Music of Paraguay

Paraguayan Music and Dance

The Paraguayan music is very special, although being the only South American country where the majority of its inhabitants speak the language of indigenous origins; its music is totally of European origin. 

Between the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jesuits noted that the Guaraníes possessed musical talent, becoming excellent performers of European music, although they did not compose.

The most popular instruments are the harp and the guitar, being both renowned in the entire world for their soft and melodious chords, and their exponents that came forward.

There genres are the following:

  • Polka or Purajhei: Came from Europe during the colonial era and little by little was acquired its own characteristics.  The Paraguayan Polka has ternary rhythm, of 6/8.
  • Guaranda: Developed by José Asunción Flores in the 20’s of the previous century, it is a composition of slower rhythm than the polka and it’s not danceable. Its composition were written in Spanish and Guaraní. Some songs of renown trajectory are “India”, “Recuerdos de Ypacarai”, “Mi Dicha Lejana”, etc.

The typical harp of Paraguay currently has 36 to 38 strings, and are made with wood of the country, with cedar wood in the parts were major hardness is required, the pins of Jacaranda, and box of pine. The best known composition for the harp is musical piece, Guyra Campana (Pajaro Campana), of unknown author with arrangements of Felix Perez Cardozo (1908-1952).

 For dance there exist various lively polkas and galop. For polka is a dance for partners, while the galop are dances for a group of women called “galoperas” whom rotate in a circle, balancing from one side to the other a vase or jar in their hands. Another variant is the dance of the bottle, where the main dancer dances by placing 1 to 10 bottles on the head, one on top of the other.

Also there is the “Valseados”, a local version of the waltzes, like for example “El Chopí”, “Santa Fe”, “Taguató”, “Golondrina”, “Solito”, and others.

One of the best known exponents of Paraguayan music was Luis Alberto del Parana, who realized various tours through Europe and rest of the world for more than 30 years.


Important Figures of the Paraguayan Music

Jose Asuncion Flores wasborn in a humble shack in the marginal neighborhood of La Chacarita (Ricardo Brugada) on August 27 of 1904 of unknown father. His mother was Magdalena Flores. In 1915, at the age of 11, he entered the Band of the Police of the Capital, whose directors were Mariano Godoy, Eugenio Campanini, Nicolino Pellegrini, and Salvador Dentice.

Jose Asuncion Flores
Jose Asunción Flores

Felix Fernandez, a former student, was his most immediate instructor. Ten years after, restless and talented, faced with the tasked of overcoming the struggle of the implementation of Paraguayan sheet music, especially for foreign musicians. By then Flores who have already concluded his studies in Theory and Solfa was replacing the trombone in the band with the violin.

It is like this, product of anxious studies and experiments, he achieved in the creation of the Guarania, in the year 1925. Encouraged by his peers Felix Fernandez, Manuel Rivas Ortellado, Rudencindo Lugo, Dario Gomez Serrato, Silvestre Jovellanos, Santiago Torres, Manuel Cardozo, and Gerardo Fernandez Moreno, for whom Flores have always declared his graditude. The Guarania was born of some arrangements done by Flores to the Polka Maerãpa Reikuaase, de Rogelio Recalde. It was when he deepened his studies with Carlos Esculies and Leopoldo Centurion in Paraguayan Gimnasium.

Jejuí was the first guarania, followed by Arribeño Resay, India y Ka´a ty with lyrics by Rigoberto Fontao Meza (Later Ortiz Guerrero wrote the now known lyrics of India). Later with Ortiz Guerrero, who Flores met in 1928 by invitation of Dario Gomez Serrato, he produced the most beautiful pages of popular repertoire, especially in the genre of guaranias. The guarania India, together with epic chanson Cerro Corá by Felix Fernandez and Herminio Gimenez, were declared official music by the government decrete on June 24, 1944.

India, Nde Rendape a jú, Pananbí Verá, Paraguaýpe, Buenos Aires, Salud, Kerasy, Nde Raty Py Kuá, Obrerito, Gallito Cantor, Purahéi Paha, Mburicao, Ñasaindype, Ñande Aramboha, Punta Karapame Serratondive, Cholí, Musiqueada Che Amape, Ka´aty, Arribeño Resay, and others where sufficient in fulfilling the ambitions of any creator, but Flores  faces more: the challenge to take Paraguayan music to the level of symphony, and in 1944 premieres in Buenos Aires Pyhare Pyte. Later would come Ñanderú Vuzu, María de la Paz and others, 12 symphonies in total.

With Catalina Flores, his sons are Francisco Asuncion and Olgra Flores, and from another mother, Juana de Dios Flores.  Jose Asuncion Flores died in exile on May 16, 1972 in the city of Buenos Aires. His remains were repatriated in 1991, and they rest in Plaza of Mariscal Lopez and Choferes de Chaco, Asuncion, plaza that carries his name and the name of his dear friend and co-author Manuel Ortiz Guerrero.

Agustin Pio Barrios

He was born in San Juan Bautista of Misiones department on May 5, 1885 and died in San Salvador on August 7, 1944. He is the Paraguayan guistarist and composer best known in selected groups of classical music. He chose the artistic name of “Mangore” which was the name of Timbu chief of the colonial era. Like all consummate artists – and seems constant the outflow of talents - , he taught outside the country. San Salvador welcomed and was where he formed his disciples.

Jose Asuncion Flores
Agustín Pió Barrios

Of his extensive trajectory he illustrates to us the magnificent book by Luis Szaran: Diccionario de la Musica en el Paraguay (Dictionary of the Music of Paraguay),  so in this article we we will talk of some anedotes of the musician and what other artists thought of him.

John Williams, an Australian Guitarist, who recored his entire album with songs by Barrios, qualified him as the best composer of all time for that instrument, “For his inventive qualities and ability to make the guitar talk musically.” Meanwhile, the director of Cuban orchestra, Leo Brower recognized in the maestro a romantic: “The mind of Barrios and the structure of his though were romantics.”

Jose Antonio Galeano in an article titled Barrios Popular of the magazine, “Punto de Encuentro”, said: “Barrios demonstrates that the authenic creators, for the geninue patriots, don’t need inflammatory and nationalistic verses, frequently flattering, and other times, unhappy. The guitarist Berta Rojas in an interview rated Barrios as a genius: “I passed in thousand and one whys he lived poored: dieing in absolute poverty, but never renounced what he wanted to do. He was a man that you invite to dine in your house, instead of flowers he bring you a score. He was the first guitarist in the world to record an album.

 Cayo Sila Godoy opinioned of “Mangore”: “The part most alive and interesting of his personality lies in the fact that he knew how express and feel, without recurring to the easy resources of effect and posture, the initimate peculiarity of American Music.” The last words were registered by his students:” I don’t fear the past, but I don’t know if will be able to overcome the mysteries of the night.” We believe has been able to overcome, because his soul lives in the strings of the guitar.

Emiliano R. Fernandez

Emiliano R. Fernandez
Emiliano R. Fernandez

Borned in Guarambaré, Yvysunú company on August 8, 1894, his parents were Sergeant of the Great War don Silvestre and the doña Bernarda Rivarola. When he was very young, he moved to Asuncion, the neighborhood of Bejarano-Recoleta with his mother who raised him like all illegitimate children of then. In homage to doña Bernarda prefaced the initial of his maternal surname before his paternal surname, perpetuating his name not as Emiliano Fernandez Rivarola, but as Emiliano R. Fernandez. He attended the primary school Ysaty and graduated fully in the year 1906. With 12 years of age he learned  to play the guitar, and his military service he completed in Concepcion, in the second company, then commanded by the First Lieutenant Jose Felix Estigarribia.  He married through civil ceremony with Belen Lugo, the brunette from Ysaty, during the war on August 8  of 1933 (day of his birthday), and by religious ceremony, 24 of February of 1934 in Caacupe. Of this marriage was born Emiliano Ramon, and of extramaritial: Laureano, Ignacio, Rosario, and Norberto Ramon.

He began to write poetry in Concepcion, in his era of soldiering. He recounted that a German officer taught him the technique to give rhythm to words. In order to express himself in the  common language of the people, he utilized that rare, beautiful and humerous mix of Guranai and Spanish, and with that mixture, he was able to reach the soul of the people like no one else. He knew in this way, dress his poetry in authenticity and ignite the torch of admiration, because so well he paint the everyday landscape, because so patriotically he relates the war actions in his epic poems, or he put all the wit of the liveliness of the criollos in his verses of love.

He was vindiactor of the memory of marshall Francisco Solano Lopez, tainted by thirst of vengeance of his detrators. In the War of Chaco he was a valiant protagonist, wounded twice and promoted on the battlefield, in Nanawa, by decree No 46.692. Demobilized at the end of war he had a rank of Second Lieutenant.

His works exceed the thousand, and the great part of them, are musicalized by musical talents like Félix Pérez Cardozo, Mauricio Cardozo Ocampo, Andrés Cuenca Saldívar, Ramón Vargas Colmán, Martín Escalante y Carlos Quintana. When the soul of a compatriot searches for the spark that motivates the spiritual delight, that anxiety is translated in very common phrase of our people: Ñahendu petei Emilianore!

Wounded in the back in a obscure incident in the Bar Mberú of Loma Clavel on November 3 of 1948, he later died on September 15, 1949. His first poems were Primavera y Trigueñita, and his last were: Mi Pluma (In Spanish) and Arasy Memby Tee (June 23, 1949), dedicated to the yaguarorina nurse Facunda Velazquez. His remains lay at rest in Yvysunú, Guarambaré (transfer to family pantheon in the Cementary of Recoleta, Asuncion, on August 8, 1998.

Mauricio Cardozo Ocampo

He was originally from Ybycui, of the department of Paraguari and born on de 14 of May in 1907; son of Crescencia Cardozo Caballero and Clemente Ocampo, and note that he puts the mother’s surname before the father’s surname. He is the second of five children, four boys and Lucia, the girl.

Mauricio Cardozo Ocampo
Mauricio Cardozo Ocampo

He took his studies in his natal village and it was there that he was initiated in music at the hands “of his first teachers” Eloy Martin Perez and Juan J Rojas. Later he emigrated with many of his valley to Asuncion and continued to study music in Band of the Police with Salvador Dentice and Nicolino Pellegrini. Flutist and guitarist, inspired composer, he painted with is own light the landscape and the manners of his village. He formed a duo with Eladio Martinez and together traveled through Argentina and Uruguay making presentations and recordings of Paraguayan music. The duo performed with the participation of Félix Pérez Cardozo, Gumercindo Ayala Aquino y Prudencio Giménez. At the time of the War of `32, Martinez and Cardozo together with other prominent figures of the Paraguayan art, performed charity presentations to collect funds for the Paraguayan Red Cross, destined to the army on campaign.

He was also founder of La Peña Gaucha, en Tacuary and Victoria in Buenos Aires, which gave birth to other peñas in Buenos Aires, which now include various hundreds. The cadence of the Guarani and the contagious rhythm of the Paraguayan polka were gaining ground in the popular taste of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires, and with this he determined the need to create a large folkloric ensemble. That is how the ensemble Ñande Kóga was born, which in addition to their live performances, he accompanied the recordings of de Agustín Barboza, Chinita de Nicola, Teófilo Escobar, Carlos Reinal, Delfín Fleitas, Dúo Hermanos Cáceres, Rivero-Echagüe, Luis Alberto del Paraná, Barrios-Espínola, among others.

With a group of artists friends, he founded in Buenos Aires, on a bench in the Plaza del Congreso, the Agrupación Folklórica Guaraní (Guarani Folk Group). In the capital of Argentina, he also founded the la Editorial Mundo Guaraní (Guarani World Publishing), of transcendent importance in the diffusion of the edited Paraguayan Music. He was also founding member of the S.A.D.A.I.C. (Sociedad Argentina de Autores, Intérpretes y Compositores), creating also in Buenos Aires the Guarani Folkloric Corner Club.

One summer afternoon in 1951, on the streets of Gral Santos of Asuncion, home of the Moreno Gonzalez, they drafted along with Ezequiel Gonzalez Alsina and Juan Carlos Moreno Gonzalez, the project of copyright protection law, sanctioned  later as Ley 94, known as the Decreto Ley Federico Chavez, to the seasoning of the President of the Republic.

Married to Fidelina Fleitas, all his sons are prominent personalites of the artistic world: Oscar, Anibal, Amambay and Mauricio (h). He died in Buenos Aires on May 5, 1982, and his remains lay at rest in the shade of a flowering “tajy”, in his native Ybycuí.

(x) From the magazine “CAMPAÑA NACIONAL DEL ÑEMORANDU” which was made under the initiative of Oscar Nelson Safuán, with the support of official and private institutions.

Agustin Barboza

Singer and composer, born in Asuncion on May 5, 1913 and initiated his career performing in musical festivals, part of his first musical group, the trio “Melgajo-Barboza-Feliu”.

Agustín Barboza
Agustín Barboza

In the year 1929 he arrived in Buenos Aires with desire to develop his musical talents, place where he would later encounter Jose Asuncion Flores. Later in 1933, year that he recorded Ñasaindype, the first guarania recored in an album, as explained by Barboza himself. Since that meeting, which provided him with the opportunity to start his career as a singer and composer, he has not interrupted his foray into this artistic discipline.

He integrated the orchestra “Ortiz Guerrero” as a soloist along with Jose Bragato, Aniceto Vera Ibarrola, Emilio Bobadilla Caceres, Gumersindo Ayala Aquino, and other great talents, all under the direction of the great maestro Flores. He also formed a trio with Felix Perez Cardozo and Eulogio Cardozo.

In the year of 1944, he continued his studies of canto in the School of Music at University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), thanks to a scholarship granted by the National Government. He also gave concerts and auditions in theatres and radios during the years he was living in that country.

Towards the decades of `50s he started a tour through the countries of Northern South America and Central America, and also through Mexico, United States, and Europe, sometimes as a soloist at other times as member of various groups.

In 1954, Luis Alberto del Parana summon Barboza to reorganize the “Trío Los Paraguayos” together with the harpist Digno Garcia. Arriving in Europe they sign a contract with the label Phillips of Netherlands, where they were exclusive artist for many years. In 1994, the National Government granted the award of Orden Nacional de Musica (National Order of Music). He is author of over eighty inspired composition like Alma Vibrante, Flor de Pilar, Mi Patria Soñada, Sobre el corazón de mi guitarra, Muchachita campesina with text by the poet Carlos Miguel Jiménez, Dulce Tierra mía y Viva la vida, viva el amor, with Augusto Roa Bastos, Che róga, Oñondivemi y Reservista Purahéi with Félix Fernández, Sombras de ausencia with Enrique E. Gayoso, Voz del viejo río with Aníbal Romero, among many other successful songs.

Don Agustín Barboza died on December 18, 1998 at 85 years of age, in Asuncion, Paraguay.