1984 / Ensamble Gurrufío

Ensamble Gurrufío has a truckload of energy, historically required to take the music of Venezuelan family patio gatherings onto the street and beyond. In the 1950s and ’60s, spaces dominated by tropical orchestral music had to make way for a series of productions that presented to modern Venezuela sounds that perhaps had already been forgotten in the cities (especially in Caracas), but that a holiday trip to the provinces inevitably revived. The harp, old songs, the drums, filtered through the cracks of fresh plaster that could not quiet the rich musical memory of a country that was losing its ancestral structures inexorably. To obtain media exposure for this very passionate cultural activism (I think of Domingo Mendoza and his friends), one had to adapt elements that microphones do not tend to understand: six hours of joropos with twenty minutes of intricate harp improvisation in each climax, pilon songs (pounding corn mill), danced stick fighting, infinite galerones (ancient sung poetry), saturations of maracas, mandolins, and cuatros impossible to filter, to reduce to the consumer format of airwaves and turntables. Ethnic Venezuelan musical substance was indomitable, oceanic, boundless. The musical marrow of each experience was reached after hours of fiesta and it was impossible to condense its unpredictable strength into pills that provide instantaneous results. To listen to a three-minute “María Laya” recorded by Ignacio Figueredo was like wanting to see the Orinoco River in a tin can.

Little by little, talents and productions appeared that were capable of synthesizing, educating, presenting the entire musical treasure of Venezuela in concert formats: Quinteto Contrapunto, Fredy Reyna, Eduardo Serrano, and many more. A great achievement was attained when the acrobatic rhythms and hypnotic designs of Venezuelan music were decisively translated in the hands of pioneers such as Toñito Naranjo, invading the medium of symphonic instruments, foreshadowing what is today a national school of virtuosity in all categories – from flute to bassoon, trumpet to cello. The translatability of Venezuela’s music highlighted the morphemes of its constructivist language, its sophisticated agogic – treasures that its original state hid in humble garb and old harps and guitars.

Ensamble Gurrufío emerged just as this process was maturing, in a decade of intense interchange of authentic musicological information between the provinces and the big city. Ismael Querales, Cristóbal Soto, and their friends fostered this dialogue in true academies (Un Solo Pueblo, La Clavija, later the Bigott Foundation), where they communicated and reactivated traditions that had been dormant due to the abandonment of rural Venezuela. It was the moment to reintroduce the strength of original musical roots in an urban cross-fertilization that could not afford to stagnate. From Guyana came a friend of Soto who promised to be the best cuatrista in the world, pulling into his whirlwinds all the tradition of the Guyanese bandola from the songs of the central plains. The young Cheo Hurtado was discovered in the effervescent sonic atmosphere of those Caracas nights, rapidly mingling with a group of restless youth who jumped from serenades to jam sessions without warning: the bassist and sound engineer Alejandro Rodríguez from El Tocuyo; Aquiles Báez, the guitarist of La Vela de Coro; Luis Julio Toro, a Venezuelan Youth Orchestra-trained flutist who had recently graduated in London; Cristóbal Soto, French-Venezuelan mandolinist and tireless activist in the rescue of traditions. There I leave them, exactly twenty-five years ago. They are about to attack a Venezuelan merengue, frozen in a photo. It seems they want to form a group – it will be called Gurrufío.

Translated from Spanish by Rosemary Holland

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Composer / Writer
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