The scene is wonderful. It is the year 2012: García Márquez, with that expression of absence that covered his face in his last years, is standing in front of a group of vallenateros, not knowing very well what to say or who these people are. (At the end of his life he stopped recognizing everyone, but, as he preferred not to snub anyone, he developed a series of strategies so that it would not be so noticeable.) But then he recognizes the words of the vallenato they are singing, and his His mouth begins to move with the words and there is something about his face that changes, as if someone younger has invaded it. And those of us who know his biography can think of the boy who in the middle of the last century walked the coast with Rafael Escalona and other uncertain companions, sometimes selling encyclopedias and sometimes looking for life in other ways but always singing popular songs and taking notes. mentally for the books I hadn’t written yet.
But the scene is not over: García Márquez sits next to Mercedes and on the other side is Leandro Díaz, the inventor, as everyone knows, of the verse that serves as the epigraph to Love in the time of cholera: “These places are moving forward: they already have their crowned goddess.” Leandro Díaz, with his eyes closed as he has always had them, leans towards García Márquez and tells him: “When I sing this song, wherever I am, I remember you”. And it is impossible not to be moved by the meeting of the two men, the author of vallenatos that are part of everyone and the author of books that, as García Márquez said of One hundred years of solitude, they are actually vallenatos of hundreds of pages. They were part of the same generation and the same world. Leandro Díaz was born in 1928 and would die the year after that meeting; García Márquez had been born almost a year before Díaz and would die almost a year later. And both of them, I’m sure, would have liked this documentary in which they appear: Living legendby Martín Nova, which has just premiered in Colombia.
We knew Nova from the rigorous interviews he has collected in two volumes –conversations with the ghost Y military memoirs–, and this documentary relies heavily on his talents as an interviewer: patience, information and boundless curiosity. They are two hours that have no waste. I have seen them three times, and each time I find something that I had not noticed before, and now I have no doubt that Living legend Over time, it will become an essential document. In those two hours there is everything: the history of vallenato to the present day (from Escalona to Fonseca, to say the least), but also an extraordinary exploration of what this music is from within, the genealogy of its instruments, the artifices of its lyrics , its place in our culture and its relationship with who we are. Or better: the way in which vallenato, through winding paths that have not always gone through the acceptance it enjoys today, has become the number of our character: in the world of vallenato all the faces of this contradictory country are reflected .
By Living legend I learned, for example, that “El amor amor”, the tune that has shaped so many parties for as long as there is memory, was already mentioned during the Thousand Day War. I also learned that it was with the Festival of the Vallenata Legend, that invention of López Michelsen and other visionaries, when the inveterate machismo that prohibited women from taking part in the party began to crack. (Two years before, a pioneering edition took place in Aracataca: and there are the photos of García Márquez and Álvaro Cepeda Samudio posing with the musicians under a tree.) And I remembered something I had discovered when researching for The sound of the things when they fall: that in times of the marimbera bonanza the vallenateros groups became so popular, especially among the new millionaires that the bonanza was producing, that those who were always interested soon found it impossible to pay for a serenade. In that also the vallenato has been like a mirror of our history.
At one point someone wonders: if there were no singing, what would we do with violence? Violence is the opposite of everything behind vallenato, this man seems to suggest, or perhaps what he means is that music better allows dealing with what overwhelms these societies. And it is very possible that he is right: the Vallenato territories, the valley that goes from the Sierra Nevada to the Perijá mountain range, have often been severely hit by our war. “In this country there are eight million displaced people,” someone says at one point. “How many Leandros Díaz, how many Rafaeles Escalona will there be among them?” Anyone will recognize the validity of the question, especially in areas where giving a child an accordion —and this said, and verified, without idealism or naivety— can very well steal it forever from the clutches of illegal gangs. The film commemorates in the final credits all those who were part of this story and are no longer here. The name of Consuelo Araújo Noguera will surely shake the many who still remember her.
But perhaps what I like most about Martín Nova’s documentary is not any of these areas of interest, but the voices: the voices of these witnesses and protagonists of the rich history of vallenato. Of course, vallenato is above all narrative music: it tells stories and tells them very well. Or, to put it another way, the old minstrels are minstrels, but above all they are chroniclers: people attached, as they say somewhere, to “the idea of making news”, first in their region and then leaving it. What is in the documentary is also that: everyone tells stories. Sergio Moya Molina tells them talking about “Lacelosa”, and Nafer Durán tells them giving a master class on the four airs of vallenato, and Beto Murgas tells them talking about the history of the accordion, and Carlos Vives also tells them, who very well explains the phenomenon that took place when he and his people took the folklore of a lifetime and turned it into something else, groundbreaking and at the same time respectful.
Partying is like the devil, someone says: everyone talks about it, but nobody knows. Perhaps that is the first thing that happens with this documentary: that we finish watching it with the impression of knowing. And it is not the only reason why these two hours of legend are worth it.
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