Since it was first written by Almonia Robles in the early 20th century, musicians have created more than 4,000 different versions of “The Condor Pasa.” What is it about this song that’s made it so popular? The answer to this question has everything to do with Peru’s complex and deep cultural and social history.
What’s in a song?
Where did the song come from?
The song was originally an orchestral piece in a Peruvian zarzuela, which is a traditional musical play. During the course of the early 20th century, the play was performed many hundreds of times. The zarzuela itself isn’t rooted within an Andean tradition, but rather in the European tradition. Despite this, the origins of The Condor Pasa are anything but European.
What are the traditional aspects of The Condor Pasa?
The Harawi is a musical style that is characterized by sad and slow melodies. A harawi is also a traditional way of storytelling and poetry. This Andean style is often present in songs about loss such as for funerals. But it is also a popular style in songs that deal with longing for a beloved, or with themes related to unrequited love. The influence of the Harawi is strongly present in The Condor Pasa. The slow down tempo rhythm is very evident during the opening phase of the song, which traditionally starts with the sounds of flutes or panpipes which are played in a minor key.
Here is an example of a traditional Andean Harawi. This particular song is devoted to longing and love:
The Huayno is one of the most fundamental musical styles of Peru. A characteristic aspect of this style is related to the rhythm. A huayno song is typically composed of one strong beat, followed by two weak beats. There is also usually a singer who sings high-pitched vocals. Typical huayno instruments include the quena, harp, accordion, violin, and guitar. It’s origins stretch to the colonial period, but as in is the case for all contemporary Andean musical styles, it roots go much deeper than that.
Here is an example of a traditional Huayno song. As is a characteristic of many Andean songs, the lyrics of this huayno touch on the themes of longing, sadness, and loss
The Condor Pasa is a song about mining, loss, and about hope
According to writer Manuel Orbegozo “The operetta is about a group of Andean miners who are exploited by their boss. The condor that looks at them from the sky becomes the symbol of freedom for them to achieve.”
Many believe that Robles, the author of The Condor Pasa, was inspired to write the song after visiting miners from who were working in unimaginably brutal conditions at Cerro de Pasco, a gigantic mountain, located in Peru, that is still being mined today.
Noteworthy influences over the years
Simon and Garfunkle cover the song
Other versions of The Condor Pasa
Famous Peruvian Charango musician Jaime Torres covering the song
Leo Rojas mixes electronic rhythms with panpipes to offer a unique and highly popular version of The Condor Pasa
A contemporary dance interpretation of the song
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Cover photo: Wikimedia