Barrios Orquestados, a Poetic Idea

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Barrios Orquestados, a Poetic Idea

José M. Brito López, Founder/Director, Bárbara A. Biscaglia, Producer, and Carlos Vega Estévez, pianist and Professor, Barrios Orquestados


Aboard La Folía during a performance of Casamundo. Photo: Ayoze Ojeda.

Barrios Orquestados is a music-for-social-change program that aims to build community in underserved neighborhoods across the Canary Islands. In addition to learning music, our students learn to champion the fundamental rights and values that connect us across economic and cultural lines.

Operating since 2012, Barrios Orquestados started out in Tamaraceite, a neighborhood in the city of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria Island. Ten years later, we have spread into 14 more neighborhoods across three additional islands in the archipelago. In 2018, we began working on the outskirts of Honduras’ capital of Tegucigalpa; one year later, we had established a program in Valparaíso, Chile.

During that time, we have laid the foundation for a unique methodology built on several principles: teaching those who do not have previous musical knowledge; oral learning through auditory and rote development; working with multiple instruments at the same time, so that all students have the symphonic experience; and intersectional education that celebrates diverse communities. Our programs serve young people between the ages of 5–21, whose relatives are also active beneficiaries. In our Canarian community alone, we currently serve over 800 beneficiaries.

Heading to Casamundo

Students of all ages participate in the show. Photo: Ayoze Ojeda.

After nine years of operation, our team wanted to do something big for our tenth anniversary, reminding students of their greater purpose and connection during these challenging times. Happily, we were struck by a poetic idea. Based on the proposal of teacher, ethnomusicologist, pedagogue, and composer Polo Vallejo, a multidisciplinary initiative was devised to bring together as many Barrios Orquestados students as possible for a musical performance titled Casamundo: Entre el mar y la Folía. The word “casamundo” pays homage to Earth, advocating for ecological and humanitarian action. Identifying these objectives led us to generate our subtitle, “Entre el mar y la Folía” (Between the sea and Folía). Taken together, the musical’s name is meant to evoke the permanent struggle between the ideal we all try to achieve—“the sea,” which represents our dreams—and the “Folía,” a traditional dance in Canarian folklore that is meant to represent home.

We knew we wanted the performance to premiere on Gran Canaria Island, our first home. After some deliberation, we felt the most creative and pragmatic way to include students across the archipelago was to have each group represent a fictional “island”—inspired by Lesbos, Sardinia, Cádiz, Santiago de Cabo Verde, and La Palma. These students formed small communities during the lead-up to the show, each with their own identity and prominence. During the show, the islands come together, so that the performance itself serves as a symbol of community and connection. If every person is an island, as it’s said, then Casamundo is our bridge.

In the story, six young women travel through five islands on a boat named “La Folía.” They are searching for a special and imaginary island, Amallap, where problems are solved in healthy, organic ways. Different student groups perform as the locals of each island, sharing cultural traditions and stories for both characters and audience. This search for connection and openness is the story’s driving force: between the sea and the Folía, characters search for a new home where there is no rejection, where tolerance reigns, and where people respect each other and do not act belligerently.

Scene from Casamundo. Photo: Ayoze Ojeda.

Musically, the show travels through different sound aesthetics, evoking Balkan music, the cantu a tenòre of Sardinia, the cante jondo with its Indian roots, the music of the Cabo Verde saudade, and, finally, the folk music of the Canary Islands, with the dance of the tajaraste.

The musical premiered in early May, with over 300 students and volunteers participating. Accompanying the 190 participating Barrios Orquestados students was the Orquesta Maestro Valle, a group of 45 musicians composed of both high-level Barrios Orquestados students and volunteer professionals.

This show achieved the important objective of highlighting each student’s enormous potential—multiple, multidirectional talents that do not always have the opportunity to develop. It also led to growth, as teachers and students were forced to leave their routines behind and travel new terrain. In some ways, each student’s personal journey mirrored that of the show; each day, our young performers went on daily artistic adventures that integrated their skills and introduced them to new art forms. The shy students became playful; the conformists became critical. And because of the piece’s ecological angle, everyone was encouraged to explore the parts of themselves they never knew they had. After all, this planet is our only home. To protect it for future generations, we must try new things.

Casamundo: Entre el mar and la Folía was an oasis with an oceanic ambition. And in the end, our organization grew. Because our students grew.

All proceeds from Casamundo: Entre el mar y la Folía went to the consolidation of the Barrios Orquestados projects in Honduras and Chile.


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