Festival Petronio Alvarez 2010 slideshow and audio| 20 September, 2010
The Petronio Alvarez festival is a 5 day music event and competition held annually in Cali, Colombia. By a process of application and selection over 90 groups are invited each year to compete for the winning title. Across several evenings, bands perform in different musical categories as five judges mark them on appearance, composition, delivery and sound. The diversity is astounding, but all music presented is rooted in the traditions of the Pacific: marimba lead currulao from the south of the coast, home made violins from cauca and cutting dual-clarinet chiramia music from the choco region. As well as strictly folkloric groups, the festival also plays host to more urban interpretations of the Pacific sound, fusing tradition with salsa, reggaeton and rap. The Petronio experience is band focused, but the crowd give so much to the event, a great sense of unity and pride is shared by all who attend. A songline sung on stage soon becomes a thousand strong sing-along echoing around the shaky concrete frame of the bull ring it is held in.
People arrive ready to represent their origins in the Pacific and both celebrate and illuminate African heritage in Colombia. The festival also serves as a tremendous opportunity to see groups from rural regions who often travel several days by water and road to get there. It would be near impossible to see such a cross section of groups at any time of the year without traveling for several months by boat throughout the Pacific rivers and jungles, a part of Colombia increasingly known for its guerilla and paramilitary presence.
The Petronio Alvarez festival, relatively speaking, is still in its infancy. But like so many events of its kind, commerciality and business interests can so quickly change the aesthetics beyond recognition. For the meantime, Petronio remains an event for the people, people who for a long time have been excluded or isolated from mainstream Colombian identity. It’s not the most organised event, nor the biggest, but it’s certainly one of the most vibrant live music experiences you’re ever likely to experience.
Will “Quantic” Holland,
Cali, Colombia August 2010.
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