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A couple beers, a crazy idea and the Cuenca Gringo Kazoo Marching Band is born

By Brian Hitsky

Goofy is good.

Silly is fine.

Fun is always appropriate and beneficial.

Ned Flottman and Bert McKinney believe Cuenca gringos should have a little fun.

But by combining all three attributes together, one begins to understand the makings of an idea hatched in the farthest reaches of Ned Flottman’s mind. A couple of beers are also credited with helping his thinking process along.

Flottman, a gringo from Dallas. Texas has been in Cuenca for a year. In that time, he has attended countless parades and made a remarkable discovery. “Gringos are always standing along the sidewalks watching. I think it would be a blast if we participated,” he said.

So, with his thoughts crystallizing, the outline of forming “The Old Gringo Cuenca Appreciation and Kazoo Marching Band” came into fruition. “Kazoos are easy to play and it doesn’t seem like Ecuadorians know what kazoos are,” Flottman reported. “Besides, a bunch of gringos all dressed up in crazy outfits, marching along and playing tunes on kazoos, should be fun.”

Nothing is sacred during the Day of the Innocents parade.

Well, as they say, the devil is in the details, so Flottman had to find a suitable parade to allow gringo participation as well as search for a business that could provide the kazoos. After all, gringos just don’t magically have kazoos in their closets to bring out for such an exciting opportunity.

Flottman remembered that last January a huge turnout watched thousands march along Huayna-Capac in “The Day of the Innocents” parade, which was originally a religious celebration, but has taken on a carnival atmosphere with men and boys in drag and lots of costumes and skits among the parade’s features. A perfect setting for a bunch of gringos with their kazoos, Flottman thought.

He spoke with parade officials and secured the necessary permissions, and then went about the business of finding a kazoo provider. And, who knew, that Almaden de Musica El Surtido on President Borrero between Bolivar and Sucre was the perfect place for finding a kazoo among the other more traditional instruments they have available. In addition, the price can’t be beat — just $2.

The lowly kazoo comes in many colors.

The ability to become a parade participant rather than a watcher has its appeal. “I’ve always wanted to become involved,” said Bert McKinney, a gringo from Tacoma, Washington. “Everybody seems to be having lots of fun and the orchestra seems like a silly way to have it.”

Asked how he elevated a kazoo band into an orchestra, McKinney just smiled coyly.  However, his fascination with kazoos began in his childhood. He whimsically recalled working at a record shop and discovering an album by the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra that appealed to his sense of humor.

The only condition that McKinney emphasized for the band was it didn’t spend a lot of time practicing. “The less practice we have, the more fun it should be,” he exclaimed.

Linda Raskind, a former Oregon resident and a three-year Cuenca dweller, has always wanted to become involved in a parade. “Every parade I’ve seen looks like a lot of fun,” she said. “I want to experience one from the other side of things.”

A person who was eavesdropping on the planning of the kazoo band, volunteered his time and energy. “Hey, I want to be at the rear with the adult beverage cooler,” he said. “The only thing I don’t want is to wear a uniform. I was in the navy and the boy scouts, and that was enough.”

The kazoo has no documented history, but it is believed to have been invented by Alabama West in Macon, Georgia around 1840. There is a celebration of National Kazoo Day on Jan. 28th of each year, and a museum in Henrietta, NY displays all sizes, shapes and materials of kazoos.

Even an Ecuadorian, who passed by and heard the eagerness for the formation of the project, was complimentary. “I think Cuencanos would appreciate a bunch of crazy gringos,” said musician Julian Salazar. “It’s another form of communication between expats and the community. It’s going to be fun.”

Flottman emphasized that all that was needed to join the group was an ability to poke fun at yourself, walk down Huayna-Capac and carry a tune on a kazoo.  The only cost would be for the $2 kazoo purchase and maybe making sure the Hawaiian shirt and shorts are clean.

For those that don’t think they have the wherewithal to play the instrument, it’s just making a humming sound. Blowing into a kazoo would be futile.

“We certainly want to play Chola Cuencana the city’s anthem,” said Flottman. “Pretty much anything goes. The band is open to any gringo as you are never too old to be young. At our age, we’ve done enough things to make fools out of ourselves, so this isn’t going to hurt anything.”

To join in the shenanigans or receive more information, Flottman can be reached through e-mail at nedflottman@gmail.com. The parade is scheduled for Jan. 6, 2019.