Tribute In Colombia To Late, Legendary Vallenata Music Composer

By Dialogo
May 18, 2009

Thursday saw the beginning of Colombia’s tribute to the folk music of vallenata composer Rafael Escalona, whom Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez described as one of his referents, and after whose death on Wednesday in Bogota at age 81 national mourning was declared. When the death of the “maestro”, as he was usually called, became known, President Alvaro Uribe interrupted a business meeting in the city of Cali (southwest) for a minute of silence and ordered the transfer of his coffin to the National Capitol (seat of Congress). Hundreds of people lined up to pay their respects in Bogota before his transfer via presidential plane to Valledupar, the city in northern Colombia where he will be buried on Friday. At that location, the remains will be placed in a public square where the Vallenata Festival will be held before the funeral. The winner of the 2006 Latin Grammy for his life and work, Escalona is one of the few real people mentioned in “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece. The composer left a legacy of hundreds of compositions considered 'classics' of vallenata music. "With his obvious chronicling skills, he told the world details of Caribbean idiosyncrasies and captured scenarios beyond national borders where he left the mark of Colombian music," the Minister of Culture said in his declaration of national mourning. His songs were first heard in Argentina and Mexico thanks to groups like 'Bovea y sus Vallenatos' and 'El Cuarteto Imperial,’ and in Venezuela by bands such as ‘Billo's Caracas Boys’ and ‘Los Melódicos,’ but were often confused with cumbias, another emblematic rhythm characteristic of the Colombian Caribbean. In the nineties the singer Carlos Vives rescued some of Escalona’s famous compositions like 'La Casa en el Aire', 'El Testamento,' and the elegy to 'Jaime Molina,' which he internationalized and adapted to a more contemporary sound. "Nobody took the art of turning events in legends and anonymous citizens into universal characters as far as Escalona did," emphasized the newspaper El Tiempo, which devoted its editorial to the composer.