Ayala: ‘I am an enemy of monotony’
For The Herald
Renowned folklorist Ramón Ayala talks to the Herald about life, poetry, Che GuevaraPrior to the presentation of his latest work Cosechero, Ramón Ayala took some time to chat with the Herald in his cozy home of San Cristóbal. A place full of stacked paintings, music and words, just like his own mind. With a special glow that illuminates everything around him, Ayala introduces in his conversation bursts of jokes, laughs and witty remarks. At 77, his inner child has never been more alive — blossoming into a poetic sensibility that describes each day as it were the first of his life.
What kind of things amuse you?
Everything. When your inner child — that every human being has — is awake, you are thrown to amusement. And amusement is the only thing that allows you to open such a big rhinoceros mouth while contemplating a passing bee, a tiger, a lion, a child … When you size up all that you are, you become the owner of the landscape, you live in the awe in which you are immersed.
What is poetry for you?
Poetry is the art of catching life with a net of words. When the net is well-constructed that means the poet has grown enough to be at the height of the earth, of his person — but if that net is poor, then poetry escapes, life escapes. So you mustn’t dilapidate life; you can’t do what fools do, which is to always add a drop of death to their own life, whether it’s a cigarette, alcohol, drugs, meanness, conceit or hate. We have to sow happiness, and die in a burst of laughter.
And what would be the role of poetry?
The function of poetry is to bejewel life. Discovering the mystery that inhabits things. Because I don’t believe there’s a greater expedition to mystery than poetry.
Being also an accomplished painter with exhibitions around the world, how would you describe your relation with colour from this side of your work?
I’m a colourist. I paint with the rainbow, because the rainbow is nothing more than the defragmentation of light. Violet, for instance, was — for many artists — a colour expulsed from the palette. And yet violet is the death of day: sundown, one of the most beautiful moments of the day. I feel like violet is the complement for yellow, just as white is the complement for black, orange is the complement for blue and green is the complement for red. All the colours of the rainbow! I paint with that, with the rainbow. And colour by itself is a natural emanation of the earth, a natural consequence of light… it’s the light’s caracú, its soul. And colour brings joy to the soul, it makes you vibrate.
And you have also published a number of books. Are you preparing anything new on that terrain?
In this transgression of the folklorist that enters the mysteries of literature, I have like four or five books to be edited. The Universidad de Misiones, which bestowed upon me a honoris causa degree, wants to edit a book called Las historias de la abuela o la guerra grande (Grandma’s Stories or the Big War). Travelling through those mysterious roads, I came across the phenomena that produced the Guerra de la triple alianza and how three countries came together to attack Paraguay. A horrible and sad thing indeed. The name of the book has a García Márquez ring to it. I chose that name because one day my mother told me that she was the granddaughter of Major Morel, who fought in that war. This major had a son, he was my grandfather. So I’m also a consequence of that war. I was born with a rifle on my hands! (laughs)
During the 60s you created your own rhythm, called gualambao. How and why did you created it?
It was born out of a state of consciousness, to repair some of the bumps of my culture. I’d seen that every province has its own voice: Santiago del Estero with their charareras, Salta and their sambas, Jujuy with their carnavalitos, Buenos Aires and tango and so on. But Misiones is flooded and harassed by neighbouring rhythms, so I said, “let’s take revenge” (laughs). Because we have a Latin American mentality, I created a rhythm that represents the closeness of the African-Brazilian and the Guaranitic sounds of Paraguay. I think it’s a very appropriate and fair expression of the region, because of the tribal sound that roams the landscape of Misiones.
It’s also a dynamic, wavering rhythm
Yes, I am an enemy of monotony.
You also got to know Che Guevara personally when you were invited to Cuba by the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos. How was that encounter?
There were an incredible amount of distinguished personalities there, like Rodolfo Walsh, Rigoberta Menchú, Salvador Allende, and many others … I was there because my song has a certain social awareness to it. We were on this big table, about 50 or 60 people sitting there, and I was a young man, I was 20 years at the time, so Guevara tells me: ‘Ramón Ayala, I’ve sung your music at the bonfires of Sierra Maestra. I’ve sung El mensú, it makes me remember our land.’
I understand you also worked with rocker Andrés Calamaro.
Oh yes, he’s such a great guy; so pure, straightforward and transparent, we spent almost four hours just talking. Later on, he brought some song bases from Miami and we recorded together here, in Ion Studios. Those songs are waiting to come out!
Finally, what would you say is your biggest virtue?
My love for life. Because living means steering the helm of one’s ship, while travelling through the marvel of everyday life.
When and Where
Tonight, 9pm. ND Ateneo (Paraguay 918). Tickets from 140 pesos available at the venue and www.plateanet.com.