Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

An Argentine export not to be picked at

Posted by Kimberly on October 20, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
October 20, 2007, page 18 (928 words)

Most countries with a rich history seem to have their equivalent of the guitar: with India, it’s the sitar, while Italy has the mandolin and in the case of Argentina and South America in general, there’s the charango.
And when it comes to that ancient instrument, the name Jaime Torres, is without a doubt, synonymous. For one does not appear to exist without the other.
“I know I’m a part of the work of beginning this up again from South America,” he said.
It is through Jaime’s efforts, that the almost forgotten musical instrument has seen a revival.
Of the instrument itself, a ten-stringed member of the lute family, traditionally made with the shell of the back of an armadillo, Jaime admitted to owning many and wanting “to have many more.”
The first historic information on the charango dates back as far as 1814, while in the case of Jaime, he has been playing it since the age of five.
“I have instruments from 1942,” he boasted. In those days, and even earlier, during the 1930s, says Jaime “nobody could identify with this type of music,” adding that if he were to ask for a replacement string for the instrument all he would get in response was a blank stare.
Growing up, he recalled making a living as a carpenter because “i could not live from just the music.”
As for the music itself, “it’s a style that unites [all areas of South America], creating a harp-like sound when picked at, yet rhythmic and strong when strumming.
With this having been the musician’s first visit to Macau, Jaime said it “seems like a very far away place but nowadays it’s not anymore.”
Having travelled and performed across South East Asia, including Indonesia and the Raffle Hotel in Singapore, he said that “China was always very far away for me.”
As for the charango, “the music and the instrument I play are part of the history [of South America] that is not written.
“A hundred years ago, this instrument was not represented. We had to dig it out,” he said adding that now he has experienced “many beautiful things playing this instrument.”
“It’s connected to my past, my parents and grandparents,” he said adding that music does not need a language.”
The concert last night was a free one, for the simple reason that this type of music is best experienced with the freedom of the outdoors and, as such, there is no charge for wide open spaces.
So if people felt the need to dance, there was nothing stopping them, with the music created for the countryside, not a music hall.
“If people applaud me, I’m happy,” said Jaime.
“I think about the people in my country and how happy they would feel that people were applauding an instrument of their country,” he added.
He expressed his happiness at being here, saying “I like to bring our music from very far away ad have the possibility of showing it.
Admitting to knocking on the door of 70, Jaime spoke of wanting to “awaken the consciousness of the people, of our history that has to do with the traditions and habits of our people.”
He admitted that in the case of the popularity of the instrument with the younger generation, “it would be easier if it was rock or jazz.
“I can ask the young people what do they know about this music and it’s a short knowledge,” he added.
Asked about the music of tango, which many believe to be representative of the region as well, Jaime said, “it’s a more recent music style.
“Tango is not what represents the origins of our history,” he said.
The style originated within the African community in Buenos Aires based on ancient African dance forms.
Going back to his homeland. Jaime mentioned the creation of a “very small” cultural centre in the mountains within his village, “2000 km from Buenos Aires and 100 km from Bolivia, but it’s very famous.”
It is where two of his children live and work, and a place he appeared incredibly proud of, an association that is not-for-profit.
“It exists because I make a point of keeping it alive,” he said.
Asked how his connection to the instrument began, Jaime said “i learnt through looking at it and hearing it being played.”
He displayed the three he had brought along with him to the interview, the first one looking worn but loved, while the other two were new.
Of the first he said, “the instrument has many colours, like a poncho. It has a map of Bolivia and the face of a traditional Bolivian.”
Two of the instruments he has brought were created by his parents, he confided.
Growing up in Buenos Aires in the 1930s he recalled being about four years old when he first heard the instrument being played.
At the time, “there was a lot of immigration from Europe. There was also the 1st and 2nd World Wars,” he said, adding that “the re-awakening of charango is only about 50 or 60 years ago.”
Asked how long before he had to replace one of his instruments, Jaime said, “it’s like love. I take good care of them,” adding that on average, they tend to last around 40 or 50 years.
The instrument, like the music, seems everlasting, and with the love the musician shows towards the music itself, it’s no doubt staying around for decades to come.
“[My hard work] has made it available around the world so I am happy,” he said.

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