Album Review: Rio Mira – Marimba del Pacifico [AYA Records]


Bringing together the sweet sounds of the Ecuadorian and Colombian Pacific Coasts, Marimba Del Pacifico packs a rhythmic marimba sound that evokes dreamy, sun-soaked images of this Afro-Pacific region.

Based in Esmeraldas, a town on the Pacific coast in the north of Ecuador and led by the beautifully haunting vocals of Karla Kanora, Rio Mira is an exciting collaboration between award-winning artists spanning the Ecuador-Colombia border. This music is well-recognised and celebrated in Colombia, which in 2015 was granted Cultural Heritage status by UNESCO. However, the same can’t be said for Ecuador, where the African influenced musical style still has a negative stigma surrounding it.

Rio Mira’s distinctive sound is driven by the cyclical interlocking patterns of the marimba, alongside the bombo (a type of bass drum), the cununo (a hand drum), the guasá (a cylindrical shaker, and, with cantadoras and glosadores, types of singers from the region, it has regular interjections of call-and-response vocals.

With rhythm and melody intimately connected, each of the album’s songs develops in a mesmerising fashion, starting out with the uplifting, slower tempo ‘Adios Morena’ which is based on the characteristic singing and playing styles common with the genre, ‘Bambuco Viejo’. During ‘Patacore’, the tempo is lifted to almost fever pitch with very fast marimba rhythms becoming trance-like. These faster rhythms are often connected with people falling to the floor in spiritual convulsions during a Marimba gathering.

On ‘Andarele’, which is probably the most well-known marimba tune from Esmeraldas, and is even sometimes called the “hymn of Esmeraldas”, the repetitive and rhythmic shaking of the guasá will make you want to dance until sunrise. According to Petita Palma, a famous singer from Esmeraldas, the word “andarele” makes reference to a marimba party that goes on all night long and where the people shout, “Andarele, vámonos!” (“andarele, let’s go!”)

Of the ten marimba pieces on Marimba Del Pacifico, the group has chosen five from Esmeraldas and five from Colombia. This is a true bi-national project, which is about the songs, music, food, rivers and social formation across “El Pacífico” region, where both Ecuador and Colombia host their most densely populated areas of people of African descent.

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