Tacana Field Recordings

January 22, 2010

We live in the rainforest, we eat, we cure ourselves, we are dressed with what the rainforest gives us, we know that the trees, the plants, the animals are possessed by supernatural beings that can punish us and make people fall sick for reasons that only they know. Unfortunately, things are changing and the young people are losing our customs and beliefs. For us, the old Tacana, the music and the dances have been and continue being the only and the best way that we have to honor the gods and saints. -Francisco Navi, shaman, San José de Uchupiamonas.

The next several posts will be devoted to the musical diversity of Bolivia, where I just spent the last couple weeks. Originally, the idea was to go down to Cochabamba for my sister-in-law’s wedding, hang out, relax, kick back, chew some coca, drink some Huari, enjoy the party, not too much travelling, quoi. However, realizing what a waste it would be not to take advantage of some of the amazing national parks down there, my wife and I decided to – weather permitting – hop on a small propeller plane and head to the Amazon. Come our arrival in La Paz, the rain gods remained dormant, and so off we went. Lord do I hate small planes and the dreaded fish-tailing turbulence that ensues the minute the smallest cloud appears.
Arriving in Rurrenabaque, we were greeted by the kind folks from Chalalan, who promptly put us on a pirogue with our guide, Rigoberto, and sent us on a 5 and 1/2 hour trip up the Beni and Tuichi Rivers. Upon arrival on land, we had another hour long hike up to the lodge, which is run by the local Tacana-Quechua indigenous community from San José de Uchupiamonas, located another three hour boat ride up the Tuichi.
Tiring as it may have been to get there, the trip was well worth it. In the heart of the protected Madidi National Park in the upper Amazon river basin, the diversity of flora and fauna – and more importantly, the ability of the eco-tourist to actually behold it – is absolutely stunning. Rigoberto and the other guides have razor-sharp senses that catch the minutest movement or the faintest smell, allowing us to trek along behind and witness it all. We saw some 200 wild peccaries tramping along 15 feet away, red howler monkeys screaming like bedeviled ghouls in anticipation of the coming rains (which obliged us to stay an extra day), caimans, tiger frogs, green frogs, tarantulas, amazon tree boas, hundreds of little yellow squirrel monkeys and their overseers, the brown capuchin monkeys, giant grasshoppers, toucans, macaws, parrots, the incredibly rare black spider monkey, the primeval hoatzin bird, cormorans, and kingfishers. We went fishing and caught piranhas (and accidentally a river turtle!), and at night we were joined in our lodge by the ubiquitous tree frogs who made whoopee in our bathroom. Flora-wise it was overwhelming, though I’ll certainly never forget the giant kapok “elephant foot” tree, the equally impressive wild garlic tree (the inner cambium of which is used like we use regular old garlic), the walking palm (and in general the great variety of palms), and all manner of interesting medicinal shrubs and vines that Rigoberto pointed out. The Tacana apparently use ayahuasca too, though we weren’t there long enough to experience shamanistic rituals.
At the end of our visit, the locals put on a party for us, which began with offerings to the Pachamama, including coca leaves, leche de jaguar (a tasty milk-based liquor), and tobacco, and got going with much song and dance. I managed to record some of the music with my digital camera and extract the audio (since the video quality is poor). Of particular interest were the similarities to the African influenced fife-and-drum traditions of North America. In the case of the Tacana, the fife is a wood-carved flute (played wonderfully by Rigoberto!), the snare is called a caja, and the bass drum is the bomba or the bombillo.
Here’s a selection to get a feeling for it, though to help get in to the groove picture yourself in a large, spacious candlelit mahogany and palm thatched lodge-hut in the middle of the Amazon drinking leche de jaguar, chewing coca, and generally unwinding after a day of hiking, fishing, and a late afternoon soccer match!

Chalalan 3 – The Tacana Indians

Chalalan 4 – The Tacana Indians

Chalalan 5 – The Tacana Indians
And here’s one with zampoñas replacing the flauta…

Chalalan 7 – The Tacana Indians

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