Fronted by singer Karla Kanora, Rio Mira is an exciting recording collaboration between artists from neighbouring Ecuador and Colombia. Their debut album, released on a ZZK's sub label AYA Records is produced by Iván Benavides (involved in Latin Grammy-winning groups like Choq Quib Town andLos Giateros de San Jacinto) and Ivis Flies (producer of Latin Grammy-winning social heritage project De Taitas y Mamas) and is guided by the distinctive percussive tones of the marimba, an all-important ingredient of this socially conscious project.
Based out of the coastal town of Esmeraldas in Ecuador, the project organisers are also developing a festival aiming to shift the negative attitudes toward Afro-Ecuadorian music, a multi-pronged initiative channelling the region’s UNESCO-recognised musical history. A symbol of the border-spanning, Afro-Pacific identity, the marimba’s story is closely intertwined with that of the escaped slaves, known as maroons, who made the region their home from the early 16th century onward. Channelling that history of self-realised liberation, there’s a celebratory feeling to the music that’s tangible. In the carefully preserved tradition of the marimba, there’s a joyous feeling that’s infectious.
In 2015, UNESCO declared the marimba music of South Pacific Colombia and Esmeraldas Province, Ecuador tobe Intangible Cultural Heritage. Divided between the two nations, it’s a boundary that was less rigidly maintained in previous centuries; during an era where slavery still prevailed in the Americas, those who escaped from shipwrecked slave ships or those who escaped or bought their freedom from nearby plantations, sought refuge all along that stretch of the Pacific coast. Over the years, they cultivated a unique Afro-Pacific identity; incorporating traditions – like the marimba – from their West African roots, they built isolated, self-contained communities born of necessity.
Taking its name from the river, which runs from Ecuador into Colombia, the album Rio Mira extols the rich history of the northwesterly Pacific coast. Focusing the project on Esmeraldas, it’s a process ofre-affirmation for a neglected traditional culture. While Afro-Colombian music has had support, in the likes of neighbouring Cali’s Petronio Álvarez Festival, (named after Colombian poet and musician Petronio Alvarez whose grandson is Esteban Copete, a well known marimba player) the same can’t be said of traditional, African-influenced music in Ecuador. In Esmeraldas, there’s a stigma surrounding the folkloric music of the marimba, which has impacted negatively on Afro-Ecuadorian communities and their heritage. With strong proponents of Afro-Ecuadorian culture in the band (in particular, Larri Preciado), Rio Mira is about recognising the strong links connecting the traditions of the El Pacífico region (as it’s known to locals).
Recalling the history of the Pacific, the music is a reminder of the unity, which binds together a region divided up by state borders. Giving a much-needed boost for those on the Ecuador side, the lyrics tell stories of the traditional home cooking that is to be found all along the coast. Beit references to encocado, a seafood in coconut sauce, or tapeo – a classic fish stew that’s often served up in El Pacifico homes – the music speaks to the beautiful, sun-blessed diversity of that part of the world.
‘Román Román’, the first official single to be taken from the album, is a good example of the softly enchanting allure of the music. An ode to the intimate connection the El Pacífico communities have with the rivers, it also features a poem by Esmeralda writer Jalisco González. Driven by the cyclical, interlocking patterns of the marimba, it fuses regular interjections of call-and-response. With rhythm and melody intimately interconnected, each of the album’s songs develop in mesmerising fashion – a tribute to El Pacífico.
Marimba Del Pacifico is released on AYA Records, a newly formed offshoot of Argentina’s ZZK label who recently released an album by Mateo Kingman. An outlet for new, exciting projects from across South America, the label is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina and has an outpost in Ecuador’s capital of Quito.