MORE THAN JUST A PARADISE: ECUADOR'S SPECTRUM OF ART AND MUSIC
By Carolina Segarra
Ecuador is one of the most diverse countries in Latin America, not only geographically, but also because of its development of diverse art. In our country several musical genres have been born that have grown to obtain international recognition. The musical sounds first originated in Europe and Africa, and then gave way to new musical sounds, which would later evolve with time and with the rhythm of their singer-songwriters.
The development of music in Ecuador was first closely associated with the male gender, while the public and musicians gave feminine interpretations less importance. This fact derives from the cultural reality of a country that developed with the attitude that the male was the center of society’s progress and the woman was the support of the family and responsible for raising the children. That is why in the early days of music women served as muses for sad verses about disappointment, pain, betrayal and abandonment, while the males were represented by strength, liquor, and bohemian life. Due to this cultural fact, the first musical styles from the Ecuadorian corridor, such as the Pasacalle, the Yarav, and The San Juanito, were full of sadness. These are musical genres that have been entirely attributed to Ecuador and, through their sad songs, have depicted the reality of indigenous people being mistreated by hostile employers that violated their domestic helpers and starved their workforce.
At this point I recommend listening to or reading a marvelous play called “Boletín y Elegía de las Mitas,” by Cesar Dávila Andrade, which would later be portrayed in the theater and would include a musical component. You should also be familiar with the Ecuadorian ballad "Pinta, La Niña and Santa María," which Peru eventually adopted as its own. Other Ecuadorian genres include: the Albazo, the Bomba, the Capishca, the Danzante, and Yumbo, which are rhythms influenced mostly by African sounds like the sound of bass drums, maracas, and other instruments that mark the beats of sad rumbas and tell their stories of pain through music and dance.
In neighboring countries like Peru and Bolivia, we share very similar genres, so sometimes you could attribute these themes or genres to these countries. But the reality is, like in any other area of the world, many songs were released in Ecuador but international musicians decided to launch their own versions. These minimal changes in turn gave way to other genres such as techno cumbia, which had its first roots in Mexico, then moved to Peru, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina. Then, cumbia villera was formed, which is different in each region and is the opposite of Mexican cumbia. In Ecuador, the techno cumbia chichera was developed, which was born between the fusion of rhythms from Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia who share many artistic similarities. Our type of techno cumbia would become a world sensation that would fill stadiums in Spain and the US, with representatives such as Gerardo Morán, Máximo Escaleras, Anita Lucía Proaño, Jaime Enrique Ayamara and other singers who have brought Ecuador to the attention of the world.
Techno cumbia, as a genre, has several peculiarities, beginning with its performances on stage. Techno cumbia is generally sung by artistic groups that rehearse their choreographies in small outfits, exuding sensuality and talent. Although the vocal portion is not always exceptional, the song's catchy words, along with certain instruments or tracks, turn some of these songs into popular anthems. This combination is the real key to the genre's success, and it is what inspires listeners to sing and drink with the joy of a child, raising their glass in between melancholic verses that describe their emotions and pains.
This genre provokes the biggest applause from emigrants in foreign countries. One of the most representative singers of the genre was Sharon la Hechicera, who would lose her life on the way to Guayaquil after the New Year. Sharon had a marked career of successes and defeats, but her passion for music propelled her to not only become known on a global scale but also to become the first leading female singer in Latin America. Many will argue that this title has no bearing on her talent, but she was able to position herself as a vocalist and a public figure thanks to it, and the techno cumbia genre later developed in line with the image she had left behind. Her musical contributions reached international stages, and after her passing, Argentina erected a statue in her honor. This famous singer was born in a humble canton in Guayaquil and sang the same type of lyrics that made this genre so popular. These lyrics include pain, melancholy, and the strength and tenacity of those who rise each morning to go to work and also enjoy the weekend.
Another genre that has been an emblem of Ecuador is the pasillo. It has received international praise and has been represented by truly talented artists who have unique voices. Unfortunately today this genre has been changing and evolving towards pop ballads. In the pasillo genre, Julio Jaramillo stands out to this day, as his fame has reached countless countries for his lyrics and melodic voice. The first songs of this genre were poetry that was transformed into music by outstanding musicians like: Eduardo Miño, Danilo Miño, Consuelo Vargas, Fresia Saavedra, Eduardo Morales, Sófocles Coello, Víctor Galarza, Neldo Campos; and Guillermo Rodríguez, among others.
The music in Ecuador has evolved over the years, giving way to new musical figures who are focused on the more recent popular rhythms, but whose interpretive and vocal abilities have taken them to international platforms, demonstrating that Ecuador has talent in all areas of music. And that the music, like its people, has evolved and adapted. Slowly but surely, genres like pasillo are being lost and today remain only as a part of our history.