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Harp all you want

14 April 2011

Today’s “The Guardian”, which doesn’t often turn its attention to things Paraguayan, but, in honor of Parguayan composer and musician Blas Flor’s upcoming London Concert, this morning there is an unsigned editorial, “In Praise of… the Paraguyan Harp“.

The harp was brought to Latin America by Spanish colonists, at a time when it was still an active part of everyday music-making in Europe, a common folk instrument rather as the guitar is today. Adopted and adapted by the indigenous population, who have cherished it ever since, the Paraguayan harp is portable, its strings close together, played with fingernails like a guitar. Much Paraguayan harp music accompanies songs in the local language Guarani, but new composers are changing traditions and expanding its use. For enthusiasts of the obscure there is now even such a thing as Paraguayan electro rock. Some folk traditions are a chore to listen to, simple and unmusical. The harp in South America is different: it is the sound of wide open plains, hot nights and cold beer.

It is very much a people’s instrument.

The “arpa paraguayano” is very much part of Mexican, as well as South American, culture.    Unlike the European harp, found in concert halls (or, maybe in Marx Brothers’ movies), the Latin American harpa paraguayana is a portable instrument meant for street music.  During the naked farmers’ protests in Mexico City, I once saw a guy walking down Cinco de Mayo in downtown Mexico City wearing nothing but sneakers, and toting a  strategically placed arpa!

Harps were an integral part of a mariachi group, until the 1930s (the harps’ twang was hard to hear on the radio, and horns were substituted) , but there are still some mariachi standards that just don’t work without a harp.  Here is Roberto Díaz and the Mariachi Internacional Guadalajara at the Festival de Marachi San Jose, California iperforming “Parajo campana”:

… and, showing the arpa’s versatility, this unnamed jaraneros in Veracruz — where not only are arpas heard and seen throughout the region, and part of any bar band, they sometimes work as double instruments.  This was filmed outside the Presidencía Municipal in Veracruz and uploaded on youtube by “jolutv007” last September:

One Comment leave one →
  1. otto permalink
    14 April 2011 6:47 am

    For what it’s worth, one of the better footballers to come out of Paraguay recent is Nelson ‘Pipito’ Cuevas. As well as being a Paraguayan international in his time and had a long sccusseion of club teams in many countries (Argentina, Chile, Spain etc), he’s also played for Pachuca, America and currently is at Puebla FC (all three Mexico, just in case).

    He’s always said he’s been very happy playing in Mexico and one of the reasons is that in his spare time he’s an accomplished Paraguayan-style harpist. I saw him once on an Argentine late night sports TV show and they asked him to play a bit of harp…he was amazingly good.

    Nice guy too, Pipito.

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