May 2011

A Rebellious Space: The Folk Penas


Walter Sanchez C.
Instituto de Investigaciones

La Pena was an alternative and anti-establishment space of the youth from the1960s until the 80s, decades dominated by the military governments. A private and popular place, created an atmosphere that forested solo artists and musical groups who wrote and performed protest songs, social singing, autochthonous, folklore, neo-folklore forms of music at the centre podium, particularly on weekend evenings. They were massively attended by university students, intellectuals and tourists (gringos).

The first folk pena to open its doors in Bolivia was "Naira" (eye or first in Aymara). It was located in Saga the neighborhood of Chijini ascending Sagarnaga Street in the city of La Paz. This pena presented distinguished national and foreign artists, amongst those, "Los Jairas" and the Favre-Dominguez-Cavour trio were the central figures. In an interview with Roberto Ledesma, one of the members of the trio, Alfredo Dominguez, commented regarding this pena and said that when we founded pena Nara- with Ernesto Cavour and Gringo Favre the only aim was to give the music the attention that it deserved… without any financial considerations. Our aim was to spread our folklore and take advantage of the interest and enjoyment people had for our music, maybe in a snobbish way...Therefore, a lot of people spoke in a snobby way. They would say that our music was nice, for example they talked to their friends and would tell them to go to the pena, even if they didn’t understand the music very well. We took advantage of this. A lot more people came and we interpreted the music and we told them that we are doing this with all sincerity because we have to value our music, our culture inasmuch as there are many people who want to take advantage of what belongs to us.

In the following years, the most important groups in the country passed the stage, such us El Trio Oriental, Los Caminantes, Los Cumpitas, Los Ch'askas, Los Montoneros de Mendez, Los Chajjes de Colquechaca, Los Negritos de Chicaloma, Sicuris de Italaque, "Llameros del Altiplano", and Violeta Parra y Cesar Isella. The success of Naira was so huge that very soon another two penas opened in La Paz: Tiwanaku and Khory Thica.

The first Pena that opened in Cochabamba, in 1968, was Ollantay

The first pena that opened in Cochabamba, in 1968, was Ollantay (located on Baptista Street 5860 phone 1135). At the beginning of 1969 local journalists demonstrated the importance of pena in social and cultural life of the city. An article in the newspaper "Prensa Libre", dated May 13,1969 exemplifies this fact: "Artistic activity increases at the pena Folckorica Ollantay. Every weekend, Fridays and Saturdays, popular local and foreign artists perform, promoting especially the Bolivian folklore, like Victor Hugo Leano, Los Zamponeros del Huaracán and others". During the first half of the 1970s many groups performed on their stage: Los Caminantes - composed by Carlos Palenque, Pepe Murillo and Tito penarieta, Los Trovadores de Bolivia, Las Imillas, Las Kory Majtas, Los Mallcus, Mario Gallardo –he was a virtuoso of the charango-, Los Hijos del Illimani, Luz Mila Carpio, Jose Zapata, the comedian Hortica Gutierrez, Los Sajras, Los Chaskas, el dúo Larrea (Ne-gro)/Uriarte, Las nustas, Gladys Moreno, Benjo Cruz, Victor Hugo Leano, Los Caballeros del Folklore, besides the soloist artists and foreign groups, mainly Argentineans.

Due to the contagious popularity of the events penas soon opened. Therefore, in 1969, the Balneario restaurant and pena The Cisne opened. Despite the short existence of these places, in the same year, another pena opened its doors: the pena Apolo, on Espana Street at Nº5933 between Peru Street (today Heroinas Avenue) and Colombia Street. Their program for June 28, 1969 reveals the intense folklore activity that developed within its walls: Los Yuras de La Paz, Las Voces del Mar, Los Chipayas de Oruro, la Ima Sumac Boliviana, Los Wayras del Valle y Los Kori Kentis from North of Potosi. The pena Utama opened its doors in 1970 in "La Rivera" swimming pool and restaurant located in the neighborhood of Cala Cala where artist such as Edgar Arce (El Arriero) or groups as Los Pastores –who incorporated zamponas and bombos legüeros into their music-, Los Payas or Los Brillantes performed. Another popular pena of that time was Uru, directed by the composer and pianist from Oruro, Julio Rodriguez Berrios. One of the best authentic places to maintain original penas La Casona in Cochabamba, founded in 1980s.

Conceived rather as a musical space then a physical place, pena "Universitaria" has to be highlighted. It was a mobile event, in the distinctive faculties of Universidad Mayor de San Simon, where it developed intense musical activities encompassing social issues and protest songs, as well as political debate. At the same time, the number of "penas Folkloricas" was emphasized and organized in the different high schools during the 1970s. The pena conceived not just as a physical space but as a meeting place for social interaction through a particular type of music. The pena was, in every sense, a political space whether formal or informal ( the penas in the universities or high schools). Those locations generated environments where young people gathered to debate forms of resistance, programs, and projects. From there, rejuvenating ideas dispersed, that later solidified into political parties or armed guerilla groups.

As a social phenomenon the pena became a force as a free space during the time of the military governments. It was also a place for socialization, knowledge, and debate as well as the creation of poetry and music. In the pena they discussed new ideas and proposed values of social issues, denounced betrayals and consolidated a re-emerging front against a controlled society.

In the pena they also developed a nationalism which started to be called the "Pais Profundo", an Indian country. Farmer groups playing siku, quena-quena and charangos. It is in the pena where they reached a major milestone featuring indigenous music groups or immigrant youth running melodies of their peoples. The pena also marked a new relationship between the artist and society because the performances were remunerated economically. This fact is important because it encouraged the emergence of a large number of young musicians (mostly immigrants and university students) who found an opportunity to earn extra money. Furthermore, it promoted the generation of new instrumental, rhythmic and harmonic combinations, and a new musical language where indigenous instruments become the central acoustic devices.

Instituto de Investigaciones AntropolĂłgias
article was translated thanks to the agreement between Projects Abroad and the Departament of LigĂĽistica Aplicada a la Ensenanza de Lenguas - Faculty Advisor Mgr. MĂłnica Ruiz

Jenny Lara
Ricardo Borda

Calendario Mayo 2011

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2 de mayo
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3 de mayo
“Rosetta” (directores Luc y Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
4 de mayo
“Entre los muros” (director Laurent Cantet)
SubtĂ­tulos en castellano

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