Best Group Award Winner
Orinoco (Cimarrón Music)
The award of Best Group to Colombia’s Cimarrón is laced with sadness for the group’s founder, Carlos Rojas Hernández, died on January 10 this year from heart complications, at the age of 65. He had been interviewed in Songlines only four months earlier when he had expressed his enthusiasm about Cimarrón’s then forthcoming UK tour with Welsh harpist Catrin Finch. The tour went ahead in early 2020 as a tribute to him, with harpist Duvan Rodolfo taking his place and was completed before the coronavirus lockdown. Songlines’ editor Jo Frost hailed the London show as a ‘celebration’ of his life and concluded that his ‘legacy looks to be in safe hands.’
Hernández formed Cimarrón in 2000 with singer Ana Veydó and the aim of making the Colombian folk style of joropo known around the world. The music of the llanos (broad plains) of the Orinoco River as it flows from the east of Colombia into Venezuela, the style is characterised by a hard-driving dance rhythm led by the harp and supported by bandola llanera (a four-stringed pear-shaped guitar), the cuatro and acoustic bass. The group won a Grammy nomination in 2004 for their debut album Sí, Soy Llanero and followed with 2011’s ¡Cimarrón! Joropo Music from the Orinoco Plains of Colombia. Both albums were released on Smithsonian Folkways and presented joropo in a traditional style. However, 2019’s Orinoco was bolder and more expansive, augmenting the traditional maracas with Afro-Latin percussion to emulate the power of the energetic stomp dance that accompanies the music at rustic parties and is said to be an imitation of galloping and stomping horses. ‘But it’s an organic development not a fusion experiment,’ Hernández told Songlines on the album’s release (in #154).
The band, he explained, takes its name from a wild bull freely roaming the Orinoco plains. ‘It’s an allegory of freedom, and the music reflects that rebel spirit. Sometimes tradition is a prison for the artist, because you’re expected to play the music in a predetermined way but we prefer to find our own path in freedom. That’s the spirit of Cimarrón.’