EL SALVADOR: Ay Mi Pueblo - Los Hermanos Flores
Family unity and musical talent puts El Salvador in a well-deserved positive light
El Salvador recently hit the headlines for becoming the first country to declare bitcoin as legal tender. Though the decision is inherently risky due to the volatile nature of the currency, the news was a refreshing move away from what the most densely populated country in the region is notorious for. The Western media have a fantastic way of boiling down a country’s essence in the minds of the population at large to one buzzword that reduces the country to no more than whatever tag it is given. In this case that catch all term is ‘murder’ and though it is fair to say that El Salvador has certainly suffered with gang culture, placing it at the top of the list of countries ranked by intentional homicides, El Salvador is so much more than this and Los Hermanos Flores go some way to expressing how.
“The fact that almost 60 years later the band still act as one of the biggest ambassadors of the Salvadoran music and culture indicates how their music is almost timeless, as its fun and upbeat style attracts everyone regardless of generation.”
The orchestra do this in two ways. One is through their lyrics which we will come onto in a moment, the other is through their style. Though we have been exposed to cumbia many times and as such have an understanding how the genre typically sounds, it is fair to say that Salvadoran cumbia, of which Los Hermanos Flores are the biggest proponents of, is immensely distinct to that of where it originates – Colombia. The very fact that the smallest country in Central America has managed to leave its mark upon the genre, so much so that music connoisseurs across Latin America would easily identify Salvadoran cumbia as arguably the most distinct from its roots of Colombian cumbia and would give it great plaudits nonetheless. This is not only because the Salvadoran style uses far more instruments, but also because the genre has its origins in Xuc, a unique folk style native to El Salvador.
Los Hermanos Flores’ role in the development of the genre in the nation was absolutely pivotal. Though the 1950s was when cumbia arrived to El Salvador it was after the formation of the orchestra in 1962 that the genre really took off. The fact that almost 60 years later the band still act as one of the biggest ambassadors of the Salvadoran music and culture indicates how their music is almost timeless, as its fun and upbeat style attracts everyone regardless of generation. Ay Mi Pueblo is an album which lyrically, at many times, acts almost as a homage to the orchestra’s beloved homeland. The most popular song on the album, which is most similar to traditional Colombian cumbia, Mi País sings about the diversity of the nation making it the “corazón del mundo (heart of the world)”. There are numerous references to overtly ‘Salvadoran things’. For example, the final song on the album El Papaturro is a track dedicated to a grape-like fruit native to the region. The pride with which the song is sung is immensely endearing.
In terms of the rest of the music of the album, the group show themselves to be unafraid to dip their toes into other genres. The title-track Ay Mi Pueblo has something incredibly uniquely funky to it which I just love, whilst Brujeria has a strong jazzy undercurrent that carries it through. My favourite track however, has to be the opener. Sembrando Te Mix is a 12-minute long melody/jam session which is immensely fun. One can imagine being at an outdoor party in San Salvador being regaled by this wild tune and forgetting about all of the problems of the world. The smoothness of transitions and the almost inherent in sync nature of the piece demonstrates the wonder of family coming together to play music. Made-up at one point of ten Flores siblings it is no surprise that there is almost a telepathic capacity that exists in the group’s music.