February 9, 2009
I’ve yet to visit the country of Paraguay on Excavated Shellac. Certainly a good deal of music was recorded there, particularly during the postwar era, but pre WWII-era recordings from Paraguay are difficult to track down – especially folkloric examples, as Paraguayan bands often had a strikingly European sound at that time. The influential and egalitarian Secret Museum series contains not one Paraguayan track over five discs. Neither does Henry Cowell’s 10-LP set on Folkways, Music of the World’s Peoples.
To be fair, many of Paraguay’s most important folk musicians during the 78rpm era did not actually record in Paraguay – they left their native country and recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a major recording hub at the time for Victor, Odeon, and smaller labels. Two of the most well-known Paraguayan expatriate musicians were guitarist Agustín Barrios, and arpa Paraguaya player Féliz Pérez Cardozo (also spelled “Cardoso”), who performs this week’s track, accompanied by two guitarists.
The diatonic Paraguayan harp, also known as the arpa India despite the fact that it is of European origin, is a lightweight harp with 36 to 40 strings and no pedals. Traditionally, harp music is music of the countryside in Paraguay, and many harpists actually make their own harps, even today. Also, harp music of Paraguay is not standardized – it is taught by observation, and songs often feature the player’s improvisational flourishes and glissandos. But the showiness is deceptive, as Cardozo is a master of making the difficult somehow seem mellow, effortless, even timeless.
Affectionately nicknamed ”Mitá Guazú” (“big boy”), Cardozo is a legend in Paraguay both as a harpist and proponent of Guarani music across South America. He was born in 1908 in a town in the Guairá Department renamed recently as “Félix Pérez Cardozo,” though at the time of his birth it was known as Yhaty. Around 1931, he moved to Buenos Aires to begin his recording career, and this track for Argentine Victor stems from the mid-1930s, give or take a few years. “Cigarro Mi” (“Cigar of Mine”) is a galopa. The galopa is an upbeat folkdance for linked pairs of dancers, generally danced by women only, who are dressed like the raida poti – the honorable country girl. Traditionally, the galoperas perform this dance while balancing a jar of water on their heads. 75 years after this recording, the traditional galopa survives mainly as a tourist attraction, alas. Cardozo died in 1952 – there was a CD of his material released outside of the US and Europe in 2001 titled Paraguayo Puro, though that seems to be difficult to obtain, if not completely out of print (this track does not appear on it).
Label: Victor (Argentina)
Issue Number: 38173-A
Matrix Number: same
(This copy is a bit noisy, though it is in excellent condition – this is due to a funky pressing and a low recording…but we persevere!)