Long Island Traditions
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Photo of Pávelid Castaneda
Pávelid Castañeda

Click on note to hear Pávelid Castañeda -
Caminito Serrano."

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Photo of Castenda Family
The Castañeda family near
the start of their musical career
Pávelid Castañeda & Family: Colombian llanera musicians


"La Familia Castañeda," a group playing the little-known llanera music of Colombia’s eastern plains region that dates back to colonial times, is composed of father Pávelid Castañeda and his four children. Pávelid was born near the town of Nocaima, Colombia. Since the area is mostly agricultural, he spent part of his childhood working in the field. His grandfather and father were both musicians; his father played tiple to accompany his singing, which is a traditional string instrument similar to the Puerto Rican cuatro. He remembers,

When I was a child I learned a lot of songs that I heard on the radio or that my father would sing. Also when they took me to town I would take advantage of the opportunity to listen to music in the doors of the coffee houses or at the church. It was very common to hear me singing all over the place: in school, at home, at the mill.
At age 14, Pávelid’s parents bought him a guitar, which he soon learned to play along with the piano and accordion. In high school, he was director of a musical group he formed with friends. As an adult, he became a music teacher, a job he retained for 20 years. In his 20s he finally realized his dream of learning the traditional Colombian harp with the great Carlos "Cuco" Rojas, one of the best known llanera harpists.

Mr. Castañeda came to the USA in 1992 with his wife Gladis and two children. After holding jobs as a cook and in a factory, he finally met some restaurant owners who allowed him to begin working as a musician again, accompanied by his daughter Angela, then 13 years old. In 1994, the other two children arrived, and Pávelid became a legal resident with the help of the Babylon church where he plays piano and directs the Hispanic choir. Today, he and his four children form "La Familia Castañeda," a group that plays both música llanera and vallenato (Colombian accordion music) at concerts and cultural events in Long Island and beyond; they also teach about Latin American music through BOCES Arts in Education and have recorded two CDs. Pávelid teaches piano, guitar, harp, and accordion to many private students as well.

Edmar, the oldest son, is the group’s other harpist. He also plays trumpet, is an arranger and composer, and is studying music education in college. His first CD of original music, combining traditional Colombian and Venezuelan harp with Latin percussion, is about to go on sale. Edmar is a true virtuoso who has of late been playing with Latin jazz legend Paquito D’Rivera. The New York Times has called him "a harpist of imposing talent." Juanita is the group’s singer; she also plays cuatro and flute. Currently completing a degree in music business and playing with a salsa group, she still finds time to compete successfully in beauty pageants. Angela Pilar plays cuatro, clarinet, and guitar. Having completed a master’s in social work, she now works at Catholic Charities in Florida. Pávelid Jr., a 10th grader, plays saxophone, harp, maracas llaneras, and güiro. Also a star soccer player, he was selected for the Region I team of the Olympic Development Program (ODP). He will soon be traveling to Spain, Brazil, and Belgium for international tournaments. But like his father and eldest brother, he too works playing harp on the weekends at local restaurants.

The Castañedas really consider themselves as being "two groups in one." On harp, cuatro, and maracas llaneras they perform the 6/8 dance rhythms of joropos, pasajes, and tonadas. But when they add accordion and güiro or guacharaca (scrapers), they also play the better known Colombian vallenato rhythms of cumbia, son, paseo, merengue, and puya.