Pasillo – The Rhythm of Ecuador

The people of Ecuador are known to be friendly and hospitable. Their social gatherings and festivals will generally include music, often with pasillo featuring prominently. Although pasillo is also enjoyed in the mountainous regions of Panama, Venezuela and Colombia, this indigenous music is considered by many to be the national genre of music in Ecuador.

Pasillo is a musical genre that is believed to identify Ecuador within the Latin American music spectrum. Pasillo is usually down-tempo, played with a guitar and a rondin (similar to a flute). Sometimes a mandolin and other string instruments are included. Lyrics for pasillo are sentimental and poetic, accompanied by melancholy melodies.

It is believed that pasillo originated in the 19th century from the classic Viennese waltz, with some influence from the Spanish paso doble. As it spread through the Gran Chaco area in the early 1800s, pasillo took on characteristics of the music in isolated villages in the area. Although pasillo is recognizable anywhere, the tone, style and tempo of the music can differ from village to village. During the South American Wars of Independence, pasillo became closely associated with Ecuadorian nationalism.

A recording of the pasillo duet “Ecuador” by Nicasio Safadi and Enrique Ibanez Mora was influential in this unique music genre gaining popularity. During the successful career of Ecuadorian musician, Julio Jaramillo, he came to be known as the country’s greatest pasillo performer. He performed throughout Latin America and in part of Spain, and this served to make pasillo even more popular. After his death on 9 February 1978, almost 200,000 people gathered to pay homage to him. Julio Jaramillo served as an unofficial ambassador for Ecuador wherever he performed and he is regarded by many of his fans as a symbol of national identity. He is still considered to be one of the greatest singers to come out of Latin America.

Each year in early December, the Asociacion Artistas Profesionales del Ecuador organizes the Festival del Pasillo in Quito as a part of the festivities to celebrate the founding of the city. This presents a good opportunity for visitors who travel to Ecuador, to get acquainted with Ecuadorians and the music they love.