5 of 12 videos

COMARCA Pilot (English)

This 30 minutes documentary
(Spanish/English language, Color, Stereo Sound) can be watched by selecting the preferred language below



Comarca is said to have been the very music Olivorio Mateo (or Liborio, Papa Liborio, Dios Liborio), the most important curandero and messianic leader in Dominican history, used for healing. Comarca is essentially religious dancing music, with a musical structure similar to 'Mangulina', 'Merengue Tipico' and 'Perico Ripiao' but with lyrics exclusively about Liborio and the other Saints of Dominican Vudu. Olivorio Mateo was was born in Maguana Arriba, a section which lies a few kilometers north of the city of San Juan, in the south of the country.
The Olivorismo (or Liborismo) is a social-religious movement that is said to have its origin in the summer of 1908 after a hurricane, which affected the entire south of the island, heavily hitting the area of San Juan de la Maguana for three interminable days. During the hurricane, Olivorio had disappeared from his home. At first, nobody cared because he used to leave for many days without a word. After a while, the family thought he might have fallen victim to the storm, so they organized a 'novena' for him (nine days of prayer by relatives and friends at the home of the deceased). But the last day of the 'novena', Olivorio suddenly appeared, with a knotted cord on the forehead, saying: 'I come from very far', adding that an angel mounted on a magnificent white horse had transported him to heaven during the storm and there, God, after blessing him with his divine seal, entrusted him back to earth, to preach His message and heal the sick. 'I am not crazy. I am coming, sent by God, to a mission that will last 33 years. Everyone who believes in me will be saved,' clarified Olivorio.

After trying to research in many different locations of the Dominican Republic the possible existence of Comarca and receiving dubious answers or no answers at all, I believe it can be said this is a type of music strictly connected with the 'Liborista' movement, it barely still exists and it is only being performed in the geographical area where I was able to record it: the valley of San Juan de la Maguana.
There are very few senior musicians left who still know how to sing and play Comarca the traditional way and they sometimes perform in 'Fiesta de Palos' and 'Hora Santa' gatherings. The younger musicians I recorded, whilst commendably trying to maintain alive the tradition of this musical genre learned from the elderly, tend to easily slide towards more commercial interpretations of Comarca songs and use a musical style leaning considerably towards the secular upbeat of 'Merengue Tipico', albeit attaining to the 'religious' lyrics that characterize Comarca. I met some of the older Comarca musicians and recorded their performances in extremely remote places, extending from San Juan, Maguana Arriba, Jinova, Juan De Herrera and even smaller hamlets closer to the Haitian border.

Some of the live field recordings took place in locations where there is no road, no electricity, no telephone and no television and where I had previously researched the whereabouts of the Comarca musician for a long time as well as the date and place of smaller, family run 'Fiestas' where my work could be carried out. I was eventually able to get there, sometimes on horseback, along with my 16mm film, video, audio recording equipment and plenty of batteries, storing all the audio material on portable hard drives which I later transferred and organized on my laptop, in San Juan, once an electric outlet was again available.
I recorded several songs with titles such as 'Comarca numero uno', 'Espiritu Santo', 'El Indio Rafael', 'Papa Liborio', 'La Virgen de Altagracia' etc. The music flowed from rusty, asthmatic accordions, rudimental drums (whose skins were tensed in front of a fire) and very African looking marimbas, with such ease, such immediacy, with such firm assertiveness, almost like it was being played straight out of the 'record player of the soul' where it had been stored and kept alive for decades, since it had been learned, ready to be pulled out at will. What deeply impressed me was how such a spontaneous and basic musical form was able to unite a secular 'joy de vivre' with the most respectful religious tradition in a whirlwind of fast, syncopated, musical phrases, inviting even some reluctant listeners to move their body and dance.

After all, Liborio Mateo, the spiritual leader of the 'Liborista' movement that appears to be instrumental to this musical genre is described, according to Garrido Puello, an oral historian, as '...man of small stature, dark skin, unkempt hair, a broad face and a long, neglected beard. He had thirteen children with three women with whom he lived as concubine. He liked drinking and spoke in a rude and vulgar manner.'
And the 'Liborista' movement, which still counts many adepts in the area where these recordings were made has been described as '...a religion' of salvation and healing characterized by a Christian-pagan syncretism. From Christianity it took the themes of salvation through a divine emissary, the cult of the Saints, reading the Gospels, prayer, the cross and the scapular. It used a complex ritual of magical-medical healing techniques impregnated with the presence of magical-religious 'agents of worship' (healers, sorcerers, ensalmadores, etc.).

Comarca is indeed part of a disappearing oral folkloric tradition of the Dominican Republic that unites the sacred to the profane, and while Palo drums are played exclusively for the Saints and the possessing spirits, Comarca appears to relax the borderline between the orthodoxy of a Vudu ceremony and a simple night of musical fun and dance. It does just that but without ever letting us forget that we are still enveloped in a sacred and mysterious environment, where the inexplicable is the daily staple and the teachings of Papa Liborio are still alive.