While my first two months in Peru had been pretty adventure packed, November turned out to be a lot slower. Not only was I not as busy meeting musical artists, during the month of November Afro-Peruvian musical performances weren’t as prevalent either. Since the musical scene wasn’t as active as I had hoped, I decided to dive into intense research mode. But before I did, I decided to run my first 10k. Running in Lima is no easy feat, especially given the hectic driving, but for this 10K traffic was stopped for an hour and a half, from 7pm to 9:30pm. That’s right, the race took place at night. Although I’ve been running for a while I still wasn’t sure what to expect. I soon learned that when you run, and ten thousand other people run with you, your legs don’t feel like stopping. And when you do, you realize how much better it would feel if you could minimize the amount of time your feet touch the ground, so you keep running. Once I completed the race I was ready to immerse myself in music and books.
Flipping through countless books and web pages I stumbled across information that enlightened my encounters with Afro-Peruvian musicians. In particular I was able to learn more about the current state of race relations in Peru, as well as some of the history behind the musical richness of Afro-Peruvian music. History-wise I was surprised to find out how relatively young Afro-Peruvian music is.
Afro-Peruvian music may be widely listened to in Peru, yet this musical tradition did not exist before the 1950s. It was during the 1950s that scholars and Afro-Peruvian musicians began to revive and reconstruct this musical genre. Later, during the 1960s and 1970s, this musical genre would begin to expand. Although there were many musical artists and scholars contributing to the construction of this music, two individuals in particular, Victoria and Nicomedes Santa Cruz, would become widely known for their artistic contributions. While Victoria Santa Cruz focused more on the dances which would accompany Afro-Peruvian music, Nicomedes Santa Cruz would contribute a lot more musically. I was intrigued to learn more about Nicomedes Santa Cruz who is considered one of the most renowned decimistas, or poets, of Peru. Nicomedes’ poetic compositions during the 1950s through 1970s differed from those of older poets since he wrote more politically and socially charged lines; some of these would later translate into musical lyrics. I was surprised to read about the Santa Cruz family and the artistic contributions they are known for so I decided to get in contact with one of their family members, Rafael Santa Cruz, for an interview. Fortunately I was able to contact Rafael and I will be interviewing him soon.
Learning about these artists and the history I noticed a recurring pattern with Afro-Peruvian musical talent. Reading the histories of major Afro-Peruvian musical acts, such as Peru Negro and the Santa Cruz family, it seems that although these artists may start out with the intent to protest the social conditions they and the rest of the Afro-Peruvian population live in, their art forms ultimately become exclusive in terms of their audience. In the case of Nicomedes Santa Cruz, even though he has written socially conscious lyrics, his audience, after he became a well known poet, usually comprised of Peruvians from the social elite. Aside from beginning to discover this problematic aspect of Afro-Peruvian music, it also hit me that Afro-Peruvian music is talked about and remembered as something “traditional,” or a testament of the existence of a disappearing black population, a black population that seemed to exist during the early 20th century, but not necessarily a population that still exists. There is a lot of nostalgia revolving around this musical tradition, but the thing is that this population still exists within Peru, they’re not just a race that can be nostalgically thought about, but rather one that is still present and must be given more visibility. The nostalgia and exclusivity of commercial Afro-Peruvian music are two of the major obstacles blocking the evolution of present-day Afro-Peruvian music, and I plan on interviewing various musical artists during the month of January to get their opinion on the matter.
Working towards the recognition of the Afro-Peruvian population is Teatro del Milenio, an artistic group focusing on Afro-Peruvian music and Dance. When I wasn’t conducting hardcore research sessions I visited Teatro del Milenio at their rehearsal space. There I was able to talk to Luis “Lucho” Sandoval, as well as watch him direct and prepare his crew of dancers for a performance. Their work left me in awe, and I made sure to attend their performance at a local jazz club. The following video is just a small taste of their artistic abilities:
With so much intensive research occurring during the month, I decided to finally make the trek to Machu Picchu at the end of November. As I hiked up the side of Huayna Picchu, a mountain which rises above the Machu Picchu ruins, I didn’t think too much about music, mostly because I was concentrating on being able to breathe (it’s pretty much a vertical hike up Huayna Picchu, which is at an altitude of 8920 feet at its peak), as well as making a mental note to add hiking to the list of activities I consider legit.
Aside from having a blast at Machu Picchu, I finally saw a llama. Making sure not to miss the golden opportunity, I snapped a photograph of myself with one.