Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Vallenato is, along with cumbia, the most popular folk music of the Colombian Atlantic coast, which is played mainly with percussion and accordion. Its three traditional instruments are the caja (a small drum held between the knees and played with bare hands); the guacharaca, a wooden scraper about 18 inches long, and the button accordion.
Vallenato means, literally, "born in the valley", which in this case would be the valley between the Pico Cristóbal Colón and the Serranía de Perijá in northeast Colombia. The name indicates also the city from which this music originated: Valledupar (from the place name "Valle de Upar" - "Valley of Upar").
It is made up of four airs that are differentiated through their rythmic structure and the way they melody chord structure the accordion player gives it. These are: son, paseo, merengue and puya. The son and the paseo have a 2/4 time and the merengue and the puya a 6/8 time.
The son is played with heavy accentuation and cadence stressed on the low notes of the accordion on its left hand side. It's normally mournful and slow.
The paseo is thought to be an off-shoot of the son. Its speed can vary and today is the most widely recorded air.
The puya's main difference from the merengue is the length of its lyrics. In the last 40 years, accordion players have begun to play it faster and each of the three instruments used in vallenato has a solo. It is considered the oldest of the four airs, with roots in an ancient Indian dance of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
The merengue is often confused with a Dominican genre of the same name, but their main similarities are their name, which probably was brought by similar tribal groups from Africa. It has a more narrative style and was often used to play decimas, a 10-line verse with internal rhymes brought by the Spanish in the 16th Century.
Every year in April, the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata, or Festival Vallenato takes place, a contest in which the best interpreters fight for the title of "Rey vallenato " or "Vallenato king".
Though there are traditional vallenato composers such as Enrique Díaz , Emiliano Zuleta or Rafael Escalona , and well-known Colombian musicians which perform vallenato such as Diomedes Díaz and Lisandro Meza among others, the current "ambassador" of this music is the multiple-time Grammy Award-winner Carlos Vives, who has progressively helped the vallenato gain popularity worldwide through something which could be termed "vallenato-pop".
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