Meet Itinerante, a group reviving Colombia's Andean music Played on three string instruments, this music was the country's soundtrack from the turn of the 20th century to the 1940s.

Meet Itinerante, a trio reviving Colombia's Andean music

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Colombia's Andean music is going through a renaissance. Played on three string instruments, this music was the country's soundtrack from the turn of the 20th century to the 1940s. And it's becoming more popular again thanks to a new generation of musicians. Betto Arcos brings us the story of one of these groups, Bogota's Itinerante.


BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: On a recent late afternoon on the 13th floor of a high-rise apartment building near downtown Bogota, the three members of Itinerante are replicating a ritual they started seven years ago. After tuning their instruments, they play a classic piece of Colombian Andean music from the early 1900s called "Juguete," or toy.


ARCOS: Colombian Andean music is a confluence of many traditional rhythms, such as Bambuco, Pasillo and Torbellino. It's played across Colombia's Andean mountain range from the north to the south of the country. At the center of this music are three string instruments, two of them native to Colombia - the tiple, a 12 steel-string guitar-like instrument arranged in four courses of three strings, the bandola, a 12-string mandolin-like instrument, and the six-string Spanish guitar.


ARCOS: The members of Itinerante are 38-year-old guitarist Sebastian Martinez, 24-year-old bandola player Mateo Patino and 33-year-old tiple player Diego Bahamon. Mateo Patino says he started playing guitar, then tiple, but the melodic quality of the bandola captivated him the most.

MATEO PATINO: (Through interpreter) It's the brightness, the particular color that's so unique. Even though the bandola belongs to the family of instruments played with a plectrum, I think it's very different from all of them. I really like the bandola's presence and its singular sound.


ARCOS: Guitarist Sebastian Martinez grew up listening to rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Queen. The music he composes for the trio has those influences, including the piece he wrote for their debut album.

SEBASTIAN MARTINEZ: (Through interpreter) And, of course, all of the elements of the traditional style called bambuco. You can notice the blues scales I use in it. It was born during a night of insomnia. That's why it's called "Noctambulo" - night owl.


ARCOS: Tiple player Diego Bahamon says he met Patino when he was 16 at the renowned Colombian Andean music festival Mono Núñez in 2014 and introduced him to Martinez the following year.

DIEGO BAHAMON: And they met in the first rehearsal. So that was the first rehearsal of Itinerante. It was in 2015. So it's been more than seven years so far.

ARCOS: In those seven years, they've gained the respect of some of the top musicians of the style. For their debut album, Itinerante counted on the mentorship and guidance of Fernando Leon. Bahamon says Leon is one of the most respected figures of Colombian Andean music.

BAHAMON: He has a lot of information of this music because he has been studying these music, playing this music since almost more than 50 years, I would say. He help us in the creation of the repertoire, and he made some arrangements for this album.


ARCOS: Leon says it's an invigorating time for Colombian Andean music.

FERNANDO LEON: (Through interpreter) There's an exciting renaissance that's encouraging musicians to play the styles of the Andean region, such as bambuco, pasillo, guabina, torbellino and the fusion of all these genres, and most importantly with young musicians.

ARCOS: Paulo Sanchez is a director of Bogota's Teatro ColSubsidio, one of the most important venues in Colombia that presents this music year-round. He says, in the 1990s, during one of the best periods of Colombian Andean music, there were some remarkable music trios. But then there was a lull.

PAULO SANCHEZ: (Through interpreter) I think with Itinerante, there's a breakthrough, and we begin to see the emergence of trios again. Itinerante is the trio of the moment, of today. They're bringing back the trio format to a superlative level.


ARCOS: Bahamon says he speaks for the other musicians in the group. They were meant to play Colombian Andean music.

BAHAMON: Everything was planned for me to be a tiple player and play this music, of course. This music is the one that makes my blood connect with everything that I have.

ARCOS: Itinerante just finished a tour of western Colombia and is currently preparing for a series of concerts at a chamber music hall in Bogota. For NPR News, I'm Betto Arcos.


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