La Tierra del Olvido
Tracing its cultural origins from African and Amerindian slaves of Colombia and its birth to the early 1900s, the popular folk music and dance styles of vallenato and cumbia are considered the representative music of the South American nation of Colombia. Vallenato, literally translating to "born in the valley", also applies to the people from the city where the genre originated—Valledupar—while cumbia began as a courtship dance practiced among the slave population and probably traces its etymology back to the Guinean music ‘cumbe’. Both musical traditions typically employ instruments such as caja, guacharaca, güiro, Gaita flutes and maracas later mixed with European characteristics and instruments such as the accordion into the Afro-Caribbean rhythms typically heard in Colombia’s northern coastal regions.
The most prominent modern proponent and popularizer of the style would be the three-time Latin Grammy Award and Grammy Award-winning-singer Carlos Alberto Vives Restrepo of Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia—better known as Carlos Vives.
Vives got his start in the entertainment business in 1982, when he began acting in the Colombian telenovelas such as “Tiempo Sin Huella” (Time Without Trace), “Gallito Ramírez”, "Tuyo Es Mi Corazon" (You Are My (Sweet)Heart) and "Loca Pasión" (Crazy Passion). In 1989, he was accepted the lead in the Puerto Rican telenovelas “La Otra” (The Other) and “Aventurera” (Adventurer), but returned to Colombia two years later to accept a role that would change his life and world music history forever. He was cast in the leading role of “Escalona”, a series based in the life of vallenato composer Rafael Escalona. Vives took a crack at performing the composer's songs in the series and from there began retooling his career towards vallenato music, fusing the traditional folk music with rock, pop and other Caribbean Colombian ethnic rhythms.
After forming a band called La Provincia, Vives began successfully performing his nuevo-vallenato style on tour around South America. In 1993, Vives released his first album on the Philips label, "Clásicos de la Provincia”, which included his reinterpretation of Emiliano Zuleta’s 1938 vallenato masterpiece "La Gota Fria," (the song’s title literally translates “a cold front(of wind)” or “a cold sweat”, but the lyrics themselves serve as a ‘dis’ of rival vallenato composer Lorenzo Morales—for a full translation of song, see here: http://blablablawblawg.blogspot.com/2007/09/la-gota-fria-little-fire-for...). “La Gota Fria” became Carlos Vives’ his first smash hit, climbing on the most important music charts around Latin America and introducing vallenato music to rest of the world. Vives followed “Clásicos de la Provincia” with his second major-label album, "La Tierra del Olvido", released on the Sonolux/EMI Latin label on July 25, 1995.
Like its predecessor, “La Tierra del Olvido” (The Land of Oblivion/Forgetfulness), contains classic vallenato covers but also contains Vives' first foray into original compositions. While just under half of the album’s 11 tracks are vallenato reinterpretations, the other six are originals from Vives, La Provincia, and producer Iván Benavides. As proof to Vives' songwriting skill, the album’s first cut is an original, "Pá Mayté" ("For Mayté"), The song begins with pounding percussion before beckoning listeners into the rich fusion of traditional vallenato’s accordion and guacharaca joined with Andean flute, electric guitar, and full-on Latin rock rhythms (along with a brief rap about Vives' undying devotion to his hometown soccer team). The song reached #12 on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks.
Vives would also breathe new life into the album with another of his original composition—the album’s title track and his first major ballad, “La Tierra del Olvido”. This achingly gorgeous love song provided Vives’ highest charting hit up to that point in his career, peaking at #5 on Billboard Hot Latin Tracks. (For a full English translation of the song, see http://curiousvillager.wordpress.com/2008/07/17/a-love-song-just-because...)
While "Pá Mayté" and “La Tierra del Olvido” served as a showcase for Carlos Vives’ newfound songwriting abilities, the other members of the La Provincia also lent equal hands in the album’s production. Guitarist Ernestro "Teto" Ocampo and Iván Benavides helped in nearly all songwriting, offering up songs like "Ella" (She) and "Agua" (Water), the latter of which sends the message, roughly paraphrased in translation as: "I've been around, the whole world's my home, and though people say I'm crazy, I'm living a life of love worth more than any material wealth." Accordionist Egidio Cuadrado brings life to such classic vallenato covers as Alejo Durán's "Fidelina" and Toño Fernández's "Zoila”. On the whole, the album’s sound contains a much rawer yet crisp edge than the previous “Clásicos de la Provincia”, giving the listener the feeling of being right in the studio with Carlos and his band.
The reception of “La Tierra del Olvido” would not only benefit from its widespread airplay on Latin and international markets but also from the release of the music videos for the album’s title track and "Pá Mayté" which received significant play on Latin American television. Having expanded on his fusion of vallenato rock, Vives’ further blending of older and newer vallenato served as proof that Carlos himself could hold his own as one of the peers of the great Colombian artists he covered and so admired. The success of “La Tierra del Olvido” definitively established Carlos Vives as one of Colombia's hottest exports of contemporary Latin music.
The original video of Carlos Vives’ "La Gota Fria":
Music video for "Pa' Mayte'":
Original music video of "La Tierra del Olvido":
And finally, for the vallenato purist (and to get a feel for what Carlos Vives has done to revamp and popularize the vallenato style), Alejo Duran’s original composition “Fidelina”: