Dubbed the ‘ambassadors of Paraguayan music’, Los Tres Paraguayos certainly succeed in showcasing Paraguay’s most special instrument
Like most nations in Latin America in the 20th century, Paraguay shares a similar political history. The continuous shift between military dictatorships and brief flirtations with multi-party democracy were a common theme across the continent. Whilst these dictatorships were often grounded in nationalism, it might come as a surprise to learn that the patriotic creation of Los Tres Paraguayos came about under the short tenure of Federico Chavéz during a brief window of democracy, before the coup d’état which saw start of the brutal long-serving dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. The band were made up of three of Paraguay’s leading musicians at the time, and were paid $3,200 each by Chavéz to spread Paraguayan music in Europe.
“The beautiful and floaty sound that it makes is the perfect way to allure outsiders to Paraguayan music.”
Unlike the other state-sponsored artist, Guinean bar-dancing outfit Balla et ses Balladins, who we featured as this week’s Album Of The Week, there does not appear to be spurious intentions in providing them funding for this mission. Instead, it appears that those in the Paraguayan government felt that this PR exercise could help put them on the map and be a way in which the country’s culture could be celebrated across the globe. There are two main traditional styles of music that are popular in Paraguay, Guarania, and Paraguayan Polka. It seems like an obvious decision to commission Los Tres Paraguayos to show off Guarania music in Europe as opposed to Paraguayan Polka, as many would already be familiar with the polka style that hails from Bohemia and thus would be instantly recognisable across the continent.
Guarania music is often known for its love songs that are typically quite slow in style. Heralded as the king of the genre, Agustín Barboza, was appointed alongside two other vastly popular musicians in their native Paraguay, harpist Digno Garcia and fellow guitarist/vocalist Luis Alberto Del Paraná, who is probably the best selling Paraguayan artist of the century. The gang who were immensely popular at home, had to build their reputation in Europe from scratch and started their adventure in Italy, before going on to have wild success in Belgium, where they signed for the Phillips label and started releasing albums, as they continued to play live at venues in glamorous locations such as Monte Carlo and Switzerland. The band went on to even share the stage with The Beatles at one point. This acts as evidence that this mission of musical diplomacy seemed to succeed.
Yet, one might ask why exactly did the music of Los Tres Paraguayos resonate with those all across the planet? To answer that, I would simply direct them to the album Guantanamera. Listening to the album it becomes immediately obvious what makes Paraguayan music so unique. The harp. Whilst the instrument is of course known all over the world, it is rare to hear it showcased in such a way. The beautiful and floaty sound that it makes is the perfect way to allure outsiders to Paraguayan music. Furthermore, whilst the trio spend much time singing about their homeland, for example in tracks such as Pájaro Chogüí, Paraguay and Galopera, they also sing many covers of globally renowned Spanish-language tracks like the Cuban title-track and the Mexican Cielito Lindo with a harp-heavy twist.
Whilst I most definitely enjoy this album, I cannot pretend I am blown away by it. The record is beautiful to listen to at times and whilst I do massively enjoy the harp, I do not feel like it is the most authentic demonstration of Paraguayan culture and music. I did feel slightly short-changed by the fact that album is sung entirely in Spanish rather than honouring their indigenous Guarani language which is spoken more widely by Paraguayans than Spanish is. Nevertheless, I do like the idea behind the project and it seems that the head honchos in Asuncion in the 1950s were way ahead of their time, acting almost as forbearers to the likes of Peter Gabriel who has spent much of his life trying introduce others to cultures they are unfamiliar with through celebrating different music.