LAMBADA OR LLORANDO

It seems appropriate to counterbalance a negative story with the positive, for that was the very nature of travelling life. And surely Cochabamba deserved more than just bad press, for apart from the murderous incident lived out, it was surely one of the more relaxing of places I'd been. With its mediterranean climate, tree lined boulevards, the sprawling markets and university town feel it was an easy place to wander. My return homeward meant a specific task was set at hand to achieve in Cocahabamba. I had heard that the musical group Kjarkas lived there and that they made some of the best pan-pipes there.

First thing I did on the morning of my arrival was to find a cheap hotel, offload my backpack and gain directions to the casa de Kjarkas. As it happened it was in an obscure location about five kilometers out of town. The walk was a pleasant one. Daily life in backblocks Bolivia seemed so slow paced and relaxing. Women out standing in the sun drying their hair and freshly washed clothes, children running up and down the street with makeshift toys, one whcih seemed a favourite with latin children, and one I had simply called the wheel. A simply bent piece of fencing wire and loop of car tyre rubber and with a smaller hook in the end and foot propulsion the children would run the wheel all around the place. A toy truck without the truck!

Every now and then I'd stop and make sure I was on track and found that everyone, from the first person I'd asked at the edge of town right to the now encroaching outer reaches phrased the distance the same. "Yes, very close, five minutes no more!" And several mini decades of five minute allotments it was. About twelve in fact.

I knew I was more than an outside chance when the elderly woman smiled and said it was the green house diagonally opposite hers. I was suddenly filled with the apprehensions of someone walking into the unknown, the cave full of stalagmites and bats and who knows what else. I was met at the door by a young girl. She was at first shy, peering wide eyed from around the side of the door, and finally announcing that her name was Rinconcita. She announced it twice, as if I hadn't heard the first time, but more likely that she had already established her worldly importance. She took my hand and led me to where the sound of the charango was being strummed. I could sense hesitation in the strums and it certainly wasn't the fluid swirls of hurricane like charango that I'd come so much to love of the group Kjarkas.

A teacher and a student in its simplest picture. Two chairs, an open courtyard, two musicians and two charangos. Gonzalo sat there relaxed as the learning sounds of yet another young Bolivian musician etched his way towards chordal precision. The sun bounced back and forth within the whitewashed courtyard, vines drooping limp from the walls to shake hands with the cool tiled floor.

In Spanish, best described as blooming, I chatted and finally revealed that I had come in the hope that someone could make me two sets of pan-pipes. The first was the toyo, the nearly two metre long bass pan-flutes, and the malta, the soprano(****) of Bolivian pans. The conversation lasted more time than the instrument making and I was soon retracing steps back towards Cochabamba. The story was simple, it was a heavy teaching day and there would be little time that day, but that I should return the next morning and he would see then.

That night I could hardly sleep for the excitement of fulfilling a dream. Next morning the routine walk, now somewhat less than an hours worth, only to arrive at the Kjarkas house to find the whole band packing into a car and Gonzalo apologising that they were recording some music in a studio that day and could I come back tomorrow.

Tomorrow came and went. This time I couldn't really understand where Gonzalo had gone, but I was certainly fluent with the come back tomorrow part of the conversation I was having with the housekeeper.

Supreme faith in things unknown I walked the early morning pilgrimage to the Kjarkas house. The door opened and I knew in that instance of eye contact with Gonzalo that he could tell I was a serious man. He now knew instinctively that this was more than just a tourist with visions of wall decoration granduer in his eyes. We went again to the courtyard at the back and had the customary cup of tea. Soon we had absconded to another side of the house where there was what I'd have described as a diapidated garden shed overgrown by the most magnificent flowered climber, but which Gonzalo introduced as the workshop.

Stories upon story, intermittant cups of tea and coffee, and lots of sanding, cutting, measuring and blowing of random cane tubes. Five hours later there existed a beautiful set of cane zampona, or pan-pipes. The first time I held the full bound set of pan tubes in my hands I felt an exilaration, a steaming of the senses, an internal happiness. Gonzalo motioned to give them back and held them in only a way which a craftsman hold a newly completed creation. He told me that it was customary for the instrument maker to teach the musician a first tune on the instrument. And play he did. I shivered inside, the breathiness of the notes causing me to breathe deeply and momentarily close my eyes. I was a slow learner, especially at this supposed non musical age of the late twenties, but eventually I could play the song which Gonzalo had composed called Llorando Se Fue. Such was the power of the occasion that I felt unable to express my thanks.

Some five years later I'm driving down the freeway in Perth, heading for a rehearsal, and I hear that same song being played, introduced as the biggest hit in the world at present, the announcer innocently calling the song Lambada.