On Thursday night my host family surprised me with tickets to a concert at the Teatro Municipal, and although it interfered with plans I had made previously, I was excited to go, as they explained that it would include many of the best artists in La Paz. The concert was meant to start at 7:30 pm but when we arrived at the theater at 7:20 pm, they had not even opened the doors yet. A few minutes later we were let in and we went and took our seats. The theater was very beautiful, and the walls were painted a warm tangerine color, contrasted by the bright white moldings. The ceiling contained a painting of women and cherubs, in light purples, blues, and greens. I admired the beauty of the space for a long time, and finally, the concert started at around 8:30. As the lights went down, a man in a pressed gray suit emerged from between the curtains and started explaining to the audience that he was going to give an award from the city of La Paz to the artist giving the concert. My host father leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s the mayor!”. Soon another man came through the curtain to accept the award, who I reasoned to be the headliner of the concert, El Papirri.
The concert began, and El Papirri sang dozens of songs, including quite a few that he was premiering at the concert. He also brought out eight other guest artists and groups who were also from La Paz, to perform many of the numbers with him. The whole thing was really a celebration of Paceño culture in that he made sure to emphasize how he and all the other artists were La Paz natives, and that many of his songs were versions of traditional music. In fact, five of his numbers were accompanied by dancers who came out in traditional costume to perform Paceño dances. For an additional song, he invited four audience members onstage to dance another traditional dance. The four, two men and two women, looked to be about college age, but despite having never practiced with him or each other before that night, they all performed flawlessly. After El Papirri’s final song, the curtain closed and the audience erupted with applause, which quickly turned into cheers of, “Otra! Otra! Otra!”. After a few minutes, he came back out to do an encore number and was accompanied by an Afrobolivian music group, and several dancers. After that number concluded, the audience erupted with applause again, and the concert was over.
I enjoyed the concert even more than I perhaps expected, as I feel like it gave me a window into an aspect of Paceño culture that I was previously unfamiliar with. We have spent so much time during these past three weeks studying politics, history, and social structure, that I feel in some ways I have missed other important aspects of Paceño culture, and Bolivian culture in general, including music and dance tradition. This concert helped me to better understand and appreciate the rich and diverse musical traditions of La Paz and reminded me how important it is to stop and appreciate all the aspects of a place if you want to truly “conocer” it.