How do we connect our cultural identity to our faith in God? For Pompeyo Mosquera, the processes of songwriting, playing music, and building guitars, while different, are all closely intertwined methods that allow him, through his creativity, inspiration, and dedication, connect who he is as an Afro-Colombian Chocoano to his faith in God.
Born into a Christian family, Pompeyo first learned to play the guitar from a high school friend at age 18. After graduating from seminary and a few years without playing guitar, Pompeyo moved to Cali, where he pastored and took up a teaching post at a local Mennonite Brethren institution. While looking to buy a guitar one day, he stumbled into a small artisanal guitar shop and found himself very intrigued by the guitar construction process. Soon after he approached the owner of the guitar shop and asked him if he could become his apprentice in order to learn the craft.
“The selection of the type of wood is one of the most essential elements in the construction of a guitar,” Pompeyo tells me. “The different types of wood give, deflect, absorb or produce sound differently, so without the right materials, even the best design won’t produce a nice sound. Planning is essential. You have to start early,” he explains, “at the coolest point of the day, so that the glued wood will expand with the heat and not pry apart. In a place like Chocó that is hot and humid, it is very important to take advantage of those cool mornings.”
While the process is meticulous, there is also room for spontaneity, inspiration, and creativity, as Pompeyo showed me his own styles of guitars that he made out of local wood, totuma, and even guadua, a bamboo native to Colombia.
“I like to find material or shapes that I like and figure out how can I make a guitar out of them. I like experimentation, to make something that others haven’t tried before. Sometimes weeks pass and finally it comes to me – this is how I can attach the neck, or this is how I can get a nice sound out of this material.”
Guitar-making took Pompeyo to Barranquilla where he married, settled in to teaching, and continued to master his craft. In 2003, his marriage fractured and as a result, he moved back to Chocó.
“It was at this low point, far from God and my family while questioning my faith and how I could connect my soul, who I am, to my faith, I received an answer from God: a melody. At any moment (it could be 4 in the morning and I’m sleeping or I am working on the farm) a melody comes, maybe a small tune, maybe more and I wake up or drop what I am doing, sit down, work out the melody until the music is complete. Later, the words come and I fill them into the melody. For me, this is never an intentional process, but rather a spontaneous act. I feel that this ability to write songs is God’s answer to my dilemma of how to represent my identity and my culture in my faith.”
Pompeyo feels that through Vallenato, Merengue, Som, or Tamborito, typical cultural or regional rhythms, he is able to worship God.
“I am grateful for the gospel being brought to Chocó by North American missionaries, but now is our time, as Chocoanos, as Afro-Colombians, as blacks, to worship God through our identity, with rhythms that flow through our blood.”
Recently this year Pompeyo returned to Chocó after 20 years in Barranquilla. “It is time,” he says, “to come back home, be with my people, my community, in my home.” Back now in his home, Pompeyo feels even more passionately that through writing music and playing and building guitars, he can continue to explore his own creativity and what it means to praise his God from his soul.