Yet another example of the rich results of merging European, African, and indigenous American traditions, the vallenato music of northern Colombia contains many elements already familiar to anglophiles. The dominant instrument is the button accordion–playing catchy melodies akin to those in the many accordion-based Latin genres from Texas to Argentina–and the music abounds in its creative use of jangly African-derived percussion. But unique to vallenato is how the bass guitar often plays counter-rhythms in staccatto riffs that jump all over the instrument’s range–an approach so quirky that at first you might think (as I did) the bass player is lost! It’s a challenging listening experience, but comfortably so, because in the time it takes your ears to become accustomed to the dizzy bass line, you’ve still always got the propulsive dance melody to refer to. Los Macondos (opening this weekend for the highly regarded Bolivian folkloric ensemble Grupo Aymara in the first installment of the Old Town School of Folk Music’s ninth annual Festival of Latin Music) are worthy exponents of the vallenato-style, and it’s not beyond them to throw an occasional cumbia into their set as well. Whether this dance-oriented music will be able to catch fire in the straitlaced sit-down atmosphere of the Old Town School’s performance space is questionable, but certainly this is a welcome opportunity to hear its rhythmic architecture at close range. Saturday, 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 909 W. Armitage; 525-7793.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Martha Cooper.