The Petronio Álvarez Seeks to Become the Most Important Afro Festival in Latin America

With Brazil as the First Guest Country and Concerts by ChocQuibTown and Susana Baca, the 26th Edition of the Petronio Álvarez Pacific Music Festival Will Take Place in Cali.

Participants of the Petronio Álvarez Festival

Photo: Sol Robayo

LatinAmerican Post | Julián Gómez

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Leer en español: El Petronio Álvarez busca convertirse en el festival afro más importante de Latinoamérica

A paradox was that the author of 'Mi Buenaventura', one of the most representative songs of the port and Valle del Cauca, ended his life as a locomotive engineer and not as a musician. It was Germán Patiño who noticed the situation and in August 1996 baptized with the name of that composer an event that brought together the different types of Pacific folk music to honor his legacy with the Petronio Álvarez Pacific Music Festival.

Since then, Petronio Álvarez has not stopped, not even during the pandemic. In the Alberto Galindo Sports Unit or Petronio Citadel, from August 10 to 15, this event will take place, which will try to become the most important for Afro culture event in Latin America. Now it transcended from music to gastronomy, fashion and crafts. There will be 44 groups that will compete for the Bass Drum, award from Petronio Álvarez, in the categories of Chirimía, Caucano Violin, Marimba and Traditional Songs and Free Version.

There will also be workshops, talks, business roundtables and concerts, among which the presentation of ChocQuibTown, the Peruvian Susana Baca, Totó La Momposina and the group Ile Aye from Brazil stand out.

This year, the festival will have several novelties. The main one is that, for the first time in 26 editions, there will be a guest country such as Brazil. The link between the border countries was promoted by IBRACO (Institute of Culture Brazil and Colombia). This entity will present a cultural sample and will provide pedagogy for attendees who want to learn Portuguese in the 'Quilombo', a space that they were granted as a guest country.

Who was Petronio Alvarez?

He was born in Buenaventura on November 1, 1914, and, during his adolescence, he began his musical career after having learned to play the guitar empirically.

Although he never put aside his artistic vein and founded the Buenaventura Group, he began by helping his mother sell empanadas. Later, he worked in the port of Buenaventura selling water and ended his working life as a driver for the La Palmera locomotive in Cali.

He was well known on the cultural scene. "Mi Buenaventura", which was played on local radio stations, became the alternative anthem of the Valle del Cauca district. In addition, he composed other renowned songs, such as "El Porteñito" or "Adiós Al Puerto".

Petronio Álvarez died on December 10, 1966, in Cali due to bone cancer. 30 years later, Germán Patiño honored him by baptizing what would become the most important festival of Afro-Colombian culture in the country.

Read also: La Magdalena Fest Returns: A Festival With the Highlights of Colombian Culture

How did the festival start?

When he was serving as Secretary of Culture of Cali, Germán Patiño proposed that it was crucial to carry out a large-scale Pacific music festival and Germán Villegas, governor of Valle del Cauca, gave the approval.

Although the musical competition brought the best of the Pacific Coast groups to Cali, the attendees of the event in the first years were Afro population that lived in the capital of Valle del Cauca and found in the days of the festival a moment of brotherhood to abstract from the dynamics of city dwellers and connect with ancestral roots. Many of the attendees were people displaced by the armed conflict who migrated to this city because of its proximity to the Pacific.

They started with 200 to 300 people. From hundreds, they went to thousands, and from thousands to hundreds of thousands in 2019. Petronio Álvarez's bet is that this year there may be about half a million attendees to the different activities for the days that the festival lasts.

Along the way of these 26 editions, the most important titans of salsa have participated, such as Alexis Lozano, director of Guayacán Orquesta, and Jairo Varela, founder of Grupo Niche. Groups like Herencia de Timbiquí, ChocQuibTown or figures like Nidia Góngora took their first steps on the platform of Petronio Álvarez.

When the pandemic hit, the festival did not stop and a virtual version was held in 2020 and a version with reduced capacity in 2021. Now it will return with full capacity.

As Cali is the second city with the largest Afro-descendant population in Latin America, a special edition is sought in order to recognize the contribution of the black community to the city. The festival was born there and has opened connections with Bogotá, where an exhibition was held and the official launch of Petronio Álvarez took place on July 29. It also seeks internationalization and that is why Brazil is the guest foreign country. In addition, this year, groups from Ecuador will participate.