After my first month in Peru I didn’t really think life in Lima could get more exciting. Meeting different musical artists during the month of September kept me pretty busy, little did I know the month of October would be even more jam-packed with musical goodness.
Soon after I arrived in Lima I noticed colorful posters, with toucans and bongos, plastered all over the city. Something, probably the bongos, told me these were most likely advertising a musical event of some sort. Sure enough, the small little toucans were enticing everyone to trek to Oxapampa, a small community in Peru’s selva alta, or high jungle, for the second annual Selvamonos music festival. In hopes of finding more Afro-Peruvian artists, and hopefully seeing a toucan, I bought my bus ticket.
After thirteen hours of smelly buses and winding roads I finally arrived in Oxapampa. Oxapampa turned out to be a quaint little town bordering the jungles of Peru. As it wasn't located right in the jungle it was hard to find any jungle animals, but at least I was finally in a place warm enough to go without a jacket. It turns out that Peru's jungle region isn't the best place to discover Afro-Peruvian musical talent. Regardless of the lack of Afro-Peruvian music, Selvamonos and Oxapampa proved to be quite an adventure. In between indulging in Oxapampa's amazing food and exploring abandoned caves, I made my way to the ranch where the music festival was to take place. One of the bands that caught my attention was Reciclon, a band full of lively people who use recycled materials as their instruments.
Once I recovered from Selvamonos I was invited by Grupo JIZA’s director to a family reunion. It turned out that rather than just be a family reunion, the Zevallos’ encuentro was more of a musical gathering. The ecuentro started around midnight and it was one of the most beautiful family gatherings I had ever experienced. I watched as the home of the family matriarch filled with four generations of the Zevallos family. Afterwards I was amazed as the Zevallos grandchildren challenged each other in competitions of zapateo, Afro-Peruvian stepping. As I watched in awe one of the family members explained to me the reasoning behind the encuentros. Each year the Zevallos family gathers not only to keep family ties strong, but also in hopes of inspiring younger Zevallos generations to be proud of their Afro-Peruvian heritage. After hearing this it occurred to me how, what might appear to be nothing more than a family reunion to an outsider, was actually one family’s effort to strengthen their identity.
The Zevallos’ struggle allowed me to identify a theme that constantly emerged when I had spoken to several other Afro-Peruvian artists. Rather than be proud of their Afro-Peruvian descent many Afro-Peruvians, in and out of Lima, deny their culture. Years of constant discrimination are partly to blame for this, yet this one family, through the use of traditional music and dance, are fighting to prevent this. That night, in the living room of one family, I came to realize how music is about more than finding the correct lyrical content to mesh with a rhythm. Music can help a people realize how they have culturally enriched a nation, and they should be proud of that, regardless of whether that nation cares to admit this contribution or not.
Soon after being blown away by the Zevallos family, I was once again in awe. This time the source of fascination was Colectivo Palenke. I first heard of Colectivo Palenke through my host organization, CEDET, and I was impressed by the group’s attempts to fuse traditional Afro-Peruvian music with more contemporary musical genres. Pierr Padilla, the group’s director, invited me to one of the group’s rehearsals where, for the first time, I got to witness the creative process of an Afro-Peruvian musical group firsthand. A couple of days later Colectivo Palenke’s performance became the first event I filmed for my documentary.