Skip to main content

A Field Guide to... Peru

A Field Guide to... Peru
A Field Guide to... Peru | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Take in the sounds and histories of Peru with Smithsonian Folkways with this field guide curated by Dr. Joshua Tucker. Listen to the playlist and read Dr. Tucker's introductory essay and track notes below!

Apple Music


Listen on Pandora here


Peru’s staggering musical diversity is hard to capture in a single playlist. You might begin by trying to represent its three major geographic regions: coast, mountains, and jungle (costa, sierra, y selva), a geophysical division that is often invoked to reflect the country’s divided character. It maps onto real cultural distinctions, meaning that in the Peruvian national imagination, each region is conventionally associated with different musical genres. The ternary principle quickly breaks down, however, because each region is so internally diverse, cross-cut by subgenres of enormous local importance, that a truly representative list is impossible to devise. Demographic change over the last century, especially a massive population shift from the Andean highlands to Lima, has also made older regional distinctions pretty porous, and the process of migration, bringing people and sounds into new and productive contact, has fostered genres that transcend older social boundaries. The task is rendered even more complicated when facing a rich collection like the Smithsonian Folkways online archive, which runs the gamut from hit songs released on major national labels, to field recordings capturing the sound of religious rituals and life-cycle observances, to soundscape recordings that are hard to classify but wonderful to hear.

This list, then, presents only an introduction to Peru’s musical landscape: it spans a wide variety of genres and social contexts, but it makes no claim to be exhaustive. It draws from the Andean highlands, identified with the country’s Indigenous heritage, and the Pacific coast, anchored by the capital city of Lima. An opposition between these two regions has shaped Peru’s sociopolitical imagination since 1532, when the invading Spanish began a campaign to subdue an Andean region then under the rule of the Inca empire, wealthy in resources and in potential human subjects. Spain’s colonial administration established its capital well outside the Inca power bases, in a desert comparatively inhospitable to human settlement. As Lima grew, the colony and then (after 1824) the country became conceptually divided between a coastal region, where European inheritances, often inflected by practices of Afro-descendant people, evolved into new, distinctively Peruvian forms described as criollo (“Creole”) in character; and a more populous highland region filled with Indigenous subjects, and later by people who described their ancestry and their cultural practices in terms of mixture (mestizaje) between European and Indigenous antecedents. In truth, such mestizo (mixed) cultural practices are neither more nor less “mixed” than those of Indigenous Quechua- and Aymara-speaking people, who also borrowed heavily from Spanish settlers over centuries of colonial domination, adapting what they liked into forms that suited their needs. However, mestizo culture became identified with the more powerful citizens of Andean cities and towns, and with the increased rights and privileges that came from escaping the colonial stigma of Indigenous status, so the real differences between Andean mestizo and Indigenous practices were important in sociopolitical terms—with consequences that remain audible in Peru’s Andean music to the present day.

It is easy to overstate the rigidity of all these boundaries. Things have always circulated easily across them, so Peruvian social and musical life is best conceptualized in terms of constant churn, with new musical mixtures emerging, becoming naturalized as independent genres, and fading into the next mixture over time. Still, some of these musical categories achieve such long-term stability, and such social importance, that they anchor the Peruvian musical imagination. The coast, for instance, has become identified with a set of genres that blend Euro-descendant and Afro-descendant elements in performance, loosely grouped under the label música criolla. But música criolla can hardly be characterized as a parochial genre confined to the coastal region: it was officially sanctioned as emblematic of the Peruvian nation in 1944, when Oct. 31 was established as the annual Día nacional de la cancion criolla (National Day of Creole Song), and it has long been beloved across the entire national territory, especially in the form of the Peruvian vals.

Within the Andes, by contrast, no genre is as important as huayno (variously spelled wayno or wayñu). A song type that emerged by the 19th century in the Andean region, blending scales and harmonies of European origin with traces of Indigenous practice, huayno music is so dominant within the highlands that the word is often used as a synecdoche for Andean music overall. At the same time, huayno is bewilderingly diverse, since residents of different mountain valleys and individual communities, Indigenous and mestizo performers, all came to favor different ensembles, with slightly different interpretive norms, to accompany its shared melodic and verse structures. Furthermore, like música criolla it has long circulated well beyond its Andean homeland, developing in new ways as it did so. It saw an especially notable expansion in range during and after the 1940s, when residents of the Andes began fleeing poverty and underdevelopment en masse, seeking opportunity in Lima and bringing their lifeways with them. First confined largely to homes and at weekend events where migrants gathered to socialize, huayno music entered a new chapter in 1949 when IEMPSA, Peru’s dominant record company, began to produce commercial recordings. Reportedly hesitant to invest in products aimed at mestizo and Indigenous audiences of limited means, it was apparently cajoled into the move by the great Quechua-speaking novelist and scholar José María Arguedas, who did more than any other 20th-century figure to champion Peruvian cultural diversity. Corporate fears proved unfounded: the records were consumed so avidly, especially within Lima’s ever-expanding and deeply homesick migrant community, that huayno was the industry’s leading seller within a decade. And inevitably, it changed in the process, as studio performers applied more professional arrangement principles and virtuosic interpretations to songs old and new, and as the industry sought to codify huayno’s diverse stylistics into a handful of regionally defined stereotypes.

Meanwhile, other musical areas were being created in response, often in opposition, to these large-scale trends. The 1944 governmental recognition of música criolla, for instance, was part of a long effort on the part of Peru’s coastal intelligentsia to consolidate their region’s culture as nationally representative—but it was fiercely resisted within the Andes, where a countervailing group of Andean mestizo intellectuals fought instead to root Peru’s national imaginary in the culture of the Andean majority. Dubbed indigenistas, these intellectuals were avidly involved in music, but despite the label their work rarely involved Indigenous performers. Instead, it meant borrowing and reshaping elements of Indigenous musical culture, altering the radically distinctive esthetics of Indigenous interpretation to match Western esthetic expectations. Indigenista principles nevertheless circulated widely, influencing adjacent musical trends to lasting effect. In a very different way, the sanction given to música criolla helped spur an Afro-Peruvian musical revival on the Peruvian coast. As música criolla with identifiable Afro-Peruvian influence, but no longer considered distinctively Afro-descendant, became construed as national culture, folklorists and performers of Afro-Peruvian descent were piqued to uncover and revive their own “lost” African heritage, and began soliciting tunes, rhythms, dances, and stories from unheralded performers in Afro-Peruvian communities up and down the coastline. Far from “lost,” their heritage turned out to be quite lively, and the resulting Afro-Peruvian scene became not only a space for the revival of Afro-Peruvian culture, but also for the shaping of an Afro-Peruvian politics more broadly.

Finally, it is also easy to overstate the closed nature of Peru’s musical system. As everywhere, Peruvian musicians and listeners have always welcomed elements of other musical systems, adopting genres and instruments from abroad wholesale, or adapting them to local needs. Some sounds originally considered “foreign” have become central to Peru’s national soundscape, none more so than Colombian cumbia. Taken up by second-generation migrants to Lima and other youths in the 1960s and 1970s, it became the basis of a distinct musical culture that achieved recognition in the 21st century as Peru’s “third national music,” following música criolla and Andean music.

This playlist, then, illustrates as many of these developments as is feasible within its short remit. It features a diverse set of commercial huayno recordings—some of them national hits—representing several regional substyles. It also features field recordings that illustrate a diversity of huayno variants and cognates, all of which continue to emerge and subsist outside the confines of the recording industry. It features emblematic genres drawn from música criolla and Afro-Peruvian standards, but it ranges well beyond the confines of Lima to illustrate the way that these sounds take distinctive shape outside the hegemonic capital city. Finally, it intersperses these recordings of “popular” genres with many field recordings drawn from ritual and life-cycle ceremonies and other noncommercial contexts—music that enlivens the streets and homes of Peru’s cities and towns on a daily basis, but which is rarely heard in recorded form.

Joshua Tucker is Associate Professor of Music at Brown University. He has spent more than two decades researching Peruvian popular music, mainly in the Andean Department of Ayacucho and the capital city of Lima. He is the author of Gentleman Troubadours and Andean Pop Stars, and Making Music Indigenous: Popular Music in the Peruvian Andes, both published by the University of Chicago Press.
Track Notes
Track 1

El Consuelo de Llorar
By Los Yungas
From From the Mountains to the Sea: Music of Peru: The 1960s

This playlist begins with a vals, the centerpiece of Peru’s música criolla tradition. A much-altered relative of the European waltz, the Peruvian version epitomizes the process of adaptation that local musicians have applied to nearly every sound inherited from the wider world. It’s especially identified with the working-class neighborhoods of early-20th-century Lima, when industrialization and technological change made them grow and densify, and newcomers bearing diverse traditions lived together within increasingly cramped barrios like Rímac, La Victoria, and Barrios Altos. Afro-Peruvian and Euro-descendant guitar virtuosos and players of the cajón box drum—declared Cultural Patrimony of the Peruvian Nation in 2001—applied syncopated rhythms and florid melodies to the waltz’s 1-2-3 measure, accompanying sung stories of frustrated love and occasionally of class inequity. Later composers would use the vals to nostalgically evoke Lima’s colonial past, but with its lament for unhappy love, “The Consolation of Crying” fits lyrically within the earlier tradition (although the accordion and guitar accompaniment depart from the classic trio of two guitars and cajón).

Track 2

Music from Tent Show: 'Coliseo Nacional' in Lima: Band from Huaraz
By Band from Huaraz
From Mountain Music of Peru, Vol. 1

By the mid-1960s, when this field recording was made at a weekend concert in Lima, such events were a fixture of migrant life. Empresarios rented out space in stadiums, clubs, or empty lots on the urban periphery, and invited artists from different Andean regions to perform before fellow provincials, who spent their precious weekly day off in fellowship to the sounds of home. This unnamed band from the north Andean region of Huaraz delivers a fine rendition of the area’s uptempo, driving string-band sound; sawing violins and tremolo-plucked mandolins provide a hard, melodic edge above guitarists who fill melodic gaps with rapid complementary runs on their bass strings. To get a full sense of the scene, try to imagine dancing the huayno step to this music and all the other huayno styles heard below, each foot placing a double-tap on alternate beats over the course of a daylong concert that might last some eight to ten hours, with growing conviviality fostered by refreshments and social interaction with friends from home.

Track 3

Yaravi and Fugue "Garsila"
By Antonio Sulca ("Sunqu Suwa")
From Mountain Music of Peru, Vol. 1

The harp, introduced by European invaders in the 1500s, was quickly adopted for general use across Peru, and was adapted and used to perform all the new musical genres that emerged over centuries of colonialism and cultural exchange. It became the workhorse instrument in most Quechua-speaking regions of the Andes, and a sonic emblem of Indigenous heritage—particularly when played in combination with the violin. This recording features a solo performance on the large, nylon-stringed harp associated with the south Andean city of Ayacucho, by the blind harpist Antonio Sulca, “Sunqu Suwa” (“Heart-Thief”), scion of the well-known musical and textile-weaving Sulca family. Sulca opens with an instrumental version of a yaraví, a slow, sad song form dating to the colonial era that echoes the slow, rhythmically free melancholy of the Quechua-language qarawi. In typical fashion, Sulca follows up the yaraví with a “fuga” section featuring a faster, more danceable tune—in this case the huayno “Huérfano pajarillo,” one of the city’s most emblematic songs.

Track 4

Music of the Quena
By Shepherd boy from Huancalli, Cuzco
From Traditional Music of Peru

Forms of the notch flute known today as the kena have been played in what’s now Peru since long before the Spanish invasion. It’s played in communities across the country and in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from solo performance to public festive traditions. It’s also been taken up as a melodic instrument in many different ensembles, but this recording features a solo by an anonymous shepherd boy from the Indigenous town of Huancalli, in Cusco Department. Recordists Babs Brown and Samuel Martí probably encountered him while he was returning from a day of labor, since they photographed him holding his flute and bearing a huge load of ichu—grass that grows thick in the high-altitude animal pastures where young people routinely spent their days in the era before the widespread availability of schooling. Lonely days of herding in the high, bare grasslands were often enlivened by portable instruments before cell phones or transistor radios arrived: this young performer shows his skills by delivering the kind of agile, bright melody that typifies kena performance more generally.

Track 5

By Los Románticos de Sicay
From Huayno Music of Peru, Vol. 1

Sometime in the early 20th century people in and near the Central Andean Department of Junín—popularly called “huancas,” after the Indigenous group that occupied the area before the Spanish invasion—adopted the saxophone as their preferred instrument. Ever since, the area has been identified with the orquesta huanca, an ensemble in which a raucous group of alto and tenor saxophones perform ornamented melodies to the accompaniment of harp and violin. Junín is also identified with the huaylas genre, a huayno relative that is mainly distinguished by its more active rhythms, and the orquesta huanca provides an appropriately energetic accompaniment: for this reason, ensembles like these became popular for outdoor dancing at town festivals across the country after the recording industry spread the word over the 1960s, and they are hardly restricted to the Central Andes anymore. This recording features one such group playing the music that accompanies the chonguinada, a festival dance typical of Junín and neighboring Pasco.

Track 6

By Picaflor de Los Andes
From From the Mountains to the Sea: Music of Peru: The 1960s

Over the 1960s and 1970s Víctor Alberto Gil Mallma, “Hummingbird of the Andes,” became the standard-bearer of the huanca style on record—despite his birth in Huanta, a town outside the Central Andean region. However, he also has a strong claim to the title of most beloved all-time huayno artist. “Gorrioncito,” in which the speaker finds his own lovesick pain reflected in local birdsong and features of the landscape, not only typifies the themes and poetic devices that dominate huayno music, but it also demonstrates the unique and longstanding appeal of Picaflor’s recordings. His powerful, plaintive voice—emotional yet judiciously restrained, hinting at barely contained tears on the dying melodic fall that ends each half-verse—stands up easily against the driving, noisy energy of the huanca orchestra, together providing the combination of dance rhythm and intense feeling that makes huayno music live, for those who love it.

Track 7

Love Song of the Animals (Charango and Men)
From Mountain Music of Peru, Vol. 2

Stringed instruments like the guitar, mandolin, bandurria, and vihuela came to the Andean region along with Spanish invaders. Over the colonial period Indigenous performers adopted them avidly, often altering their structure and timbral quality to suit local needs and tastes. The result was a wealth of unique instruments, many of them localized to a single province. This track features the charango, the most common of such adaptations. Small, typically strung with five sets of doubled strings, some of them in octaves, its bright, shimmery, high-pitched sound was considered characteristically Indigenous until the early 20th century. Here a group of Aymara-speaking singers from Peru’s far southern Department of Puno accompany themselves on the comparatively tiny, steel-string version, using a performance style that remains emblematic of Indigenous communities: rather than picking out solo melodies, or strumming the triadic chords that back Western folk music, the players strum all the instrument’s strings, all the time, fretting notes so as to roughly trace their sung melody, amid a barrage of sound produced by all of the instrument’s open strings sounding all at once.

Track 8

Vengo del Prado
By Trío Lira Paucina
From Huayno Music of Peru, Vol. 1

The Lira Paucina represent a regional huayno variant from the south of Ayacucho Department that centers the non-Indigenous variant of the charango—a solid musical move for this group, whose charanguista happens to be all-time superstar Jaime Guardia. This is a slightly different instrument and a very different performing idiom than the one heard on the previous recording: instead of the steel-stringed charango strummed within contemporaneous Indigenous communities, Guardia plays an instrument with nylon strings and performs in a highly dexterous plucked style, lining out the melody in harmonized fashion and sustaining long notes with a rapid tremolo alternating his thumb and index finger. This style emerged in the early 20th century, when sympathetic urban indigenistas sought to dignify traditions long dismissed, turning the charango, kena, and other instruments identified with Indigenous communities into vehicles for solo concert music. In the case of the charango, the move was successful enough that the instrument became widely adopted into the huayno traditions of many non-Indigenous cities and towns.

Track 9

Iskay Sunqu Runa
By Voces del Colca
From Traditional Music of Peru, Vol. 6: The Ayacucho Region

Despite persistent fears of commercialization, the success of huayno recordings never drove other forms of Andean music extinct: in fact, many performers vitalized their traditions by incorporating elements of popular recordings that they admired. Within the Quechua-speaking communities of the south Andean Víctor Fajardo province, the local pum pin genre has become ever more popular since the 1970s, when lyricists began to compose songs with a textual rigor like that of the compositions that were appearing on record, and guitarists adopted a daringly difficult accompaniment by pairing an active thumb, on the instrument’s bass strings, with an equally active index finger brushing back and forth on the treble strings. A song tradition tied to the annual carnival celebration, pum pin performance season traditionally culminates in an outdoor competition on the high plain of Waswantu, where groups from neighboring towns duel for musical supremacy, delivering newly composed Quechua-language songs to the accompaniment of large, vibrantly sonorous many-stringed guitars. In this 1990s-era field recording, the female singers of Voces de Colca sing of traveling to seek a new life, after betrayal by a faithless, “two-hearted man.”

Track 10

By Conjunto Condemayta de Acomayo
From Huayno Music of Peru, Vol. 1

Widely beloved, often-covered, routinely found on Peruvian radio and YouTube in the 21st century, “Challwaschallay” was a 1970s-era smash hit for the Conjunto Condemayta de Acomayo, a group from the eponymous small town near the city of Cusco. The recording’s melody and text, wherein yet another heartsore speaker wanders the Andean landscape while ruminating on a love gone wrong, are anchored firmly within expectations—though it is slightly unusual to figure a lost lover as a river fish, rather than a bird. The instrumentation, however, is utterly unique: if the harp and mandolin are both standard instruments across most of the Andes, then the harmonica is rather less common. While the sweetly poignant singing of María Tintaya Rayo, “The Southern Mockingbird,” can’t be underestimated in the song’s appeal, the harmonica’s piquant contribution certainly helps this recording stand apart from others of the same era, and it serves as a reminder that huayno music, in local contexts, has always been more various and diverse, in every way, than the somewhat standardized versions that were more typically crafted within the recording studio.

Track 11

Pío, Pío
By Amanda Portales
From Huayno Music of Peru, Vol. 1

Amanda Portales, “Peru’s Girlfriend,” had a string of huanca-style hits over the 1980s, but few are as enduring as “Pío pío”—a huaylas so popular that fellow singer Chato Grados, “The King of Pio pio,” boosted his appeal by placing it at the center of his artistic persona. Onomatopoetically titled after the peeping of chickens, it exemplifies a light-hearted strain of erotic Andean song that has always leavened the dominant melancholy of huayno music, often via punning wordplay that dances up to the line of open vulgarity. When Portales sings about the insistent peep-peeping of the restless young cock that an interlocutor has given her, and soothingly promises to bring him young chicks, a listener versed in the bantering sexual innuendo that permeates Andean life doesn’t need much help in reading between the lines. After the fuga, in which the bird promises to return the favor once he’s a big, strong rooster, even a rank beginner will have got the point.

Track 12

El Hombre
By Manuel Silva
From Huayno Music of Peru, Vol. 1

After Peruvian independence the city of Ayacucho entered a long period in which it was viewed as a declining backwater, uniquely devoted to the inheritance of Spanish colonization. In the 1960s, however, it became a dynamic university town, filled with the era’s roiling campus politics, and local intellectuals began reworking their city’s distinctively Hispanic huayno style into forms fit for ideological battle. Such “huayno testimonial” would become especially important after 1980, when the Shining Path guerrillas erupted from within the Universidad Nacional San Cristóbal de Huamanga, and made the city the epicenter of a brutal civil war. Long before then, in 1970, professor of literature Ranulfo Fuentes penned “El hombre” in response to a police massacre of protesting students. Manuel Silva’s interpretation hews to Ayacucho’s huayno idiom, displaying a virtuosic command of the nylon-stringed Spanish guitar while reserving florid decorative passages to the spaces between sung text, thereby foregrounding the song’s message—that of a man who would rather be free, and help others to achieve freedom, than oppress others, and become unfree himself.

Track 13

Matrimonio: Pasacalle
By Los Caminantes de Colca
From Traditional Music of Peru, Vol. 3: Cajamarca and the Colca Valley

One of the everyday sonic joys of life in any Andean city or town is the variety of public music that one can experience on a weekly basis, given how many festive and life-cycle occasions are marked by musical street parades. Funeral bands, groups marching behind saints’ day processions, and massive street celebrations like carnaval all bring different sorts of music into the public sphere, ensuring that the most casual of listeners can enjoy a sort of aural kaleidoscope, with instrumental sounds and musical genres shifting in and out of focus depending on the circumstances. This recording captures a celebratory street march in honor of a wedding in the south Andean Department of Arequipa: a street band composed of stringed instruments, typical of Arequipa and adjacent regions, is heard approaching from a distance, accompanying the bride and groom on a stroll around town after approval by the local government authorities.

Track 14

Qhantati Ururi: Easter Music
From Mountain Music of Peru, Vol. 2

The pan flute has become such a ubiquitous sonic emblem of Peru that South Park once devoted an episode to lampooning its presumed triteness. However, it pays to push past the hackneyed, tourist-oriented street performances which inform that viewpoint, and seek the vibrant pan flute traditions that enliven festivities across southern Peru and neighboring Bolivia. This outstanding 1985 recording of influential group Qhantati Ururi, from Conima in Puno Department, demonstrates the power that double-rowed siku flutes gain in live performance. Groups like this gain prestige by performing at regional, seasonal festivals, where they compete with peers to attract the greatest number of listeners, using musical originality, volume, and sheer endurance to win. Far from the Beatles covers and New Age fare that Global Northern listeners associate with pan flutes, here over 50 community musicians deliver an uptempo choclo piece, with pounding wankara, bass, and snare drums propelling a breathy, overtone-rich wall of sycopated flute melody, repeating the material over and over again in an intense fashion that drives dancers and draws festival attendees.

Track 15

Qhapaq Ch'unchu
By Banda de guerra of Paucartambo
From Traditional Music of Peru, Vol. 1: Festivals of Cusco

The Cusco town of Paucartambo, on the eastern flanks of the Andes where they descend to the jungle, is justly famous for its annual patron saint festival honoring the Virgin of Carmen. Like many Peruvian festivals, this one sees the streets taken over by several comparsas (dance groups), each representing different masked characters and accompanied by its own music. However, with more than a dozen groups represented in its ever-expanding repertoire, Paucartambo outdoes its peers in variety and volume. These performances are a sort of hazy public archive, with most caricaturing a personage that has been important in local life or legend: ethnic groups ranging from south Andean pastoralists to African slaves to elite mestizos performing an archaic contradance; lawyers, doctors, and brandy traders; malarial victims and foreign tourists; and demonic saqra beings, among others. Attired in feathers, carrying spears, and accompanied by a flute-and-drum combo considered typical of Amazonian peoples, the Qhapaq ch’unchus represent Indigenous jungle warriors, guardians of the Virgin herself, and rivals of the rival high-Andean Qhapaq qullas comparsa, with whom they battle during the festival.

Track 16

By Mariano Laymito Alberco and Nelly Sánchez
From Traditional Music of Peru, Vol. 7: The Lima Highlands

Some Andean festivals, particularly those connected to patron saints of polities or the Catholic calendar, are highly public, community affairs. Others, often associated with the agricultural or pastoral tasks that serve as the economic basis of rural life, are quieter family affairs. Though it has also been adapted into a form of Andean popular music, the herranza originates in association with livestock, and it can be most readily heard on the annual occasion when herding families mark their animals—a date that varies from region to region and household to household. On this recording from Huarochirí Province, in the highlands near Lima, the performers execute tritonic (3-note) herranza melodies on the instrument locally called the cacho but more widely known as a waqrapuku (literally, blow-horn), an impressive instrument crafted from spiraling sections of cow horn, stitched together with leather patches. The performer is accompanied by the tinya, a small hand-held drum typically played by women in Indigenous communities.

Track 17

Tijeras: Pacha tinka
By Scissors Dancers accompanied by harp, violin, and scissors
From Traditional Music of Peru, Vol. 6: The Ayacucho Region

Most Andean dance traditions are rather staid and formal, featuring a limited repertoire of bodily movement and highly stylized patterns of interaction. The scissors dance is a severe outlier, in which professional performers in extravagant costume compete athletically to the accompaniment of a harp-and-violin duo, jangling a pair of large metal scissors with the center pin removed so as to make them an effective percussion instrument. Traditionally hired to perform on festival days—especially Easter—dancers take turns performing steps of growing complexity, incorporating moves that echo and increasingly draw directly upon break dance, building to acrobatic feats and tests of endurance or pain of a kind that were once routinely described as “fakirism.” Originating in the Department of Ayacucho and neighboring areas, the tradition has long since spread to other areas including Lima, where it has become a highly regarded symbol of national cultural and allowed certain scissors dancers to achieve unprecedented fame—foremost among them Qori Sisicha (“Golden Ant”), whose became the subject of a TV miniseries along with his colleague Ccarccaria in 2008.

Track 18

Te Quiero Porque Me Quieres
By Beto Goachet y sus Cuatro Gatos
From From the Mountains to the Sea: Music of Peru: The 1960s

Following a long tradition of adapting musical elements from elsewhere, ranging from Baroque Spanish guitars to Viennese waltz to Colombia cumbia, Peru was an early adopter of American rock 'n’ roll. Lima had a significant scene by the mid-1960s, producing bands ranging from psychedelic rockers Traffic Sound to Los Saicos, often described as the real pioneers of punk. Today this moment is remembered as an important turning point in the evolution of a distinctive musical culture, and John Cohen’s liner notes ring strangely, with their snide claim that Beto Baochet is “forgetting his history” in exchange for cash. This is, indeed, the sound of the “Latin Sixties,” when young people across the hemisphere used American popular culture the way their predecessors had used everything that came their way—experimenting, exploring its possibilities, and keeping what they liked. Beto’s innocuous lyrics, elementary shuffle rhythm, and fuzztone guitar solos are elemental, but so are most contemporaneous releases by his American peers: everything starts somewhere, and this track points forward, to a riotous, future-oriented experimental mood that would soon define limeño popular music.

Track 19

Mi China Lola
By Conjunto Cachicadan
From From the Mountains to the Sea: Music of Peru: The 1960s

Rock 'n’ roll wasn’t the only foreign popular style that achieved a mass following in Peru in the decades around mid-century. As in countries across the Spanish-speaking world, Colombian cumbia was avidly taken up by local audiences, and by the late 1950s musicians across Peru were infusing local traditions with cumbia’s boom-chicka percussion patterns, its deep drum rolls, and its melodic sensibility, wherein different performers toss short, infectiously catchy riffs back and forth. This recording hews close to the style that local performers picked up from the era’s commercial Colombian recordings, right down to its lyrical insistence on singing, recursively, about the pleasures of dancing cumbia—or, as it is still frequently called in local parlance, “tropical music.” There is little here that sounds like Andean huayno, despite the original label’s description of the tune as a “huayno-cumbia”: the label seems inspired by parallel experiments in combining those two genres with elements of rock 'n’ roll, which would in short order produce the distinctively Peruvian chicha genre.

Track 20

El Serranito
By Los Ases del Ande
From From the Mountains to the Sea: Music of Peru: The 1960s

Over the 1960s, young people in Lima began to combine bits and pieces of the musical resources all around them, crafting a vibrant, constantly changing sound whose proponents are often grouped under the label of “chicha”—a term used to describe Peru’s distinctive version of cumbia music. The term’s precise application is disputed, and not every artist who gets placed into the category welcomes the designation, but it is most commonly understood to name a style that freely combines elements of rock 'n’ roll, huayno music, Caribbean popular genres, and almost anything else conceivable, over a cumbia rhythmic base. The electric guitar heard here demonstrates musicians’ initial experiments with available resources, and points forward chicha’s full-blown emergence in the 1970s, when that instrument became central to the genre’s sound profile. However, by centering a wailing clarinet it also points back to Colombian tradition and more particularly to Lucho Bermúdez, the clarinetist whose big band became the lodestar of his country’s music scene in the years around mid-century.

Track 21

El Alcatraz
By Blackie Coronado y su Conjunto
From From the Mountains to the Sea: Music of Peru: The 1960s

After Peru abolished slavery in 1854, its Afro-descendant population seemed to disappear from the public record. Censuses long failed to record ethnic data, and despite the tangible presence of African cultural influence and Afro-descendant people throughout the country’s coastal region, they were widely held to have been absorbed into a mixed “criollo” culture. This changed after the 1940s, when folklorists and Afro-descendant intellectuals began to investigate the traditions of places identified with Black history, like Chincha or the Lima neighborhoods of Malambo and La Victoria. By the 1960s many songs, musical genres, and dance forms had been recovered or reinvented based on historical evidence, coming to serve as symbols of Black heritage and survival for a new generation. Based on the festejo musical form, the Alcatraz is a dance in which performers chase one another with candles, seeking to light a piece of material tucked into the waistband of their fellows. Here the core Afro-Peruvian instrumentation of guitar, cajón, and rattling quijada (jawbone) is augmented with clarinet and bass, but the shifting rhythmic accents and the dynamic interaction between performers are characteristic of Afro-Peruvian performance.

Track 22

Soy Trujillanita
By Banda Sinfónica Sunicancha
From From the Mountains to the Sea: Music of Peru: The 1960s

The marinera is Peru’s official national dance, but it wasn’t always called that. One in a series of related dances widely distributed across South America, it was known locally as the chilena by the mid- to late 19th century. After Peru’s humiliating defeat at Chilean hands in the War of the Pacific (1879–83), author Abelardo Gamarra proposed to rename it in honor of a Peruvian navy that had performed well in the conflict, and ever since Peruvians have used marinera to name a dance whose Chilean and Bolivian variants are known as cueca. Identified mainly with Peru’s coastal region, the dance centers on interaction between a male and a female performer, who execute several set sections of complicated footwork while waving handkerchiefs that accentuate it. The accompanying music, in which shifting hemiola rhythms waver between an in-2 and in-3 feel, is performed by many different ensembles. This version features the brass-band marinera style identified with the northern coastal city of Trujillo, though the band itself appears to hail from the Huarochirí highlands above Lima.

Track 23

By El Jefe, Víctor Gamarra
From Traditional Music of Peru, Vol. 4: Lambayeque

This field recording from the north coast District of Zaña captures a very different kind of marinera from the previous track. In this instance the genre takes sung form, with performers nicknamed “El Jefe” and “El Tana” collaborating on the vocals and El Tana providing accompaniment on the cajón. This recording was made at a jarana, a term which is typically used to describe a party, especially one with musical entertainment, but which has specific connotations in relation to the marinera. In the early 20th century certain parts of Lima, particularly the neighborhood of Rímac, became famous for all-night or multi-day jaranas at which barrio musicians displayed their musical skills, particularly in the form of complex poetic duels over marinera rhythms performed on guitar and cajón. Music for listening, and for displaying musical virtuosity, this kind of marinera performance is different from the danced version. This north coast version features no guitar, and performers don’t alternate verses in the style of an old-fashioned poetic battle: its spontaneity captures the jarana’s musical flavor.

Track 24

Tondero: Mi Burrito (My little burro)
By Leida La Madrid with Roger Alméstar
From Traditional Music of Peru, Vol. 8: Piura

A genre tied to Peru’s northern coast region, the tondero has also been taken up as part of the música criolla complex. It’s probably known best as the form of “Ésta es mi tierra,” a nationalist ode to Peru’s cultural and natural wonders that is widely performed by música criolla groups. This field recording documents a household performance from the northern province of Morropón, and it captures nicely the genre’s key elements. Leida La Madrid accompanies her own singing on a guitar, alternating the tondero’s distinctive surging, off-kilter bass line with strummed chords. Meanwhile fellow musician Roger Alméstar uses a chair as a percussion instrument, beating out the kinds of rhythms that would normally be played on a cajón box drum. The words blend humor with a sense of life’s real hardships by telling of a trip to Lima in search of employment, the speaker’s sorrow that she can’t return to the north on her now-deceased donkey, and her feeling that she would rather her lover had died than the poor animal.