George List (1911-2008) was a Professor of Ethnomusicology at Indiana University and the director of the Archives of Traditional Music for twenty-two years (1954-1976). During his tenure at IU, he transformed the Archives from a vast collection of materials into a modern public resource for researchers and communities, setting high standards in conservation and cataloging procedures for ethnographic sound archives. George List was one of the founding fathers of the modern field of ethnomusicology, contributing to the creation of the ethnomusicology program at IU and articulating the issues and boundaries of the field in several seminal articles that continue to be important for students of the discipline. His research also blended the interests of ethnomusicologists and folklorists together, for he not only studied the music of indigenous and agricultural societies, but also their customs and other forms of expressive culture, such as folktales.
In the 1960s, List travelled to the Colombian Caribbean coastal region to research local musical traditions, and in four trips he recorded over 120 open reel tapes containing music, interviews, and folk tales belonging to communities with strong indigenous and Afro-Colombian heritage. Live recorded music is the most substantial part of these recordings, displaying a broad diversity of local musical ensembles, instruments, and repertoires, many of which are associated today with cumbia and vallenato popular music styles.
In order to get around the small villages more easily and select the right individuals to work with, he collaborated closely with Colombian folklorists Winston Caballero, as well as siblings Manuel and Delia Zapata Olivella. With their support, List was not only able to record a wide range of musical traditions and genres, but also performers that in the subsequent decades have become prestigious within the traditional music circuits in Colombia. Therefore, these early recordings of performers such as Toño Fernández, Sixto Silgado “Paíto,” and Catalino Parra are a treasure. Additionally, List recorded songs, instruments, and musical practices that are no longer practiced in the Colombian Caribbean region, thus turning this collection into an irreplaceable resource for research in this field.
In 1983 he published the book Music And Poetry In A Colombian Village: A Tri-Cultural Heritage, as well as tens of academic papers throughout his career based on his fieldwork in Colombia. His book has been translated into Spanish and has been printed in two editions in Colombia, being an obligatory work for researchers interested in Colombian Caribbean traditional musics. Additionally, an unpublished manuscript in the Indiana University Archives accounts for his research on Afro-Colombian funerary folktales.
Sample: Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto. November 4, 1964. "Camino largo" (traditional). Gaita corrida. Cartagena (Bolivar), Colombia. (65-291-F)
For more on these collections and traditional music of Colombia, listen to this Archives of Traditional Music’s podcast: https://libraries.indiana.edu/cumbia