For the Ticuna tribes that live in the Amazon along Brazil, Colombia, and Perú, the Curupira is a spirit that protects the jungle from the bad-intentioned hunters. The Colombian band Curupira, which is performing in New York City this weekend, is comprised of six amazing multi-instrumentalists who base their music on the diverse folk traditions of Colombia: from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts all the way to the tropical grassland plains.
Curupira members say they got the name one day while rehearsing when they got together in the year 2000. “We started humming, and that word just came out,” said Maria José Salgado, gaitera and percussionist of the band. They feel the image of the spirit represents them because he walks with one foot forward and one foot backwards, just like their music, which is ancestral and futuristic, progressive and based on tradition.
Curupira spirit illustration by Elisa Roldán.
The first time I saw Curupira play was this past March, when they opened for Mulatu Astatke in Bogotá for a world music crowd. I must confess it took me a while to get into their music. The combination of folky gaitas (Colombian flutes), the tambora (bass drum), and the alegre (traditional Colombian drum also used by Mitú), the llamador (another traditional drum), and the marimba, mixed with the more aggressive sounds of the electric guitar, bass, and drums was a little overwhelming.
The concept of mixing the traditional and the modern has become popular in what they call the new Colombian music, but the way Curupira does it, including so many instruments and so many rhythms with complicated patterns simultaneously, sets it apart. They are also the pioneers of this kind of musical experimentation, paving the way for others. “Curupira learns and takes its inspiration from the Colombian traditional music, and it experiments with jazz and contemporary music harmonies,” says Maria José. “It sounds like a jungle in the city, like an Escher’s painting, or like an exotic, quantic mix of urban timbres and Caribbean rhythms.”
And it does.
Because this is Curupira: a bet, a cry, a call, a tacit protest. An experiment that challenges the so-called purists by mixing it all, by looking for the pieces of many fading identities in a classist, racist, violent, fragmented country, and bringing them to the light.
In Curupira there’s no masks, there’s no artifice. It’s all raw, ritualistic music that invites us to look back, to relearn, to remember who we are, at the same time it invites us to keep walking forward.
On June 28th, Curupira will have their US debut, and will present their sonic experiment in the River to River festival in New York City, and then at Barbes and at Terraza 7 on July 4th and 5th respectively. Check them out!
Fusion: How would you explain the sound of the band to someone who’s never heard it before?
Maria José Salgado from Curupira: Our sound is very authentic. It narrates processes of migration from the city to countryside and vice versa, which are results of processes of human dialogue and cultural and musical exchange. We use the traditional format of the gaita music and we add bass and guitar
Fusion: Why mixing it all?
Curupira: Our race is the fruit of a big mixture of everything —- American aborigines, Europeans, Asians, Africans -— and the sounds of the traditional Colombian music are the fruit of an immense cultural mixture. The city allows us to have access to the global culture, and these two sources of knowledge intertwine to give birth to the music of Curupira: Urban and global music that’s also ethnic and local.
Fusion: How has been the evolution of the Curupira sound?
Curupira: Pa’lante pa’trá, (2000) is a jazzy album, it’s totally instrumental. We still didn’t have a lot of experience playing traditional instruments. That first stage had as a foundation the instrumental format of the gaitas from the province of Bolívar.
As time passed, we saw ourselves inclined to vocals, and we added David Cantillo “Malpelo”, to the band. Puya que te Coge, our second album, has a more accessible repertory. We experimented with other traditional sounds, such as joropo llanero and traditional indigenous music.
In El Fruto— our third album, there’s a prime new concept: The interaction and fusion between national genres with different formats. We made the marimba from the Pacific interact with the cuatro llanero and with the gaitas from the Caribbean coast. Here, the aesthetic exploration becomes riskier, breaking the boundaries between local rhythms.
In the past three years, we've been developing and exploring even more diversity between these sounds. Regenera, our fourth album, also has influences of the tambora and the wind instruments from the banks of the Magdalena river.
Fusion: You’ve said your music is sensitive to the social reality in Colombia. How do you incorporate this to the sound?
Curupira: The fact that the sound of the band was centered around the instruments and the highly marginalized groups of our country, like indigenous, Afro-descendant, and rural populations, evoke in different sectors of our society, especially in the musical one, a sensibility to our history and political and social reality.
Fusion: You’ve also said your music is spiritual.
Curupira: “Curupira” in Ticuna language means the mother of the Ceiba tree, the one from which drums are made, it's a demon, a protective spirit of the land. Curupira make hunters who enter the forest with ill intentions lose themselves. In music, Curupira transmits ancient knowledge that reconnects with the roots.
Fusion: Sometimes you travel to meet up with old masters and play with them. Are there any cool stories in particular?
Curupira: The old masters who still practice our most archaic traditions have always been our source of inspiration. Our interaction with such masters has been fundamental in our process. We would have to mention our interaction with el maestro Antonio Torres “Gualajo”, who introduced us to the Colombian Afro-Pacific wisdom. More than about music, we learned about his way of understanding and feeling life.
Also, our interaction with el maestro Sixto Silgado “Paito” has been permanent for over a decade. We’ve built very strong bonds—he’s our godfather, our granddaddy. He belongs to our family. So maybe, our most relevant anecdote has been introducing these two old men who posses such different musical universes to each other and see them becoming really good friends.
This post is part of La Sopita Series: sounds, beats and clicks from the Colombian underground to the world. My goal with this series is to function as a bridge, connecting emerging Colombian artists to American audiences. La Sopita, like homemade rich, yet simple soup, will give you an intimate taste of the different indie delicacies being concocted in the underground musical kitchens of my bloody, yet beautiful country of Colombia.
Find Camila Alvarez on Twitter at @CamiAlvarez7