The Music of Pre-Hispanic Instruments – Through Courageous Eyes

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Courageous-Eyes-WebBanner-2Today’s Through Courageous Eyes post features Gerardo Calderón, leader of the musical group Grupo Condor. Calderón was mentioned in a previous LIRS blog post called “Flower and Song” Poetry of Mesoamerica – Through Courageous Eyes for his collaborative work with the poet Cindy Williams Gutiérrez.

Gerardo Calderón
Gerardo Calderón. Credit: Nelda Reyes

The Through Courageous Eyes blog series features migrant and refugee artists and is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Communications Associate.

Gerardo Calderón is originally from Mexico City, but now lives in Portland, Oregon. He plays music and leads educational workshops across the United States with his musical group, Grupo Condor. They focus on Latin American folk music using pre-Hispanic instruments. The musical instruments Calderón plays are pre-Hispanic including clay flutes, water drums, rain sticks, butterfly cocoon rattles, turtle shells, and jaguar whistles.

Cecilia Pessoa (CP): How did you become interested in pre-Hispanic music?

Gerardo Calderón (GC): I was born and raised in Mexico City. While living in Mexico, I never thought about the possibility of playing pre-Hispanic music. It was when I moved to the United States that I became very interested in learning about my culture, my background and most importantly, I became interested in the roots of the music from my country. It was a long process to enter this fascinating world of the clay flutes, drums, poetry, and dance.

Calderón playing one of his clay flutes.
Calderón playing one of his clay flutes. Credit: Nelda Reyes, Gerardo Calderón

CP: What is a question you often get about your music and what is the answer?

GC: The question people ask me the most is, “How many instruments do you play and which one is your favorite?” My answer is very simple, I ask the audience to count how many instruments they see on the tables and then multiply them by three. But I always tell the audience that my main instrument is the guitar.

The second answer to the questions is, the instrument I am playing at that moment is my favorite instrument.

Instruments
The array of pre-Hispanic instruments. Credit: Gerardo Calderón

CP: Do you have any favorite songs to play, stories you share, instruments, or styles? 

GC: I don’t have specific songs I like to play in particular. I like all the songs I play, but for some reason I play specific songs more often than others.

What I like to say to the audience is how I make my instruments. Some of the instruments I make and build have very good explanations.

I play my guitar most of the time because it is the tool I use to compose or to learn songs. When I am in the process of composing I like to play a lot of instruments because in this process I always look for specific sounds to combine. Having a large collection of instruments is a great advantage. I like to play and explore different styles of music.

CP: Are guitars pre-Hispanic instruments? 

GC: The stringed instruments were introduced to the American continent by the Europeans, and some of the percussion instrument were introduced by the African people that came to this continent. The string instruments are fairly new to this continent.

CP: Which of your instruments do you make?

GC: The instruments I make are: the rainstick (chicahuastli) originally from Mexico, the water drum, the Bombo (bass drum), pan flutes, ceremonial drums, and the turtle box. The turtle box is an instrument I invented.

Instruments_6
Close-up of the instrument collection. Credit: Gerardo Calderón

CP: What are your upcoming projects or performances?

GC: Well, I think the best way to hear about my upcoming performances is by going to my website. We [Grupo Condor] offer educational programs and more so, everything we do is on our site.

CP: Do you have any recordings or photos of performances or of your instruments to include in the post?

GC: Yes, I do have some recordings. You can listen to the recordings on my website Grupo Condor.

Find all the previous posts in the Through Courageous Eyes series.

Through Courageous Eyes features the artistic work of refugees and migrants. If you would like to showcase your artwork as part of the Through Courageous Eyes series, please contact Cecilia Pessoa at cpessoa@lirs.org.

Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

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