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A gift of music June 30th, 2019 by

A gift of music

Marcella Vrolijks, who films and edits the Agro-Insight videos, has an ear for music. She starts and ends each video with a few riffs of music from the country where it was filmed. She has a gift for making the music fit the action. In one video where people in Mali are planting millet, Marcella added a West African beat that matched the rhythms of the hoes and hands so perfectly that others have asked if the music was playing while the farmers were being filmed. Another time, in Togo, the farmers themselves had composed a song about mucuna (velvet bean) and Marcelle starts the video with the women performing their own tune.

So, when Marcella and Paul came to film in Bolivia late last year, I took them to see something I knew they would appreciate – the Musical Instrument Museum in La Paz. There we met Ernesto Cavour, who is often called the greatest charango player in the world. A small stringed instrument with a curved body, the charango was originally made from armadillo shells. Nowadays they’re usually carved from wood.

Don Ernesto will be 80 next year. He grew up fascinated by the music created by campesinos playing their charangos. Don Ernesto taught himself to play the charango, formed a band and toured Europe, North America and Japan while he was still quite young. He loved every performance, but he came back to Bolivia to play and to teach people about music. He bought a house on Calle Jaén, a narrow cobblestone street in the old town of La Paz which is only accessible on foot. Here he publishes books about music and displays the traditional musical instruments of Bolivia in the museum he made. Don Ernesto is not only a scholar and player of the charango but an inventor too. He has created 30 new instruments, including the muyu-muyu, a charango which is strung on both sides of the body, giving an extended tonal range.

At the museum, we heard don Ernesto play with his daughter, Kantuta Cavour, and fellow musicians. Their musical style ranged from traditional Andean tunes, to those that incorporated representations of bird song, animal noises and the sound of rain made by instruments or the inventos created by don Ernesto.

Later we asked Kantuta if we could use their music for a small set of farmer educational videos. She thought her father would like the idea, and he readily agreed.

Marcella painstakingly reviewed dozens of don Ernesto’s songs to weave the music into the videos. Two of the videos were about weather, and Marcella was able to blend some of the musical rain with shots of storm clouds. I often think of the Cavours’ generosity. Their respect for tradition and love of innovation mirror our own ideals at Agro-Insight for an agriculture that creatively blends the old and the new.

Watch the videos

The planting video (Grow row by row)

Reviving soils with mucuna

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

Recording the weather

Forecasting the weather with an app

Visit the Music Museum

Museo de Instrumentos Musicales de Bolivia

Additional reading

Los Tiempos 2019 “Ernesto Cavour” Revista Oh! No. 1046 (16 July) pp 2-3.

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