In Peru, where guitarist Ciro Hurtado was born and raised, the “Altiplano” is a region between the towering Andes Mountains, one of the largest high-plateaus on earth, a place Hurtado has visited many times in his life for the beautiful scenery, the feeling of the altitude and the spiritual magic found there. His journeys to this special place inspired the music on his latest album, Altiplano.
The Altiplano (which means “high plain” in Spanish) ranges in elevation from 10,000 to 15,000 feet, but despite the difficulties in living there, it has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years. “My family is from the Sierra Mountain area which is about 10,000 feet, and my father was born up there,” explains Hurtado. “Even though I lived most of the time either in the lower jungles or on the coast in Lima, my father insisted we visit the mountains and high plains. It was a common outing on weekends for my family, including my grandmother and great-grandmother, to get away and visit towns in the Sierra where my father’s family lived.”
Hurtado finished high school at 16 and took his first trip without his family. He and a friend, hitchhiking and taking buses, journeyed across the Altiplano and visited Cusco, a city perched above 11,000 feet. “It was a mecca for young people as well as tourists. There was lots of music -- concerts and musicians just playing in the streets. It was a special time for me because it represented freedom in a beautiful place. The air was so clean, and at night the atmosphere is so thin that you can see the stars very clearly and they are very bright. But every time I go back there to visit, I realize how difficult it is to breathe and even walk or hike. I see why the natives who live there have wider bodies and bigger lungs. But fortunately at the airport and bus station immediately when you arrive everyone is offered coca leaf tea because you need it to help you get around. It combats fatigue and altitude sickness.”
Hurtado, who has lived in the United States since he was 20, has become one of the leading proponents of a new world-fusion blend that often uses elements of native Peruvian music — whether it is rhythms from the Amazon Basin jungle or flute melodies from the Andes mountain tribes — as a base which he then incorporates with a variety of styles from other Latin cultures as well as the United States and other countries. Hurtado, who gained early acclaim as a guitarist, is now also acknowledged as a top composer, arranger and producer of Latin-based world-fusion. Although he sometimes performs solo on acoustic guitar, he also often brings together a wide-array of musicians and singers fluent with many different musical genres and instruments. The music on the Altiplano album includes four solo guitar pieces plus three with female vocals in Spanish (and one with wordless vocalizations by a male singer from India), and other tunes featuring Hurtado’s guitar in interplay with flutes, organ, cello, bass and percussion.
With Altiplano, Ciro Hurtado has released ten albums under his own name (In My Mind, Tales From Home, The Magic Hour, Guitarra, Echoes of the Andes, Guitarrista, Los Angeles Blues, Ayahuasca Dreams and Selva). Most of the recordings feature ensemble music with a few solo guitar tracks (although Guitarrista and Los Angeles Blues are primarily solo guitar). His last four recordings received international marketing campaigns, found a passionate audience in the world-fusion and new age music genres, went Top 5 on the international Zone Music Reporter Top 100 album airplay chart and made the lists of the Top 5 best world music albums of the year named by the radio programmers reporting to ZMR. Plus his album Ayahuasca Dreams received a Latin Grammy nomination in Folk Music.
Many of Hurtado’s recordings are available online for purchase as CDs and/or digital downloads at CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes and a variety of other sales sites. More information about the artist and his music is available at cirohurtado.com.
Hurtado also is a founding member and currently the musical director of the band Huayucaltia (pronounced why-you-call-TEE-ah) that has group members from Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and the USA. He has appeared on and co-produced their seven albums -- Despertar, Caminos, Horizontes, Amazonas, Origenes, Destinos and El Tiempo.
Hurtado’s Altiplano recording begins with the ensemble piece “Macchu Picchu,” named for the world-famous ruins of a 15th-Century Incan citadel located 50 miles from Cusco at an elevation of about 8,000-feet. “I visited this historic site when I was young and was very impressed. Then I went back there years later with my band Huayucaltia to perform and film a video. It is very inspirational and magical there.” The title tune, “Altiplano,” features a tight Hurtado arrangement of guitar, quena flute, cello and shaker. On “Rumba Andina” Hurtado did something new. “I love flamenco music so I mixed a rumba cajon from Spain with an Andean huayno party rhythm and a mountain folk singing style by my wife Cindy Harding. My lyrics use a hummingbird as an analogy for a lover leaving.”
Also new on this album are the first times Hurtado has recorded material he did not write, and both of his versions are performed on solo guitar. “Originally a vocal hit in Peru, ‘Ciudad del Lago’ was written by composer Jorge Huirse and arranged for guitar by Raul Garcia Zarate using the style from the region of Ayacucho where he lived in the mountains, and it features very sophisticated basslines and counterpoint. It took me years to learn this piece, but it is fun to keep this traditional Andean music alive. The other song is my version of the traditional folk and pop piece ‘The House of The Rising Sun’ which my mother always liked and it was the first tune I learned to play on guitar.” Hurtado performs two other solo guitar numbers on the album -- “Andean Heart” and “Entre Las Estrellas” (which translates as “Between the Stars”). He says “both tunes mix Peruvian musical aspects with some European flavors.” Hurtado also composed “Triste” (named for a sad, melancholy Andean melody style) initially for the soundtrack of the film “Baraka” and viewers have been asking for many years for a commercially-available version, so he re-recorded it with his wife accompanying him on flutes.
Altiplano contains two other compositions sung in Spanish -- “El Ayaymama” (with vocals by Alexa Ramirez) and “Recuerdos” (sung by Mariel Henry of the Mexican band Chejere). The former tells the tale of children left in the jungle who turn into birds and go looking for their mother. Named after this story is a real bird that sings four notes so Hurtado based the melody on those notes. In “Recuerdos,” Hurtado writes about how much he misses the music from his childhood in Peru, and how happy it makes him to be able to incorporate the music from the Andes into his repertoire today.
“As a small child,” remembers Hurtado, “I would listen to Radio Nacional del Peru blasting Andean music every Sunday afternoon. Sometimes I would go to the ‘coliseos,’ a circus-like tent, to listen to popular Andean performers. About the same time the British Invasion took over the world’s radio airwaves and I fell in love with rock’n’roll too.” Ciro began playing guitar at age nine, and started studying it seriously when he was 13. He played acoustic guitar in traditional folk ensembles and electric guitar in rock groups. After moving to the United States, he studied at the prestigious Guitar Institute of Technology. Hurtado appeared on the Strunz and Farah Misterio album and toured for four years with this popular group. Hurtado has returned to Peru numerous times for performances with Strunz and Farah and Huayucaltia, as well as solo concerts. Hurtado was awarded the prestigious Durfee Master Musician Fellowship. In addition, Hurtado has produced and recorded albums for Michele Greene, Conjunto Jardin, Rosalia Leon and numerous others. As a composer, Hurtado has scored and participated musically in various feature films and documentaries.
“The music from the Andes has given me a rich heritage to use,” states Hurtado. “With my music I am always exploring my roots, but I also combine everything that has influenced me musically to make my own sound. My music is a reflection of the many people, cultures and musical styles that have touched my life.”
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