Gaining from Cultural Exchange

by | May 26, 2012 | Archives

One of the great ways to expand horizons is through a cultural exchange.

One of the most fascinating parts of travel is finding important things in other cultures that do not exist at all in ours.  Even better is seeing how cultures do perfectly well without aspects in life that our culture is uptight about!


Bob Dylan singling “One more cup of coffee for the road”.

This applies to gains form cultural exchanges in music as well.

I was reminded of this fact last week when a reader sent this note:

Good Morning Gary and Merri,   Your zest for life and success is beautifully defined in the first of Bob Dylan’s quotations from Van today.  The message you sent today, which serves to prove to me, what you and Bob Dylan believe is from the heart. Thank YOU for making this world a better place!

What a great way to start the day reading a note like that. Dylan’s quotes which were:   What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.

People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.

People today are still living off the table scraps of the sixties. They are still being passed around – the music and the ideas.

Money doesn’t talk, it swears.
     All from Bob Dylan

I replied:  Interesting you mention Dylan. He sings one of my favorite renditions of a great song.  I wrote about this a couple of years ago.

Here is that message with a connection to Andean Music.

Andean music has had a powerful impact on Western Culture.

The people of the Andes love traditional music.


Some Andean music, like the ancient poetry opera called Harawi from the Incas. This is hard for me to understand.


Yet Western Opera is hard for me to appreciate as well.  Yet Western musicians have turned a lot of traditional music into modern.

Take Bob Dylan’s One More Cup of Coffee for the Road. This song… even Dylan’s look and feel (right down to the rose in the hat) resemble Harawi. The violin music is almost, if not, the same.

Music can be looked at in two forms, modern music and traditional music.


Andeans love traditional music pre and post Spanish. Pre Spanish Andean music has a much smoother melody.

Modern Music emerged when composers began to put their names to their scores.  Since that time composers have wanted their music to be theirs, about them and about their times.

This allowed their songs, concerts and symphonies to be at the forefront of the evolution of humanity. Such music foments change. From Beethoven, Bach, Mozart to Elvis, these people created music that led the population to think, feel and question “Who am I, what am I doing, what is right and wrong?”

Traditional music is older and quite different, rarely given to one composer, and used for the exact opposite purpose. The melodies and rhythms of Traditional music tell historical stories and binds cultures by inhibiting change. Traditional music creates a message of comfortable belonging.

The flesh is mortal but these songs are everlasting, connecting members of cultures into the deepest mists of their history.  Individuals come and go, but the traditional songs and their binding force remain. They unite the future and past in an endless tune.  Take the ancient African rituals with their deep soul grabbing beat as an example. Feel how their beat melds our hearts with the group and pulls one into the sweet embrace of nature’s deepest roots.  There is sweet comfort in this belonging.

We can learn a lot about a society… about the current times… about how people in that society are feeling… and even where economies might head by listening to how the music of a culture is evolving.


Andeans play music everywhere and for everything. Here is the opening of a local soccer match.


When El Presidente came to Cotacachi…


The local band was there.

Cultures that are immersed solely on traditional music often use a circular, non lateral thinking mind set.  Merri and I learned this while living with American natives in Ecuador. Their haunting, beautiful music tears the heart and heightens every emotion-sweetness, joy, love, pain, melancholy. There is a song for every occasion, each full of lessons. They play the same songs again and again, as have their past ancestors, year after year. They live and think in the same way, in a circular mode without innovation. They have little expectation of change or betterment in their lives.

This maybe one reason the Andeans are so sweet.  They play music…


and old.


The Andeans…


are often intense about their music and…


they work…


hard at their music.

Yet they always seem…


to have fun and worry more about today than the future.


This circular way of life, Merri and I learned from the life we had with the shamans and the Andean clouds, is a sweet, easy, low stress way of living.  Yet this thought process is not very effective at keeping up with changing times.

Is that bad… or good?

One of the ancient Andean legends tells of a time when the Eagle of the North and the Condor of the South will fly in the skies together.  This means a tie when mankind will integrate his heart with his mind… more feeling… less logic perhaps.  Live a little more for today and a bit less for the future.

El Cóndor Pasa (Flight of the Condor) is an example of traditional music turned modern. It is one of the Andes most famous songs composed from the zarzuela El Cóndor Pasa by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles in 1913 and based on traditional Andean folk tunes. It is possibly the best-known Peruvian song worldwide due to a cover version by Simon & Garfunkel called “I’d Rather Be a Hammer than a Nail.”

Sometimes I wonder if simple is not a better way?

Since later today we are announcing a complicated, logical schedule, of 52 courses and tours in 2009, this morning I would like this morning to share here a simple tune that stimulates the heart perhaps more than the head…  El Condor Pasa… the song of the Andes.

Why not click on this tune and take three minutes to just relax.