Thursday, May 28, 2009

Francisco El Hombre -- The Legendary Man that Started it All

Vallenato seems to have arisen as an art form in the late 1800's, and originally was often used as a way to communicate messages from one town to another. One of the earliest performers is the near mythical Francisco Moscote Guerra or Francisco El Hombre, who was born in 1880. Based on the following incident (and really knowing how much truth is in the Magical Realism of the coast, I would hesitate to call it anything else), Moscote is often considered the founder of Vallenato music.

Here is his story, or should I say one of the variations of the story, for there are many. However, the gist of it is always the same -- Man Vs. Devil:



Moscote was a messenger, who travelled between different villages in what is today the departments of Cesar, Magdalena, and Guajira. Riding a top a burro, he would go from town to town bringing news and messages. Whenever he would arrive in a new village, he would go to the main plaza, take out his accordion, start playing, and he would sing the news and messages sent from one town to another. The people of the town, upon hearing the accordion, would come running to hear what news Moscote had brought. After delivering his news, Francisco would often challenge people or have people challenge him to accordion duels, which he would always win. He had a simply amazing ability with the instrument and with his ability to improvise lyrics.


Apparently, on one of his trips, he was unable to find anyone willing to take his challenge. Frustrated, he left the city saying, "If no one will take the challenge, then perhaps I will have to find the Devil, so that he can take my challenge if HE is not afraid!"

Shortly thereafter, when Francisco was travelling between towns, he felt a hot wind and heard accordion music. Suddenly, he was approached by a skinny, small man who smelled of sulphur and carried a beautiful, shiny, mirror covered accordion. The man challenged Moscote to a duel, saying that if Moscote could beat him, he would win the beautiful accordion. They shook hands and agreed.



The competition began and was fierce, both men playing and singing improvised verse. Francisco played as if his life depended upon it, knowing that if he lost, his soul would be doomed forever. They dueled for hours. Eventually, however, the Devil conceded to Francisco's greater abilities. Francisco had won his duel with the Devil.



In some versions of this story, Francisco's triumph is not based on his superior ability, but rather it is said that he played the Apostle's Creed in reverse, thus rendering the Devil helpless.



Either way, Francisco Moscote became Francisco El Hombre (the man). The legendary man who fought the Devil and won.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about Francisco el Hombre in his master work, "One Hundred Years of Solitude." So, next time you read it, you'll know exactly who he was and the kind of music he played.



The picture is of a monument to Francisco El Hombre which can be found in Riohacha, Guajira, Colombia.

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