Ecuatoriana - El Universo Paralelo de Polibio Mayorga 1969-1981
On 12 February 1949 an angry mob stormed into the centre of the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, burning the offices of the city’s main newspaper and its oldest radio station to the ground.
On that tragic day Radio Quito had just broadcast a local adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. The novel – first published in 1898 and famously adapted into a radio series by Orson Welles – is one of the earliest stories to depict a conflict between mankind and a hostile race of extra-terrestrials. The large audience - not understanding that it was pure fiction - believed that intergalactic intelligence had invaded the country as all hell broke loose. Thousands began running the streets of Quito looking for shelter, chaos broke out, causing a deadly stampede. People blamed the broadcaster for the tragedy, formed a dense crowd and stormed Radio Quito, setting it ablaze. Several musicians, who were there performing, were killed.
In the decades after the second world war, outer space was on everyone’s mind and the ‘space race’ of the 1950s and 60s not only produced groundbreaking efforts to launch artificial satellites, send space probes to Mars and land a human on the moon, it also had a huge impact on the movie and music industry which was taking advantage of the world's fascination with space voyages and lunar missions to create instruments capable of mimicking imaginary interstellar sounds. These synthesised space effects that captivated the imagination of a whole generation of young Ecuadoreans coincided with a period in which workers and musicians from the provinces started flocking to Quito and to the commercial port of Guayaquil, some hoping to find regular work, others looking to break into the musical big leagues by getting hired by one of the prestigious urban radio station. These artists brought riches of rhythms to the major Ecuadorian cities who would soon witness the explosion of what would be known as “Andean Cumbia”.
That fusion, of tropical electronics mixed in with Andean melodies and lyrics describing the cruel reality of migrant workers, achieved massive success. And so while budding Ecuadorian UFOlogy lead to widespread extraterrestrial sightings, Ecuadorian musicians began released various albums consisting of traditional music combined with synthesisers in order to bring their traditional music into the space age. One of these musicians is Polibio Mayorga who had travelled 160km from his hometown of Chisalata to Quito where he showcased his talent as he championed the art of modernising his region’s ancestral rhythms - Huaynito, Sanjuanito, Albazo and many others - using the latest in electronic instruments.
After 4 years with Los Locos del Ritmo, one of Ecuador’s most popular bands, Polibio joined Fadisa (Fabrica De Discos S.A) in 1973 as a solo musician and songwriter before becoming their musical director a year later. While there he would team up with saxophonist extraordinaire Olmedo Torres, and for 10 years they would compose and arrange hits, not only for themselves but also for their fellow artists in the Fadisa family. Although Fadisa had countless labels in their roster, the jewel in their crown was Rondador and it was on that imprint that Polibio would release “Ponchito de Colores” and his famous album “La Farra Está Aquí”. With their novel use of Moog synthesiser, both became huge hit records and were broadcast constantly by Cosmopolita and Marañón de Quito – the two major radio stations of the capital. This led to a surge of interest in Andean cumbia, and the subsequent record sales helped to revive the country’s flagging music industry, turning Polibio into Ecuador’s most influential musician.
Polibio has never considered his music to be “tropical psychedelia” - although he thinks it would make a good name for a band. He has the sense of humour of a genius and the ability to make anyone laugh, yet he remains discreet, eloquent and humble … but as a musician he is daring and visionary, with an intrepid, vigorous style almost impossible to imitate. More than perhaps any of his peers, Polibio Mayorga established a unique place for himself at the vanguard of tropical music.