August 10, 2008
You wouldn’t get very far exploring traditional Chilean music without running into the cueca. An important symbol of national identity, the cueca’s origins are cloudy (African and Spanish influences are often cited), but the dance seems to have first appeared in the early 19th century, right around Chile’s independence. After having flourished for 200 years or so, in 1979, in the midst of Pinochet’s power over the country, it officially became the national dance. (It is also, interestingly, Bolivia’s national dance.) Despite his attempts however, Pinochet did not succeed in keeping cueca solely as a patriotic symbol. It remains something far more than that, and continues to thrive in Chilean immigrant communities across the world, as well as at home.
Usually in 6/8 time, in a major key and featuring guitars, the cueca (short for zamacueca) is a courtship dance for couples, where the man symbolically plays the rooster and the woman, the hen – both of whom dance with white handkerchiefs. Cuecas were frequently recorded in the 78rpm era though they don’t grow on trees - Odeon and South America’s arm of the RCA Victor label probably recorded in the region the most. Raul Gardy’s cueca is joyful, and he is accompanied by guitars, piano, accordion, and spoons.
There is also Jan Sverre Knudson’s article “Dancing Cueca “With Your Coat On.”
I also recommend this interesting 15-minute documentary on a gentleman trying to recapture cueca’s working-class and traditional roots. Lots of history and dancing therein.
Label: RCA Victor (Chile)
Issue Number: 90-0623
Matrix Number: n/a