropo dance for obvious reasons, but you can watch an excellent demonstration here.
Famous musicians and groups
There are several musicians and bands recognized for their incredible talent in joropo. Some of the best songs you should listen and dance to are:
- Llanero si soy Llanero by Cholo Valderrama (the most famous joropo singer in Colombia)
- Carmentea by Grupo Sol de Oriente (a perfect example of what joropo is all about)
- Auténtica Llanera by Cimarrón (a little bit of a mix of traditional and modern sounds)
Also, listen and enjoy other excellent joropo songs here.
The best way to enjoy joropo is to go to the Llanos Orientales region, but if you are in Bogotá, there are some places where you can enjoy it as well (at least modern versions and mixes). Head to Centro Cultural Llanero or have your own joropo serenade at any event or party.
Joropo is such an interesting genre within Colombian music that it’s impossible not to get interested in it! Whether it’s your ears, your feet, or your body and soul that feel the need to dance, joropo will always be there to give you a dynamic, energetic, and fun time!
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