VALLEDUPAR, Colombia — Vallenato is the most popular form of traditional music in Colombia. The songs, which can be meloncholy tales of heartbreak or rousing calls to party, are dominated by the accordion. They're all over Colombian radio.
Rather than aspiring to be guitar gods, many Colombian children dream of striking it rich with the accordion, a bulky instrument that seems to be the result of a keyboard mating with a cash register. Many youngsters in the northern city of Valledupar — the cradle of Vallenato — get their start at a music school founded by Andres "El Turco" Gil, himself an accordion legend. He takes in children as young as 3, offers them scholarships, loans them instruments and begins the long, arduous process of forming the next generation of squeeze box stars. Some of the best will be featured at Colombia's annual Vallenato music festival that runs from April 28 to May 2.
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