Little dancing songs

Administratively speaking, the northern part of the Bolivian Amazonia is made up of the department of Pando, the province of Vaca Diez in the department of the Beni and the Iturralde province in that of La Paz. This vast territory is today inhabited by just under 200 000 people. During the greater part of the year, the population stays in the main cities and towns. In summer, however, a large proportion immigrates to the forest in response to the great need for labour required to harvest Amazonian nuts, better known as 'Brazil nuts' (Bertholletia excelsa).

Originally, this region was occupied by indigenous populations: the Chacobos, the Pacakuaras, the Tacanas, the Cabineños, the Ese'ejas, the Machineres and the Araonas. In the 19th century, and throughout the first half of the 20th century, the rising price of natural rubber on international markets attracted a population of migrants to the region, mostly from La Sierra and La Paz. As they settled the area, the indigenous population was progressively dislodged, confronted with territorial conflicts and the – involuntary – introduction of new illnesses against which they had no immunological defenses.

The economic activity associated with the production of natural rubber divided the region into urban centres and the huge production units, which used to belong to just a few landowners. This situation continued until after the Second World War when the fall in the price of natural rubber on the international market ended up seriously weakening these production units. The natural rubber recession, due among other things to the arrival on the market of synthetic rubber, led to the appearance of independent production communities and encouraged the conversion of the huge domains into decentralized entities, called "barracas", that continued to be owned by the great landowners.

Up until the end of the eighties, these barracas held their own and hired a considerable number of labourers for the production of rubber, the picking of Amazonian nuts and the development of precious woods. When the commercialization of natural rubber proved to be increasingly compromised due to the high cost of production, the consequences for the region were far-reaching. As well as a rural exodus towards the cities and the proliferation of independent rural communities, some barracas were abandoned and others were converted, under the impetus of the Bolivian State, to the exclusive production of Brazil nuts.

In 1994, the Law of Popular Participation (LPP) and the Administrative Decentralization Law finally recognized the rural communities' (of which some would be made into Basic Territorial Organizations – BTO) right to define the priorities and demands of investments as well as to control the management of tax expenditures administered by the local governments (a role assigned to the Vigilance Committees of each commune). Unfortunately, these laws also raised quite a lot of confusion in the field and aroused partisan political interest, to the detriment of the existing organizations.

In 1996, following very strong social movements, two other important laws for the north of Bolivian Amazonia were voted through: the Law n° 1700 or "Forestry Law", and the Law n° 1715 or "INRA Law" (National Institute of Agrarian Reform). These two legal tools acknowledge the preferential rights of the rural communities and the BTOs. As for the implementation of the "INRA Law", it has become a priority for the Bolivian State in the North of Amazonia. Today, it is given concrete expression through a process of drainage in response to the demands of the rural and indigenous populations who instigated the second "March for Territory and Dignity". This show of strength had a direct effect on the application of this law and, among other things, on the sharing out of land per family within rural communities that solicited the upkeep of a collective ownership deed. These new juridical provisions do not however lessen these communities' determination to continue to change the functioning of a society from which, until then, they had been more or less excluded. But the reinforcement of the role of the legitimate actors such as social organizations and rural associations is just a stage in the process of reducing poverty.

Musical practice
The groups of San Miguel and the Guaracachis are made up of non-professional musicians who are employed in very diverse small jobs. They are masons, agricultural workers, teachers, carpenters, ambulantes (peddlers) or hirers and drivers of moto-taxis and the pleasure of playing together among friends predominates here. These groups, like the other formations of Rineralta and of the region, perform during friendly reunions, marriage parties and popular balls. Their performances are sometimes paid, which represents much-appreciated extra income. Learning and transmission of music takes place as much within the bosom of the family as without. As for the repertoire and the subjects from which it draws inspiration, priority seems to be given to geographical evocations and familiar places of everyday life. New texts are continually integrated into or adapted to the traditional and ancient compositions. In terms of instruments, during the original settlement of these half-caste populations in Amazonia, there were probably only flutes and drums (bombo) brought from the Andes1. In certain compositions the Andean influence can still be detected. Although flutes are rare today in this part of Amazonia, the melodium (small simplified accordeon) dominates all popular festivities. Alongside it can generally be found a guitar and maracas or the guacharaca (notched stick), here called guajira. The most often played rhythms in this region of Northern Amazonia in Bolivia are the polka, the camaval and the taquirari, but the cumbias and the sambas are not absent from the repertoire, neither are the marches, so specific to the Andean world.

The title of this album, matico, has three meanings. It designates a bird of the forest but also a local plant with medicinal virtues (Piper elongatum). Finally, if a plot of land is fertile, it is matico.   

These recordings were made in August 2004 in the studios of the community radio, Radio San Miguel, in Riberalta, on the occasion of the first Festival Patujú de Oro.

1. To be discovered in the same collection, the flutes of Chusiquasa in the Bolivian andes (Sucre):
Wayra – Music of the Yampara and Charkas Indians -
Communidad Pachamama.
Colophon Records, Col CD 109.

CD tracks
  1. Moterito (cumbia)
    "Moterito (a bird) sings because he knows that your beloved has arrived and my guitar weeps with emotion…"

  2. Riberalta hermosa  (taquirari)
    Riberalta, beloved land (…), of all the Beni, you are the prettiest town (…) I dedicate this song to you."

  3. Ni bouscando con linterneEven seeking me out with a lantern… (samba)  
    "I will love you forever for having offered me a gift from the Heavens." 

  4. Linda BenienitaBeautiful Benienita (polka)
    "Give me your love, you are the queen of my heart, and with my guitar I sing for you, Benienita. (…) If only I could forget you..." 

  5. Noche de buri Night of intoxication (polka)
    "The maracas are already playing, have a drink, listen to the music and find yourself a beautiful girl to dance with at the carnival."

  6. El Rio MadidiThe Madidi River (taquirari)
    "I was on the River Madidi, that's my life. What cruelty! Drenched to the bone, dying of hunger  (…)"

  7. CelosaJealous (samba)
    "I will tell you the story of a friend, tormented by jealousy..."

  8. Mi Fortaleza – My Fortaleza (carnival)
    "All the men are brave and the women of unequaled beauty. On the right bank of the Rio Beni lies my village, my beloved Fortaleza, marvelous land of my childhood."

  9. Para ti mujerFor you, woman (taquirari)  
    "This song is dedicated to you alone. You are my love, my heart, my inspiration, my life, the soul that warms my very being"

  10. Sombrero de cueroLeather Hat (march)

  11. SolitarioAlone (carnival)
    "I live in solitude because I have been betrayed and I am looking for love again..."

  12. Pando (carnival)
    "It is here that I was born, here that I will die, Pando, beloved land, land of love"

  13. Conquista (taquirari)  
    "The Brazil nut (
    castagna) is our work! Our women shell it but the machines need to be renewed to ensure progress and the future of the Pando and the whole nation"

  14. Guayaramerin  (taquirari)  
    "Guayaramerin is a beautiful city, situated on the Rio Mamore (river forming the border between Brazil and Bolivia). People come from all over to see you" 

  15. Del Beni SoyI am from the Beni (taquirari)  
    "That's just the way it is, my Beni is the most beautiful of all!"

  16. Recuerdo de un amorMemory of a love (taquirari)

  17. El Show SabatinoSaturday Night Show (cumbia)
    "We're impatiently awaiting the Saturday Night show. It is a cultural centre where we get together and enjoy our national folklore"

  18. Los Guaracachis (taquirari)  
    "Among the flowers I met you and gave you my tenderness in exchange for your desire..."