To Understand Macondo, You Must Listen to Vallenato: Gregorio Uribe Remembers García Márquez

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It’s been less than 24 hours since I found out about Gabriel García Márquez’s death, but I feel as though I’ve been thinking of him for a year. Yesterday was my sister’s birthday, and after a long-distance call congratulating her, I saw Martin Vejarano’s post on Facebook: “Se murió Gabo.” It was one of those moments where life’s cycle appears clearly: I celebrated the birthday of a loved one and commemorated the death of another. But I kept going with my work and didn’t dwell too much on Gabo, much as he insisted on interrupting my thoughts. I knew that we had a date later that night: I would be playing guacharaca with Alejandro Zuleta’s Vallenato Collective at the charming little Barbes in Park Slope.

Why was this a date? Because vallenato music and García Márquez are eternally intertwined; they share the same DNA. So I knew I could defer my nostalgia until the moment when Alejo’s voice, with his ancestral cadence of a romantic juglar, led us into Macondo, into the Buendía household, into Francisco El Hombre’s parranda. And so, I got immensely lucky last night. I smiled playing that beautiful piece of corozo wood, and thanked life for a moment that reminded me why I fell head over heels for this music when I was 13 years old, for this rustic and elegant jewel of the Colombian Caribbean coast.

Alejo decided to play “La Diosa Coronada” by Leandro Diaz, a life-long friend of Gabriel García Márquez. And he reminded us, when he introduced the song to the crowd, that a verse of this song served as the epigraph for García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera.  I’d heard the verse “En adelanto van estos lugares: ya tienen su diosa coronada” countless times, but this time my heart broke. Leandro Diaz was one of the most sensitive composers of vallenato, and some of his songs have been the soundtrack of my life. But I think it was the fact that García Márquez — a Nobel prize winner, a world-renowned icon of literature — acknowledged, celebrated and shared my profound love for our culture, for our Caribe, and more importantly, for his friend Leandro. As we played this paseo and I saw the smiling faces of my fellow musicians, I remembered the emphasis Gabo’s biographer Gerald Martin had placed on the love that García Márquez had for his friends, relating how he’d spend hours on the phone with them from his home in Mexico.


Now, let me come back to the present: I’m in a deli in Times Square writing this on my iPhone. I’ve been asked to write something about García Márquez and have been given only a few minutes to do so. As horrible as I feel for not having the time to do this right, I feel honored to have been given this task. In an effort to be practical, here is a list of some of the things that García Márquez represents in my life and that will leave me with delicious nostalgia to enjoy when I think of this human who I never met:

  • Nostalgia itself.
  • Mamagallismo (bantering among friends).
  • Friendship and amigos del alma.
  • The dignity, elegance and beauty of the Caribbean man, who’s constantly misunderstood and oversimplified (watch Ciro Guerra’s The Wind Diaries).
  • The vallenato parranda: a place where the wits and sensibility of men are admired.
  • Paris, a bohemian life that seems almost a cliché in its romanticism.
  • Contradictions, many contradictions (after all we are walking contradictions).
  • History: la matanza de las bananeras, the banana republics, el progreso, la violencia.
  • The fact that nobody will ever know our deepest secrets.
  • Most importantly, a phrase by Tolstoy that, to me, represents García Márquez’s work and life: “Paint your village and you will be universal.”


We finished the set with Alejo’s band and spent a few hours at the bar with those fascinating Brooklyn dwellers that are from all over the world and go for drinks on a Thursday night without the specter of a morning’s work day hanging over them. Alejo, the partner in crime that I can always count on, gave me a beautiful gift as we drank a neat bourbon at 2am: a recitation of Borges’ poem “1964.” I read the poem on my phone dozens of times as I returned home on the G train, and now I’ve decided to use it in this humble effort of mine to write something symbolic about one of the greatest creators of our time. The last words of this poem were the perfect way for me to end the night…the perfect way to express how I’ll enjoy the melancholia that may have been nascent in me before reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, but that was validated by it. This is the last gift that García Márquez leaves me and one that I can enjoy until the end of my days whenever I think of him:

“Sólo que me queda el goce de estar triste, esa vana costumbre que me inclina al Sur, a cierta puerta, a cierta esquina.”