Back in the late 80’s I fell in love with a recording of Latin American harp music. It has taken me more than twenty-five years to discover its identity. Today I am very happy to say I’ve found it.
I first heard the music as a tape when I visited a relative in Norway. It was a tape of a tape from a friend who had worked on and off in Columbia over many years. He had described it as Paraguayan harp music, but we didn’t know if he had picked it up in Columbia or elsewhere.
I made a copy as you did in those days and it became a favourite, especially when my spirits needed a lift. The first track had what I can only describe as a carnival feel. I used it one day as a soundtrack to kick off a summer party – with cocktails. Let’s see, that would have been in the late 90’s when we bought our current house, but a few years after that CDs ruled and tapes were seldom played – I am uncertain of its fate.
I was certain it was a recording from a LP. I hadn’t realised this initially, but with headphones you could hear the stylus being lifted off the LP at the end of side one. Over the years, especially with the interest in ‘World Music’ I used to browse in music stores wondering if any of the glossy cover ensembles was the group responsible for my cherished tape. A few purchased on a whim where nothing like it, although pleasant in their own right.
I searched the web as it became a significant resource. YouTube became my friend too. Every so often I would have a ‘harp frenzy’ and listen to video after video, but nothing I heard was even close to what I was looking for. One evening I bookmarked a playlist I liked which was based on “Daily Harp Moments” – a series of videos of solo harp by musician John Kovacs. It was gentle and the sort of music that is a good accompaniment to writing, and I forgot about it until one evening when I had just such a need. Tunes played in the background, then suddenly I realized I recognized one – one I was sure had been on my long-lost tape.
The tune was called “Concert of the plains” so now I had a something to go on. Or maybe not. Searches drew a blank, so I had to think again. I tried Spanish ‘Concierto de los lanos’. No joy, other than a Wikipedia page:
Los Llanos (Spanish “The Plain”) is a vast tropical grassland plain situated to the east of the Andes in Colombia and Venezuela, in northwestern South America.
Columbia! Maybe Paraguay was a wild goose chase. Música Llanera on YouTube threw up a lot. The instrumentation sounded close, but most songs were songs and my tape had no vocals. But I got thinking, folk music is about people. Wikipedia again:
A llanero (Spanish, plainsman) is a Venezuelan or Colombian herder. The name is taken from the Llanos grasslands occupying western Venezuela and eastern Colombia. The Llanero were originally part Spanish and Indian and have a strong culture including a distinctive form of music.
“Concierto de los Llaneros” threw up “Concierto en la Llanera” (Concerto in the plains). Bingo – the tune again. Here’s a lovely version by a busker: Musica Llanera Venezolana de Arpa en Paris. Now I was on to something. I started searching versions on YouTube and quickly found the one I was sure was the recording I had had.
That was it – even the record. A few more tracks and I found the ‘carnival one’ I was really searching for was “Ai Si Si” which has an intriguing Caribbean feel.
You can hear the whole album here, although the tracks run into each other.
But the story doesn’t end there. A search for the artist revealed links to Columbia and Paraguayan harp. Wikipedia again:
Dr. Alfredo Rolando Ortiz (December 10, 1946) is an internationally acclaimed soloist of the (Paraguayan harp), a composer, author, educator and recording artist. […]
Alfredo was born in Cuba. When he was eleven years old he immigrated with his family to Venezuela. Four years later he began studying the Venezuelan folk harp with his school friend Fernando Guerrero. A year later he became a pupil of Alberto Romero on the Paraguayan harp. Just two years after his first harp lesson, he began medical studies in Medellín, Colombia, began performing professionally and recorded his first album. Music supported his medical studies until graduation. Five years later he moved to the United States to continue studies of music therapy. Two years later he married Luz Marina Otero. For eight years from the time of his graduation from medical school, he worked in the medical field as well as a harpist and recording artist, until his wife became pregnant. In order to have time for his growing family, he then decided to dedicate his life only to them and to his first love: the harp.
The picture above is from Dr Ortiz’s own website: http://alfredo-rolando-ortiz.com. I am delighted to have found this and I am looking forward to exploring his own YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/AlfredoRolandoOrtiz and some of his own music.