The best cities in South America
12th July 2021
Iconic and steeped in history, Vallenato music offers an insight into the traditions and heritage of Colombia. Originally performed by travelling troubadours, the lilting melodies were accompanied by lyrics composed to convey news and stories from different regions. Featuring gaita flutes, accordions and miniature drums known as caja, the sound has become inexorably connected to the valley in which it was born.
Recognised by UNESCO in 2006, safeguarding the traditions of Vallenato music has become a prominent concern for residents in the valley. Valledupar, the city which is known as the birthplace of the genre, is a focal point for these efforts with certain individuals leading the way. Beto Murgas is one such individual. A Vallenato singer and composer himself, he is dedicated to ensuring that the city’s musical heritage is preserved for future generations. Now the curator of Valledupar’s Accordion Museum, he hopes to highlight the role that the instrument has played in the region’s musical development.
We caught up with Beto to chat about his life in the music industry, the future of Vallenato music and his top recommendations in Colombia.
How did you initially get involved in traditional folk music?
Folk music has always been a part of my life - my parents were musicians so I grew up surrounded by the Vallenato music legacy. I think it was inevitable that it would become a part of my lifestyle and now I can’t imagine being without it!
Why do you think Valledupar has such a thriving music scene and what inspired you to move there?
I think its music scene is mainly thanks to its historic role - both as the capital of folk rhythm and the home of Vallenato music. The genre’s most iconic performers and composers have been born in this valley and their passion and enthusiasm keeps people inspired, generation after generation. Valledupar is the heart of the region’s music scene and its annual folk music festival is one of the biggest events of the year. Not only is it a great place to develop your sense of rhythm and creativity, it’s also one of the most welcoming cities in Colombia - I’d recommend it to anyone!
Where are your favourite places in Colombia? What would be your top recommendations for a visitor?
I have so many favourite places in Colombia! I think the coffee regions and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range offer a real insight into the country’s natural heritage and diversity. They’re wonderful places to get away from the crowds and enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature. I also love the atmosphere of Cartagena and, of course, I would recommend Valledupar for any music lover.
Vallenato music is the signature sound of Colombia - how do you see it developing?
I think Vallenato music will become more and more popular on the international scene in coming years and it’s vital that this growth is coupled with protection. As Colombians, we don’t want to lose our traditions or sense of ownership over Vallenato music and, as its popularity grows, we need to keep our message true. We want people to come to the Valledupar Festival, enjoy the music and the insight it offers into Colombian culture, while also appreciating that it is an integral part of our heritage. I can’t wait to see the changes and developments that take place in the next few years and to play my part in bringing Vallenato music into the public eye.
What inspired you to open your Accordion Museum in Valledupar? Can you briefly explain the different types of accordion which are used in traditional Colombian folk music?
It made sense to me that a museum dedicated to Vallenato’s most iconic instrument needed to be in Valledupar - the home of the genre! People who come to the city are often intrigued by our folk music; the museum gives them a place to connect with its origins and get to know our heritage. I have loved this instrument my whole life and, when I stumbled across my childhood collection, I knew I wanted to help others to enjoy it as much as I do. In terms of the types of accordion, broadly there are five. Diatonic, Concertina, Bayan, Chromatic and Piano. Diatonic is the one which is used in Vallenato music. It’s of German origin but many of the ones we use here have been custom made to play specific notes and tones which are featured in Vallenato compositions.
Where would be your three dream travel destinations around the world?
I’d love to see the highlights of Europe! I think Barcelona, Paris and Castelfidardo would be top of my list.
Want to get to know the Colombian music scene for yourself? Would you like to meet Beto and learn more about his love of traditional music? Our local experts are ready and waiting to plan your trip of a lifetime. Simply fill in an enquiry form or visit our destination pages for more information. Alternatively, if you’d like to chat about your travel plans, give us a call in office on +44 (0)117 325 7898.