Serenades and sad songs

Before the Quechuas Indians settled there, approximately two centuries before the Conquista, the Arequipa region was peopled by various other peoples about whom little is currently known. The Inca culture very probably mingled with these more ancient regional cultures, resulting in a cultural mixture much wider than simply Quechua-Spanish.

The first Spanish inhabitants of Arequipa were members of the expedition led by Diego de Almagro, discoverer of Chile. They founded the town on returning from this expedition believing that it would provide a natural access to the sea for Cuzco and Upper Peru. However, important mining discoveries (mercury in Huancavelica, gold and silver in Potosi) opened up other routes towards Lima. Arequipa nevertheless managed to avoid complete isolation and take advantage of the commercial opportunities offered by the mining circuit by supplying the regions with labour and manufactured or agricultural products. It also became a provincial town of 'encomenderos', of merchants, craftsmen, mule-drivers and servants. The Indians were mainly 'encomendados' or 'mitayos'.

The whole colonial system was largely based on the exploitation of the Indians through two institutions : the 'encomienda' and the 'mita'.
The king gave Indians to those Spanish  - the 'encomienda' - who had distinguished themselves during the Conquest. These 'encomenderos' could exploit the work of 'their' Indians, the 'encomendados', receive a personal tribute, enroll them in the troops, etc.
The 'mita' constitutes the obligation imposed on the native population to carry out certain work, in principle salaried, for the State or certain individual Spaniards (in the mines, agriculture, building, etc.).

The emergence of a new social group : the 'Lonccos'
It was in the nineteenth century, within this rigid social structure, that the Lonccos made their appearance. This term designates the half-caste tenant farmers who freely cultivated the farms of the rich heirs of the 'encomenderos'. The latter generally lived in town in order to better manage their affairs. The Lonccos had to work the earth of a landowner and produce enough cereals to pay him a six-monthly tribute. They were practically self-sufficient and enjoyed almost total freedom.

These half-castes, inheritors of the Pre-Hispanic Andean cultures and of western culture, were the originators of the sad love songs called 'canciones'. Taking the ancient Inca 'canciones harawis' ('yaravi' comes from the Quechua word 'harawi' or 'jarawi' which means 'poetry'), certain learned travellers such as Antonio Pereyra y Ruiz and Matéo Paz Soldan called these songs 'Yaravis' from 1862 onwards.

The 'canciones' or 'yaravi' of the Lonccos suggest an individualistic, libertarian, fatalistic ideology. Although they were in effect free, the Lonccos did not experience their existence as such. Their lives depended solely on their hard labour which supplied them with just enough to ensure their subsistence. Their fatalism was their response to their isolated fight for liberty and the adversity of their social and economic situation. What emerges is the expression of an immense sadness and a frightening solitude, feelings which are constantly repeated in their songs and from which they believe only death will liberate them.

In the twentieth century, the trend towards the attainment of middle-class respectability or towards proletarianization of the Lonccos led to the disappearance of this social group and the slow decline of the yaravi of Arequipa.
Offical attempts to restore the yaravi (as a tourist attraction) had little effect and only a few singers, most of them very old like the Delgado brothers, now ensure the continuity of this popular form of expression.
The social symbolism of the yaravi nevertheless survives in the popular imagination in Arequipa as is witnessed by a local radio station highly active in a popular neighbourhood calling itself Radio Yaravi.

The yaravi of Arequipa and Mariano Melgar
Generally, the term 'yaravi' is used to designate poetry, music and songs with certain common characteristics. These are elements such as the recurring themes of sadness and unrequited love, pentatonic music, specific metrical forms. In fact, 'yaravi' is derived from the Inca term 'jarawi' (or 'aravi', 'haravi') which is a generic term covering all things poetic, whatever the theme. The yaravi is therefore a poem which can be, but which is not necessarily, sung. It is never danced to. This poetic and musical genre can be found throughout the Andes - from Argentina to the Equator - under various different names. It is however in Arequipa that it took on a highly specific character and had its Golden Age.

The Arequipa yaravi are 'canciones' for they combine words and music. Apart from a few rare exceptions, the verses are quatrains with octosyllabic lines, interspersed with short pentasyllabic lines. This technique of breaking with short lines (pie quebrado) was introduced by Mariano Melgar (1790 - 1814). Melgar was an intellectual. He was student and pupil at the seminary in San Jeronimo where the advanced ideas of the French bourgeoisie were much in favour. Contrary to that which some would have us believe, Melgar was not the inventor of the Arequipa yaravi - the Inca yaravi already existed in the working class areas of Arequipa. Mariano Melgar's real contribution was to take these popular creations and give them a western feeling using unusual forms and breaks using short lines. Mariano Melgar fell in love with a Spaniard, Silvia, and composed for her several poems on the theme of impossible love. He was a Spanish-speaking patriot of Quechua origin who had participated in the nationalist rebellion against Spanish occupation. He was imprisoned and shot in 1814. He became a symbol of the fight against the occupiers and discrimination. His signature became the sole guarantee of the value and authenticity of a yaravi from Arequipa. In reality, through this expedient, the Lonccos, peasant yaravi became aristocratic and urban. However, Mariano Melgar did not change the ideological message of the Lonccos yaravi.

The music of the yaravi is pentatonic and always in a minor tone. It is interpreted by voices in duets and is accompanied by the guitar and the Spanish mandolin, an instrument which has today almost disappeared from the Arequipa region. There is a great contrast between the metric rigidity of the lines and the free expression of the music. From a formal point of view, the yaravi is the expression of a Hispano-Quechua mixture : the pentatonic music is of Quechua origin and the language, the versification and the accompanying instruments are of Spanish origin.

The Delgado brothers, Izaac, Hermenegildo, Jorge and Juan de Dios, were respectively 82, 80, 77, and 75 years old when this recording was made in February 2000. For over 50 years they have been interpreting exclusively the poetry of Mariano Melgar in strict Arequipian yaravi tradition.
The Delgado brothers themselves chose the yaravi featuring on this CD from their own extensive repertoire.

This text is largely inspired by Juan Guillermo Carpio Munoz's study : 'El Yaravi Arequipena, un studio Historico-Social y Cancionero'. Arequipa 1976. 


CD tracks

  1.  Espantosa Soledad - "Terrible solitude" (dedicated to Silvia)
    "Your terrible solitude, sad observer of my crying"

  2. El rio del desden - "The river of scorn"
    "On the river of scorn I have built a bridge of greed"

  3. Ya que para mi no sives - "Since you do not live for me"
    "Tell me what my eyes should see, for I have lost you"

  4. Adios Yanahuara - "Farewell Yanahuara"
    "Farewell fair Yanahuara, tomorrow I will travel far away"

  5. Blanca Flor - "White flower"
    "Fatal destiny, your first steps brought you to your death"

  6. Despedida - "The Leavetaking"
    "I am leaving for a distant land where no-one awaits me"

  7. Ingratitud - "Ingratitude"
    "Unfortunate in fortune, lucky in misfortune"

  8. Delirio - "Delirium"
    "Without giving me hope"

  9. Pajarillo cautivo - "Little captive bird"
    "The scissors of love have clipped your wings"

  10. Prisonero - "Prisoner"
    "If I sleep with you, I dream. If I wake up, I think of you."

  11. Palomita blanca - "White dove"
    "Little golden beak, do not return to the mountains"

  12. El canto del Cisne - "Swan song"
    "Swan, my pain, lamentation"

  13. Testamento de Melgar - "Melgar's legacy" (dedicated to Silvia)
    "When death lays its veil on me"