The diatonic harp in the performance of Paraguayan identity

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Colman, Alfredo

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The diatonic harp, Paraguay’s emblematic instrument, constitutes a symbol of identity for most social groups in the country. First used as a liturgical instrument associated with the Jesuit missions during colonial times, the transplanted European diatonic harp underwent local transformations and was adopted into the folk and traditional music vocabulary of Paraguay and the Río de la Plata region. Receiving the designation of arpa paraguaya (Paraguayan harp) in the twentieth century, the diatonic harp became Paraguay’s unofficial national folk instrument through a series of socio-historical processes. Since the commercial success of Paraguayan harpist Félix Pérez Cardozo in the 1930s in Argentina, the symbolic value of the Paraguayan diatonic harp as an icon of social, cultural, and national identity has been articulated and validated through musical performances and other local traditions associated with popular folk music festivals and formal recitals of traditional music. Not only have the Paraguayan diatonic harp and its traditional music become part of the practices associated with local folk traditions in the twentieth century, but the instrument has also become a symbol reinforcing the sociocultural values associated with paraguayidad (Paraguayan-ness), a national sentiment closely connected to the culturally imbedded idea of the Paraguayan tekó (the way of being), concepts which consequently serve to construct Paraguayan identity.