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Edmar Castaneda: Colombian Buzz

Edmar Castaneda

On New Year’s Eve 2005, Giovanni Hidalgo and the Mercadonegro Orchestra warmed up a cold night at an outdoor concert during the Umbria Jazz Winter festival in Orvieto, Italy. The audience was packed tightly into the Piazza del Capitano del Popolo, but Edmar Castaneda found enough room to step lively. His swinging hips and fancy footwork were so smooth that he gathered his own crowd, as well as several dance partners, all of whom wanted to cut it up with the short and handsome Colombian.

Several months later, it’s not surprising when Castaneda says, “I was a dancer for folk music” before he started playing the arpa llanera, aka the Colombian or Venezuelan harp. It’s one of the main instruments of joropo, a heavily syncopated form of music and dance in 3/4 and 6/8 time from the plains of Venezuela and Colombia. “The family of instruments for that kind of music has cuatro [a little guitar], maracas, some others, and I started playing those instruments, but never the harp [until I was 13],” he says. “I just started asking friends about the harp: ‘Can you teach me this exercise or this tune?’ and I just practiced a lot by myself. Maybe that’s why I play so different from the old people.”

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