Issue - April 2008
In this month's issue, read about how Yalo Cuellar began his career; experience and taste traditional family dishes with one of Cochabamba's families; Heather Dieguez tells us about Energética; Walter Sánchez and Luis Fernando Terrazas come back to us with yet more interesting tales of Cochabamba...read more...
Yalo Cuellar - Portrait
Profession: Business Administrator
Born: Yacuiba, Tarija
He is a songwriter, singer, of folklore. He wrote over 100
songs some played by himself and others for other singers.
Yalo Cuellar has been a powerful player of and influence on Bolivian folk music since the beginning of his career. He was born in Yacuiba, Bolivia, in 1963. Winner of multiple awards and distinctions, Cuellar (born Sadi Jorge Cuellar Marie) has released ten albums over his long career and is currently promoting his most recent CD Francocantador. In 2006 he started the “Centro Cultural Aguaragüe” to encourage children in Chaco to experiment with the arts. He is perhaps most famous for combining modern electrical instruments with traditional folk songs, creating a whole new genre of “folk-fusion” that has since become very popular with young musicians. Mr. Cuellar spoke to the Cocha-Banner about his career, folk-fusion, and what is coming next for folk music and himself.
The Cochabanner: How did your musical career begin?
Yalo Cuellar: I started music young, playing guitar with some other friends from the same school. After that I went to La Paz because of the economic and political situation there. I ended up working as a singer to raise money for my studies. I met by coincidence the people I used to play with back in school, who were working in La Paz. I began to work in the nightlife of La Paz, which has a very bohemian culture. Through the places I was playing at, I met important people, which is how I had the background to start my music career, as well as some contacts from university, where I was studying business administration. I began to participate in festivals in my university. At that time protest music was very popular in South America.
CB: And when did you record your first album?
YC: Starting in ’83, I began to write songs, and I recorded my first album in 1986 with another singer, Toto Vaca. The difference between the two of us is that I am from the Chaco area and Toto is from Tarija. Both of us used compositions of our own and we made an album of protest music about communication, roads, and poverty. Because of the lack of attention the government has for the south part of the country, because Chaco is too close to Argentina and too far from the capital. We were so influenced by Argentina we would cross the border to get electricity and women would cross to get medical attention. All of this was because there was no road connecting Chaco with Santa Cruz or the other major cities. All these ideas were expressed in the album. The name of the album was “I want to go to Chaco”. The title song became a national success. It was the song that introduced me to the national culture of artists.
CB: What did you do then?
YC: In 1989 and the beginnings of the nineties I began to play with an established group, Savia Nueva. I made an album with them that described the environmental problems the planet is going through, “Singing for life”. After that I decided to become a solo artist again. In ’92 I began writing my own songs again because I was working a lot in the Latin American style, so I decided to revisit my earlier folk style. They have a different structure andpoetry. I recorded my compositions and one song is in honor of a priest, “Fray Quebracho”. Unexpectedly, this tape circulated among friends and became popular. It was spread as regional folklore. I was very surprised. This is very indicative of my music career and defined how I would spend my life. I began to get contracts to performin Chaco and Tarija. I began to have trouble finding other musicians who played my kind of music in the north.
CB: What are you working on these days?
YC: Right now I am compiling compositions, looking for new material that is characteristic of my work. I see myself as a kind of storyteller, and so have become a success due to my songs that talk about the personal lives of people. I have also written about the contamination of the Pilcomayo River. I sing these stories, and I also like to sing about many different topics, like the daily lives of the people. Nowadays, thanks to the internet, a lot of people write to me to tell me new stories, adventures, things that people have lost, migration, and I just put a little poetry and rhythm to the stories.
CB: Tell me about the “ folk-fusion” style you invented.
YC: I was the first to make the music-fusion of the Chaco folklore music. In the beginning, I received a lot of criticism, but in time, with the influence of others who followed my example and the influence of Argentina and Brazil, people began to accept the idea. After five years this fusion movement began to become stronger, and we started to use more percussion and keyboards. Right now it is common to have four or five musicians, two or three in front with native instruments and the rest in the back with modern instruments. I am proud of starting this idea in Bolivia.
CB: Did you ever think you would become this successful?
YC: I never thought I would become this big. It was never part of my life plan. Something in particular that is important to take into account is that the market in Bolivia is not very big, so people who decide to do art often give up and look for new jobs. Thank God I am lucky and had the good fortune to become well known as a composer and musician. I define myself as a singer-songwriter, but often other musicians will ask me to write songs for them. I also had the chance to travel to places like Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, and even Belgium. I never thought this would happen. One of my songs became one of the ten most popular in Ecuador. In 2001 I was invited to the Viña del Mar festival in Chile. It is one of the biggest festivals in South America. Folklore has a special category, and I was one of the first Bolivians to enter this category. My song finished in forth place out of fifteen countries of singers. I am very proud of this because this means I can go and play any time at that festival. This year there is another Bolivian group in this competition, after four years. The important thing about this is that I opened the doors for Bolivian musicians to go abroad and find new markets, because the market in Bolivia is so small.
CB: Do you think folk music has a future in Bolivia?
YC: Folklore is never going to die. It is part of the Latin-American roots. It defines us, tells us who we are, and it is alive and strong in Latin-America. It is important because we are a small country and have a lot of influence from Argentina, which affects our musical movements. One example is the Chicha Cumbia from Peru, a combination of folklore, tropical rhythms and the language of the Andes. It is very sweet and warm and it has spread to the south part of the continent. It is more commercial and catchy, and in Argentina they have adapted Chicha Cumbia and made it even more popular. Now it is popular at all the festivals and discos. In Argentina they changed the name, calling it ‘Cumbia Villera’. It was popular for five years and it began little by little to influence folklore. Some music is popular for a few years and then disappears, while other music is part of the national consciousness and will never die. When the former influences the latter, it has a chance to become something long-lasting and important.
CB: What advice would you give to a young folk musician just starting his career?
YC: I would tell a new singer that it is more important to be a composer than musician. You have to keep trying because you never know what will become popular. You can never predict who is going to become a success. Composing guarantees a continuous job, because when you have a success it can be a problem to go on producing material. By composing you can remain a success longer and not be forgotten. Some successful singers play well but because they do not have good poetry they are forgotten. Always keep your eyes and mind open to different kinds of music like jazz and classical music. Do not rely on just one approach. That is very important.
“What would you like to eat? What would you like me to prepare during your last days at home? What will we cook to welcome …?” are everyday questions here. Food is an important subject in a family in which ten to fifteen people between the ages of one and 85 congregate around the table everyday. Generally the women of the family prepare the meals. “La Maribel”, “la Silvia” , “la Florencia” y “la Anita” – all different ages – are responsible for planning, organizing and preparing the meals...