Songs of the wayfarers
Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya lectures on “The Sights and Sounds of the Inka Trail”
Maybe all you know about South American music is the Argentine tango or the Brazilian samba and bossa nova. Or perhaps you know that Simon & Garfunkel’s song “El Condor Pasa (If I Could),” from 1970, was based on a traditional Andean tune. Miguel Harth-Bedoya will survey some of the highlights of South American music in a multimedia lecture, “The Sights and Sounds of the Inka Trail,” at the New Mexico History Museum on Thursday, Aug. 13.
Harth-Bedoya is the music director of the Fort Worth Symphony and the chief conductor of the Norwegian Radio Symphony. This summer at Santa Fe Opera, he conducts the premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain. He is also the founder and musical director of Caminos del Inka, a nonprofit dedicated to researching, publishing, performing, and recording the music of South America, from pre-Columbian times to the present day. In a recent conversation with Pasatiempo, he recounted that as a Peruvian, he was interested in the musical heritage of his country, with its rich mix of indigenous cultures, among them the Quechua and Aymara, as well as the culture the Spanish brought when they toppled the Inka Empire in 1532. Harth-Bedoya said that he has encountered a lack of knowledge among the general public about Latin American and, more specifically, South American music. South America itself is an artificial construct of the modern world, enmeshed in the history of European colonialism. Many are its languages, cultures, cuisines, and musical traditions. Harth-Bedoya mentioned how it’s been suggested that just because he is Peruvian he can conduct the music of Ástor Piazzolla, the Argentine composer of tangos. Maybe he could or maybe not, but certainly not solely by virtue of his birth south of the equator.
Although Harth-Bedoya worked for many years on the project beforehand, Caminos del Inka was founded in 2010; it is named after the famous Inka roads, which crisscrossed the Andes, originally connecting the Inka capital at Cusco, Peru, with imperial provinces both north and south in what is now Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Although the roads were mostly built in the late 1400s and early 1500s, Inka stonemasons were excellent craftsmen, and many of the roads continue in use to the present day. Just as the roads connected far-flung peoples and cultures in pre-Columbian times, so Harth-Bedoya’s organization aims to connect us with the continent’s music in all its diversity.
Among the ethnomusicological projects Caminos del Inka sponsors are investigations of pre-Columbian Andean music and instruments. One video on the organization’s YouTube channel, Roncadoras de Caraz, documents native Quechua musicians in a small village in northern Peru. The narrator notes that there remain just three musicians in the town who still know how to play the ancient instruments, including the roncadora flutes as well as rasps and drums. The group also includes a violin, which is widely used in traditional music in Latin America, from Mexico to Peru, and which speaks to the hybrid nature of South American music.
Caminos del Inka has also formed an ensemble, which has performed worldwide, and which promotes the work of contemporary Latin American composers such as Jimmy López, Gabriela Frank, Enrique Iturriaga, and Osvaldo Golijov, whose Ainadamar was a highlight of the 2005 Santa Fe Opera season. The ensemble has just released its seventh album, which includes several works of Colonial Latin American music in municipal and church archives, such as that held by the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City. Harth-Bedoya’s wife, Maritza Caceres, is writing a PhD dissertation that will include the first publication of a group of 17th- and 18th-century villancicos, or religious songs, that were discovered at the Seminario de San Antonio Abad in Lima.
If you are curious about whether Paul Simon’s lyrics for “El Condor Pasa” are actually translations of an Andean folk song, Harth-Bedoya will enlighten you on this subject and many more in his presentation, which features musical selections.