Life on a farm seems simple. You wake up every morning at the crack of dawn, go outside to water crops, then spend the day strolling the savannah to herd cattle, mend a broken fence, collect fallen fruit. When the livestock mooes, you sing to entertain yourself. You then take a trip to your very own “Campo Alegre,” – the “happy field.”
On the other hand, if your name is Juan “Chuchita” Fernández and you grew up in San Jacinto playing the gaita (native instrument that is half didgeridoo and half flute) you will have a somewhat different life at age 82. You will have traveled the world on tour through Japan, Greece and Africa, playing 14- song sets once a week, you will star in your own music video and enjoy a double shot of Old Parr whiskey before each of your shows.
You will also have proved to yourself and the world that music has no boundaries, by sharing the stage with Puerto Rican rap group Calle 13 and Latin Pop Star Fonseca. The members in your band, Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, will dedicate a portion of their free time teaching young handicapped children how to play the gaita, thus passing on their passion to the next generation and leaving their legacy in the heart and minds of many generations of Colombians.
As a young boy in San Jacinto, Chuchita, never dreamed so many doors would open for him in life. He also never envisioned he would travel the world as the lead singer for Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto and be able to raise his hat and be welcomed warmly in countries from Brazil to China. Of course he would have never considered the possibility that his band would win the 2007 LATIN GRAMMY Award for Best Folk Album or that he would win the Life and Work prize from the Colombian Ministry of Culture.
Corralejas: humble beginnings for an impressive career
Life is not always predictable. The band started out playing the Corralejas . The most famous Corralejas take place in January in Sincelejo, where several days of bullfighting and mosh-pitting take place within a jerry-rigged wooden circular structure nonetheless referred to as a stadium.
This is why the holiday is also called Fiestas de Corraleja. Los Gaiteros would play at these carnivalesque happenings every year where they were paid in beer and Old Parr. During these shows, hundreds of gaitero groups would line the streets, forming long parade lines. The women not dancing would stand around the plaza with candles. The dancers would gather and dance around the women as the gaiteros played. When one of the gaiteros would get tired, another would come in and replace him.
The groups would then give away free bread to the women who danced to their music. The party would last so long that the next day, there would be so much wax from the candles on the ground that the donkeys would slip and fall as they entered the plaza. It was anyone’s guess where the band members would wake up the following morning.