It started at dinner. And then breakfast the next morning. And later that day at lunch. I couldn’t figure out why I kept hearing Simon & Garfunkel EVERYWHERE while I was in Peru! Walking into a pub in Cusco, I even saw a plaque on the wall with Paul and Art’s faces on it – after reading the inscription, the mystery was solved.
“El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” was included on the 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel, but the original song goes back much further than that. The instrumental was based on an Andean folk melody and the title translates to “The Condor Passes.” The condor, snake and puma represented the underworld, the middle world, and the upper world in Incan mythology.
It was first performed by Peruvian songwriter Daniel Alomia Robles in Lima in 1913. When Paul Simon first heard a version by Los Incas in 1965, he fell in love with it and wrote lyrics to accompany the melody. It gained such worldwide attention that, in 2004, it was declared part of their National Cultural Heritage and is considered to be the second national anthem of Peru. There have been over 4000 instrumental versions and 300 sets of lyrics produced.
Listen to the instrumental version below and compare it to the Simon & Garfunkel version:
Have you ever been surprised by music you’ve heard in a foreign country? Let me know in the comments.