El Duende & Organized Insanity

A Brief History of Latin American and American Folk/Pop Music Fusion

^^”MOSQUITO” – Written and Performed by Julia^^

“Mosquito” is a synthesis of thousands of years of global musical, cultural, and political history. The first idea I would like to discuss is “el duende”, which is a Latin American folkloric concept of the dark spiritual passion and inspiration that an artist — musician, dancer, painter, poet… — may reach in his or her moment of pure insane creation. It is the state of creativity in which the artist surrenders his or her life to the expression itself. It is quite beautifully morbid and transcendent.

Federico Garcia Lorca described duende in his essay Theory and Play of The Duende* as “the magic power”; “since with duende it is easier to love, to understand, and be certain of being loved, and being understood, and this struggle for expression and the communication of that expression in poetry sometimes acquires a fatal character.” He ends his essay with this thought: “Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odor of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.”

When I first read this essay years ago, it resonated deeply in me and I recognized that as a creator, I have always felt this duende; as Lorca says “the duende never repeats itself, any more than the waves of the sea do in a storm” — I myself have never strived for perfection, but only to exist in the deeply present moment of pure creation, which taps into the abyss of beautiful sadness within me. As I learned more about Latin American culture and music, I was able to see how duende has been present and has evolved throughout time in Latin American history.

In 16th century Mexico, it was apparent that the Spanish colonists and the indigenous population of the land shared a common emotional tone of music. Spanish chroniclers of that time specifically noted that both musical expressions exhibited “sadness”, and this may in part explain the ease with which the indigenous peoples assimilated the European musical system during the time of colonization. European missionaries brought a non-secular musical system from the Iberian peninsula, which included Sephardic folk music, Gregorian chants, church modes (scales), and Catholic religious music. By introducing European music and dance to the native populations as a method of religious and cultural conversion, the sound of the lands evolved into a deeply rich, beautifully sad, yet energizing and uplifting — mestizo (“mixed”) folk music. This happened not only in Mexico, but all throughout the Latin American and Caribbean “New World”.

Fast forward to the 20th century, and we can hear how the popular music of the United States impacted the sound of Latin American folk music. This influence produced genres such as Latin pop, jazz, rock, and later Latin hip hop and reggaeton. The “Post-Expressionist” movement of Latin America, most notably in Argentina, was described by contemporary compositional techniques, and the use of secular, sexually and emotionally charged themes. The ballads which emerged tend to have a lyrical, romantic character. I believe that my song “Mosquito” can be described as having these characteristics.

The one Latin American artist who has influenced my song the most is the Argentinian heroine Mercedes Sosa**, who used her powerful voice and presence to promote leftist causes throughout her life, and was even exiled from her own country for her revolutionary political stance. The duende of Sosa’s expression has deeply impacted the passion with which I express my own music, and I owe the evolution of my creativity to her, and to the entire Latin American cultural history which supports us.

Another song which influenced the creation of “Mosquito” comes from an entirely different world of music — American folk/pop. The rhythm I use on the guitar of this song was inspired by the rhythm of a Simon and Garfunkel song called “April Come She Will”***, which was written by Paul Simon in England in 1964.

In the latter portion of my song, I shift to the English language, and the feel of the vocal line is more American folk/country/blues/pop. These genres originate in Great Britain and Africa, two distinct musical cultures which fused on North American soil throughout the 20th century, radically shifting the entire global soundscape. This “roots” music is an incredible blend of bluegrass, gospel, Appalachian folk, African blues, Cajun, Latino and Native American music — all which certainly contains their own form and expression of duende. We can hear how the pentatonic melodies and rhythmic formulas of both sections of my song tie all of these genres and global cultural influences together.

As we are discovering, music is an ever-evolving demonstration of our native connection to earth and humanity’s journey of inter-cultural blending, throughout space and time. I am deeply grateful to be a music lover and artist expressing and growing to understand the rich history of cultural fusion and musical evolution on Earth.


*Federico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and Play of The Duende

**Mercedes Sosa’s “Gracias a La Vida”

***Simon and Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will”


Photo By Affinity (Vatra Spinning Fire) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]