It was the spring of 1989. I had several Partners projects under my belt and had spent enough time in Ecuador to have fallen in love with the people and the country. I was determined to learn more about the Indigenous flute music of the Andes, as it touches me to my core. The more I studied and listened to the music, the more I realized I had some sort of cosmic connection to it. I decided that my next project would be to bring an indigious band to Kentucky for a series of concerts. The big question was how do you find the best band to bring? The answer became obvious, a battle of the bands. We did our publicity and had a series of regional playoffs in Ecuador, with the winner competing in the fall of that year over a three day weekend in Ibarra. Ibarra is the sister city with Winchester, Kentucky. One band really stood out. Not only were they excellent musicians, they had developed instruments from garden hoses, pvc pipe and a rams horn. Also they garnered attention because they wore their hats backward. To make a long story short, this band won. The band, Americamanta, came to Kentucky the next spring and opening at the Kentucky Centre for The Arts, then hitting the College circuit. Americamanta won freinds and fans wherever they played. Before the trips to Kentucky, none of the band members had ever flown, most had never left their home town of Otavalo.
One of the leaders in the group was Jaime Yacelga. He would tour Europe with the band and turned Americamanta into a success story. In the US, they have recorded six CDs and are in high demand for festivals across the country. Over the years, as he toured in the US, he would visit in KY where our friendship developed. The band felt comfortable staying with us and we all looked forward to private concerts for our family and friends. Eventually, Jaime would bring his new wife Emma, where she and Ruthi would become fast freinds. Ruthi taught her to drive and to cook KY meals. After the birth of their first child, Aliyah, they asked that we become the girl’s godparents. We traveled to Ecuador aware that our relationship had converted from friends into family. Anytime we walk in Otavalo people address us as compadre and comadre. We all stay in touch with regular phone calls and emails.
Now, here we are in Otavalo again, my brother Donnie and sister-in-law Roberta are to be god parents to Jaime and Emma´s second child, Raisa. Last night we went to a local pena and heard friends of Jaime play. The sound of those deep flutes still resonate in our minds. I feel like I am home, connected to this place by love and friendship. The christening will take place in El Quinche, about 80 kilometers from Otavalo. The church was built in the 1500´s after the Virgin appeared to bring a message of hope and faith. The Virgin of Quinche is highly reveared by the indiginous of Ecuador. Thousands of people come every week to pray for help, love, business etc.
When we arrived at the church we were seated for mass. Afterwards about 400 people stood in the aisles with photos of family members, keys to new cars, and business cards to be blessed. Then came Quinceanera and two weddings. Finally, we were escorted to a back room with 10 other families for the christenings. Even though the whole experience reminded me of a goat rodeo, when it came time for Donnie and Roberta to become Padrino and Madrina, there was this incredible sense of spirituality that transended the chaos.
Afterwards we returned to Otavala for a familty dinner and celebration. One of the surprises for us was the reunion of several of the old members of Americamanta who performed together. There was also folk dancing, hip hop and dancing into the wee hours of the morning. I am going to have to go on just a few hours of sleep as there is an under 20 soccer game at 11:00 a.m. against the national team.
> Rankin and Ruthi in Ecuador