El sol de la tar­de vuel­ve más im­po­nen­te al vol­cán Im­ba­bu­ra, vis­to des­de las ca­sas de blo­que que tre­pan la lo­ma del ba­rrio mar­gi­nal de Al­pa­cha­ca, en Iba­rra. Aquí vi­si­ta a sus fa­mi­lia­res Car­los Gon­za­lón, guar­dia mu­ni­ci­pal de pro­fe­sión, cin­tu­rón ne­gro en ka­ra­te y mú­si­co de al­ma y vi­da. Pro­ve­nien­tes del cá­li­do valle del Cho­ta, don­de las ca­lles y pa­re­des re­tum­ban con el tam­bor, los Gon­za­lón lle­ga­ron a la ca­pi­tal pro­vin­cial en pro­cu­ra de pro­gre­so. En el tra­yec­to, Car­los apren­dió a to­car gui­ta­rra, ins­pi­ra­do por la ola de in­tér­pre­tes ‘afro’ que en­fies­ta­ban las no­ches de la re­gión. En­tre ellos, es­tá su her­mano, quien se gran­jeó fa­ma co­mo ‘El Ne­gri­to de la Sal­sa’. Pe­ro Car­los man­tie­ne el per­fil ba­jo. Es un hom­bre an­cho de hom­bros, de tem­ple se­rio y mi­ra­da in­ti­mi­dan­te; de po­cas pa­la­bras y de edad al­go di­fí­cil de iden­ti­fi­car, por su piel ter­sa y atlé­ti­ca lí­nea, de ai­re sabio. Cuan­do to­ma su gui­ta­rra, le pi­den can­cio­nes. “¡El Chi­vo!”, le gri­tan, y a mo­do de ex­pli­ca­ción, un fa­mi­liar nos acla­ra: “ése es un hit”. Sus de­dos son de­ma­sia­do gran­des pa­ra los tras­tes pe­ro de pron­to un ras­ga­do sin­co­pa­do, in­que­bran­ta­ble, in­cli­na su cuer­po ha­cia de­lan­te, y una voz ro­tun­da, ines­pe­ra­da, des­ba­ra­ta el cu­chi­cheo de las mu­je­res. Pre­sos de su mú­si­ca, to­dos es­cu­chan. Cin­co can­cio­nes de co­rri­do, to­das me­re­ce­do­ras de ser clá­si­cos de nues­tro re­per­to­rio na­cio­nal. “El Chi­vo” es, sin du­da, una obra maes­tra.

La mú­si­ca es co­mo un bre­ba­je li­be­ra­dor. Le cam­bia la ca­ra, le trae son­ri­sas, le suel­ta las his­to­rias. Nos cuen­ta de su pa­sa­do. De sus her­ma­nos, de ríos y co­rre­teos en Cho­ta-Mi­ra. Lue­go to­ma de nue­vo la gui­ta­rra. Ge­ne­ro­so de en­tu­sias- mo, y al rit­mo de la cla­ve de rum­ba, di­ce: “és­ta es mi más nue­va com­po­si­ción”. Su voz an­ge­li­cal, lle­ga a to­das las no­tas al­tas con fa­ci­li­dad, arras­tra el ai­re, vie­ne de la pro­fun­da si­mien­te de sus an­ces­tros. La le­tra, has­ta le­yén­do­la, me re­cuer­da la ca­den­cia con la que sa­lió de su bo­ca:

“Me em­bar­ga la nos­tal­gia del pue­blo en que na­cí Y a so­las con mi gui­ta­rra com­po­nien­do es­ta

can­ción, Vi­ven­cias de mi ni­ñez que las cuen­to en mi ve­jez, A los hi­jos, a los nie­tos, de lo bien que lo pa­sé. To­do a la an­ti­gua siem­pre fue bueno. Hoy el pre­sen­te es so­lo un sue­ño”.

The af­ter­noon sun casts an im­po­sing spell over Mount Im­ba­bu­ra from the cin­der-block ho­mes that climb the su­bur­ban neigh­bor­hood of Al­pa­cha­ca in Iba­rra, whe­re the Afro-Ecua­do­rian com­mu­nity has settled. Car­los Gon­za­lón is vi­si­ting fa­mily here. A mu­ni­ci­pal guard and a black belt to whit, Gon­za­lón is al­so a mu­si­cian, full of sen­si­bi­lity and soul. Born in the warm va­lley of El Cho­ta, whe­re streets and walls rum­ble to the sound of the drum, Gon­za­lón’s fa­mily mo­ved to Iba­rra in search of a bet­ter li­fe. Along the way, Car­los lear­ned to play the guitar, ins­pi­red by the wa­ve of ‘Afro’ mu­si­cians who ha­ve lit up wee­kend nights th­roug­hout the re­gion. Among them, his brot­her, the fa­med “Ne­gri­to de la Sal­sa”.

He is a broad-shoul­de­red man, with a se­rious, al­most in­ti­mi­da­ting look in his eyes. He is al­so short of words. But as soon as he nestles his guitar in­to his lap, re­quests from the crowd be­gin. “El Chi­vo!” so­meo­ne shouts out, and a fa­mily mem­ber ex­plains, “that one’s a hit.” He stum­bles over the first no­tes. But fi­nally a trans­for­ma­tion ta­kes pla­ce, a syn­co­pa­ted, un­wa­ve­ring ca­den­ce that ma­kes his body lean forward, th­rus­ting his voi­ce in­to the air, si­len­cing the youn­ger au­dien­ce’s whis­pers. The se­quen­ce of five songs he plays all deser­ve to be clas­sics of Ecua­do­rian song. But who’s heard them? El Chi­vo is un­doub­tedly a mas­ter­pie­ce.

Mu­sic is a li­be­ra­ting for­ce. It has chan­ged Gon­za­lón’s fa­ce, ig­ni­ted smi­les on the fa­ces of the au­dien­ce, let stories run free... He talks to us of his past, of his brot­hers, of ri­vers and run­ning wild in the fields of the Cho­ta-Mi­ra va­lley. He picks up his guitar again, now ge­ne­rous with ent­hu­siasm, and the rhythm of the rum­ba cla­ve re­so­na­tes as he tells us, “this is my ne­west com­po­si­tion”. His voi­ce is sweet and sturdy, an­ge­lic. It pulls the air, co­ming from deep within him, from a mu­si­cal an­cestry of long-dis­tant con­ti­nents. The ly­rics, even rea­ding them now, re­mind me of the ca­den­ce with which they ca­me out of his mouth:

“Nos­tal­gia of the town whe­re I was born overw­helms me,

And alo­ne with my guitar I com­po­se this song. Ex­pe­rien­ces of my child­hood that I re­co­unt in

my old age, To my chil­dren, to my grand­chil­dren, of how well I

spent them... All that was past was al­ways good. And to­day is only a dream.”

Car­los Gon­za­lón y su con­jun­to, los Ge­nui­nos del Rit­mo. / Car­los Gon­za­lón and his band, los Ge­nui­nos del Rit­mo (The Ge­nui­ne Rhythm-kee­pers).

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