From Bogotá, Colombia, musician Diego Laverde Rojas has played the arpa llanera, or lowland harp, since 1982. It is a popular folk instrument named after Los Llanos, a lowland area between Colombia and Venezuela, and it has a fascinating history. It is of European, not Latin American origin; brought over by the Spanish during the colonial era, but over time has absorbed Colombian and Venezuelan influences, creating a unique instrument. Diego says that many people are surprised at his choice of instrument and the diversity of South American music, saying “many people only think of the Andes area and pan pipes”. The arpa llanera is very different to the western orchestral harp, as angelic, ethereal melodies are replaced by fast, syncopated rhythms with a timbre reminiscent of a classical nylon-string guitar. Due to its size and amazingly intricate construction, as well as his virtuosic technique, Diego is capable of creating polyphony; playing a beautiful melody and complicated accompaniment on his harp simultaneously.
Diego either works as a soloist or as part of a traditional Venezuelan folk group, accompanied by a singer, a small guitar called a cuarto and percussion, which can include congas, bells, cajon and maracas. He plays in a group called Ensamble Criollo, with percussionist Wilmer Sifontes. They have named this music tropical as it blends his folk harp playing with Cuban Salsa and Afro Caribbean percussive rhythms. He also plays with Ensamble Latino, a Venezuelan-Colombian folk group based in London. He is a member of the band The Familiar Strangers with singer Rory MacLeod with whom he has toured extensively in the UK.
In Colombia, Diego taught in various music academies and was director of the Folkloric group of the Central University of Bogotá, and toured the world as a musician with the “Ballet Folklorico Colombiano”. He has played at various harp festivals in the UK, Scotland and Germany, as well as prestigious venues including the Royal Albert Hall.
Diego live solo in Bolivar Hall, London, 2013