Pacific Beats from Colombia: Stop & Listen
A man is walking through the jungle on a quarter-moon filled night. He arrives at a palma de chonta palm tree and starts chopping it down. He ties together several palm trunks and arrives back home just as the sun is rising. This is how the creation of the marimba begins.
The marimba is the central instrument used in currulaos, a genre of music created by African descendents who inhabited the Pacific Coast of Colombia in the 1600’s either as freed slaves or as runaways. They had been forcefully brought to this region of difficult jungle terrain to mine gold for the Europeans. As domestic help, they learned about Catholicism, European customs, and the Spanish language. Part of their household duties was to assist in Spanish celebrations allowing the Africans to hear new sounds coming from foreign instruments that they eventually combined with their own musical heritage. In time, they developed 26 recognized original rhythms unique to this region. Today, there remain aspects of their dance and costume that have outlived their use in Spain.
A music with minimal recordings, its survival depends on the oral tradition. It has always been a vital part of their daily life whether for use in religious, birth or death rituals, rites of passage, sexual endeavors, or the entertaining gossip of the day. Sadly, due to issues we wish to investigate, today it is not getting passed on to the next generation.
Traveling with a marimba through this lush and mysterious geography, we will learn how they have survived as a culture in a very remote area of Colombia, with minimal outside intervention. We will find out what the Africans assimilated from the European and indigenous cultures to create their own unique culture, mythology, and music. We will learn about their beliefs (for example they believe in fairies), sexual lifestyle (they are open polygamists), and how they see their future as we explore why this musical treasure is vanishing.
Our purpose is to make a 90 minute documentary, with the marimba as the motif, to portray the way this community uses their musical heritage to express their sole views on life. Beginning with the traditional creation of a marimba in a small town in the Pacific Coast of Colombia, we meet the marimba maker, marimba players, singers, and musicologists that reside deep in these jungle villages. People like Markitos Micolta, once heralded as the voice of music of the Pacific Coast; Gualajo, who has had the gift of playing the marimba passed on to him from generation to generation by means of a pixie; and Hugo Candelario, a musician who bridges the gap between traditional ways and modern fusions. With invitations to play the marimba from Africa and Asia, they are demonstrating that their music is unique and perhaps they are coming full circle, realizing its significance to the rest of the world at a time when it is under threat of extinction.
This trailer is a sample of our investigation into what the music is, and why there is a need to document it.