A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I cut through the museum quadrangle today on my way downtown, and what did I find but yet another little concert setting up in my neighborhood. I made sure to walk back the same way, so I could sit on the grass and enjoy the music. It was an Ecuadorian group, Yarina, currently based in Somerville, Massachusetts.

They looked and sounded familiar; I think I've seen them playing in Harvard Square, and also in New Haven, near the Yale campus. I like their music a lot, and I'm not the only one. Last year their latest album, "Nawi," was selected "Best World Music Recording" at the Native American Music Awards.

Yarina is an ensemble of five brothers and two sisters (and there are more siblings left at home). They sing in Spanish and in Kichwa, the main language of the indigenous people of the Andes. They play panpipes, wooden flutes, guitar, mandolin, charango, and a dizzying array of percussion instruments, from drums to frogs to rainsticks to rattles made of goat toenails. The group's leader, Roberto Cachimuel, studied at Berklee. He composes, sings, and plays woodwinds and strings. When he steps off the stage with his electric violin and weaves through the crowd, playing, he's like the pied piper. You want to get up and follow the trail of the beautiful music he makes.

Yarina's concerts are interactive, in fact. Sister Anita, traditionally dressed in two layers of wool skirts (Andeans believe wool keeps you not only warm, but cool) and blouse adorned with bright hand embroidery and lace, dances alone, with a partner, and with the audience. In this photo, she's leading the Snake Dance. At another point, Roberto managed to convince most of the children to come up and play percussion along with one of the band's numbers. A dozen kids lined up to beat a bass, shake maracas, strum frogs, rattle goat toenails, and giggle.

Yarina's members have been named "Ambassadors for Indigenous Ecuadorian Performers" by the Department of Culture in Quito, Ecuador. And rightly so. Sometimes all it takes is one childhood experience--strumming a frog or doing a snake dance--to change a person's whole perception of a culture.


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