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Colombia: Salsa Musician Jairo Varela Dies

Jairo Varela Martínez, Colombian musician and founder of the salsa group El Grupo Niche, died August 8, 2012, after falling in the bathroom of his Cali home, “apparently suffering a heart attack and hitting his head”, according to family sources. Varela was born in Quibdó, in the Colombian department of Chocó, on December 9, 1949.

At the age of 8, he formed a band in Quibdó called La Timba [a type of salsa music] and in the 70s he moved to Bogotá, where in 1978 he started the salsa group El Grupo Niche. This salsa band became an icon of the country for songs like “Gotas de Lluvia”, “Ana Milé“, “Cali Pachanguero”, “Una Aventura”, and “La magia de tus besos.

There was a time when drug traffickers hired the orchestra for their extravagant parties, which caused Varela to be linked to drug trafficking. He was charged with “profiting through illegal means” [taking dirty money] and imprisoned, which debilitated him financially and emotionally. He later wrote a novel about his hometown and continued working on his new album, which will soon be released by his children.

Jairo Varela, photo by Umberto Valverde and Carlos Andrés Valverde from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

His body was taken to the Teatro Jorge Isaac en Cali for vigil, so his followers could gather en masse to say good-bye until August 12, the date on which his orchestra would perform a musical tribute.

There were many comments on Twitter under different tags (Jairo Varela, Grupo Niche and Cali Pachanguero) [es] as soon as his death was known.

The user Oscarcito ‏(@oscarcitomundo) [es] quotes two of his songs:

@oscarcitomundo:  Ana Mile tú no tienes, no tienes la culpa, q tu niño este llorando, porque su padre no cumpla! Te pinto pajaritos en el aire.  “Jairo Varela”…

@oscarcitomundo: Ana Mile it's not, it's not your fault that your child is crying, because his father has failed. I paint birds in the air for you.”Jairo Varela”…

The journalist Ángela Patricia Janiot (@patriciajaniot) [es] tried to interpret one of his songs and ended up praising Varela's work with the orchestra:

@patriciajaniot: “Una aventura…..es tan bonita”.  Como no destacar la dimensión internacional que Jairo Varela le dio a Niche.

@patriciajaniot: “An adventure….is so lovely. How can you not point out the international dimension Jairo Varela gave [El Grupo] Niche.

Fernán Martínez (@FernanMartinez) [es] considers him a poet:

@FernanMartínez: Leyendo al poeta Jairo Varela, elogio a las cosas más sencillas metidas entre los sentimientos más profundos. Imágenes y emociones.

@FernanMartínez: Reading the poet Jairo Varela, I can appreciate the simplest things tucked in between the deepest feelings. Images and emotions.

Some blogs dedicated themselves to reporting [es] what had been reported by several traditional media outlets as a tribute to Varela, while the blog El Payanes  closed a short tribute with an emotional phrase [es]: “Today Colombian salsa and the entire world is in mourning”. Other blogs like Nuestra Gente Digital [es] shared his music videos, like this one which many recognize as an anthem that he sings to the City of Cali: “Cali Pachanguero”:

Meanwhile, the blog Qué hay para hacer stresses his importance [es] towards promoting the good image of Colombia:

Para la música del Pacifico, para la Salsa que nos identifica y para el país en general es una gran pérdida, pues Jairo Varela además de músico y compositor, fue un empresario y un visionario que se convirtió en imagen de Colombia para el mundo.

For the music of the Pacific, for the salsa that identifies us and for the country in general, this is a great loss, as Jairo Varela, besides being a musician and composer, was an entrepreneur and a visionary who became the face of Colombia to the world.

And the blog Noticias del mundo salsero closed an entry [es] with the following acknowledgement and tribute:

Después de más de 35 composiciones, más de 130 músicos que pasaron por el Grupo Niche, de más de 30 años de carrera musical, y de un sin número de premios obtenidos; hoy, a la edad de 62 años tras padecer de problemas de tensión alta, el compositor chocoano Jairo Varela se despidió de este mundo para hacer parte del orquesta celestial. Feliz Viaje Jairo…!

After more than 35 compositions, more than 130 musicians who passed through the Grupo Niche, more than 30 years of a musical career, and countless awards–today, at the age of 62, after having blood pressure problems, the Chocoan composer Jairo Varela said good-bye to this world to become part of the heavenly orchestra. Happy travels, Jairo.

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