Gonzalo Benitez and Luis Alberto Valencia were kingpins of the musica nacional movement in Ecuador. Check them out on the cover, on a rooftop in Quito’s Old Town, surveying their dominion. In 1970, when Valencia collapsed onstage during a performance of the yaravi Desesperacion — ‘My heart is already in ashes’ — and died four days later, aged 52, his coffin was carried through those city streets on the shoulders of his fans.
They began singing as a duo in their mid-teens. During twenty-eight years together they recorded more than six hundred songs, for Discos Ecuador, Nacional, Granja, Ortiz, Rondador, Onix, Fuente, Real, Tropical, Fadisa, RCA Victor — and of course CAIFE.
Their exquisitely romantic harmonising is a sublime blend of collected forbearance and abject self-annihilation, underpinned and elaborated by the heart-piercing, improvisatory guitar-playing of Bolivar Ortiz. Effectively the third member of the group. ‘El Pollo’ sets the tone and intensity for everything that follows: listen to his soloing at the start of our opener, Lamparilla.
Musically a pasillo — a cross between a Viennese waltz and the indigenous yaravi rhythm — Lamparilla draws its verses from a poem by Luz Martinez from Riobamba, written in 1918 when she was 15, under the influence of Baudelaire and Mallarme. Another pasillo here, Sombras is one of the best-loved songs in the musica nacional canon, setting lines about undercover sex and loss by the Mexican poet Maria Pren, which were considered pornographic on publication in 1911.
And Benitez & Valencia looked back still further, to the indigenous roots of Ecuadorian music, as the key to its future. Carnaval de Guaranda is their take on a song dating back to the era of the Mitimaes, a broad group of Bolivian tribes conquered by the Incas and displaced to Ecuador. ‘Impossible love of mine / I love you for being impossible / Who loves what is impossible / Is the truest lover.’
Lovingly presented in a gatefold sleeve with spot-gloss, and printed inners, with stunning photos and expert notes. Excellent sound, drawn from original tapes, by way of Abbey Road, D&M and Pallas.