If you only consulted discographies or cursory sources on the web, you might think that this lively string band that recorded several dozen discs for Victor and Bluebird in 1928, 1929, and again in 1936, was Mexican. Even some of their records plainly say “Mexican” on them. Despite this, a look at their repertoire more closely, as well as sources in Spanish, reveal that they were in fact from Colombia.
Gonzalo, Héctor, and Francisco “Pacho” Hernández were virtuoso instrumentalists from the small town of Aguadas, Caldas, who played guitar, Colombian tiple, and bandola (similar to the mandolin). In the early 1920s, after touring locally, in Venezuela and in the Caribbean, they toured the US, Canada, Europe, and even Africa. Their repertoire and recorded output was wide enough to include a host of local bambucos and pasillos, but also waltzes, corridos, paso dobles, and even classical numbers by Rimsky-Korsakov. This was likely a boon to their record company, because they could market their records (especially, perhaps, their instrumentals) locally to a variety of Spanish-speaking countries, as well as to Anglo audiences.
And the brothers Hernandez were good – they had reason to succeed. They appeared on Broadway, in films, in clubs, and in theaters, and their music managed to be both refined and folkloric, cultivating a wide audience. They occasionally even added a musical saw to their performances, which, rather than turning it into a novelty act, somehow managed to make the group more effective. Still, it’s important to remember the general attitude among westerners when it came to music from outside the canon, even music as well-made and palatable as the music by the Hernández brothers. As one patronizing journalist said of one of their performances, in what was in fact a glowing description: “They sing in an unaffected manner, and their rather homely faces are so expressive that they make even foreign hearers feel that they’re listening to the boys next door.”
Written by Colombian composer Ramón Mesa Uribe (b. 1890), this Colombian pasillo (similar to the Venezuelan waltz) was recorded in July of 1928 at Victor’s studios in Camden, New Jersey. After a slow, standard introduction, the composition blossoms.
The brothers eventually found their way back to Bogotá and continued playing as a group until the eldest, Héctor, passed away in 1948. Today, there is an annual festival in Aguadas, Caldas, in honor of the brothers.
Issue Number: 81538
Matrix Number: BVE-45805