Musings From Northern Peru

Having come back from Machu Picchu, I was in a Zen-like state as I started the month of December. I’m not sure if it was Cusco’s altitude or my anticipation of Christmas, but during the first two weeks of the month I picked up the pace and became incredibly productive.

One of the things I first learned upon my arrival in Peru was the invisibilization that Afro-Peruvian communities face on a daily basis. The discrimination and lack of respect given to Peru’s Afro descendent population is perplexing, but it’s a reality, and in 2009 Peru’s government issued a national apology to this community for having to live life this way. Having learned, and now witnessed, the invisibility and constant discrimination faced by Lima’s Afro-Peruvian population, I hoped to begin the month of December by getting a production phase for my documentary off the ground. By beginning to film I hoped to learn even more of the role of Afro-Peruvian music and how it can function as a source of cultural pride. The examination of Afro-Peruvian music’s role in the daily lives of Afro-Peruvian youth was also another facet of my research I hoped to advance in, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out about Makungu, one of Lima’s few Afro-Peruvian youth groups.

Makungu Para el Desarrollo is one of few human rights groups, run by youth, that aims to work towards the eradication of discrimination against Peru’s Afro-Peruvian communities. I later found out that Makungu would be hosting their 3rd Annual Afro-Peruvian Identity Awards Ceremony in Lima. I decided to attend this ceremony and I was left in awe by the dedication and effort put into the event by the group’s members. It wasn’t just Makungu’s hard work, which was evident in the event’s organization, it was their desire to aid the positive construction of an Afro-Peruvian identity that impressed me the most. Now that I’ve finally found an Afro-Peruvian group run by young adults, I hope to interview them soon on their experiences in the city, as well as learn more about the role which Afro-Peruvian music has played in their everyday lives.

During Makungu’s award ceremony “Mejor Musico,” or “Best Musician,” was one of the award categories. To my surprise Rafael Santa Cruz, one of Peru’s best known cajon players, was awarded. I had been in contact with Rafael before, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to meet him in person. Coming from one of Peru’s most influential Afro-Peruvian musician families, I knew this would be one of few opportunities I would have to finally secure an interview with him. Luckily, Rafael was easy to catch up with after the ceremony, and I finally set up my first interview with one of Peru’s most recognized Afro-Peruvian musicians.

Having set up the interview with Rafael a wave of relief soon washed over me. Month four of my time as Fulbright-mtvU grantee and I could finally move from a pre-production to a production phase. Of course my wave of relief was soon followed by a feeling of disbelief, and shortly afterwards of panic. Rafael Santa Cruz would ultimately be my first, and one of the most crucial, interviews for my work. Thoughts of me accidentally knocking over my tripod, or, worse yet, of me forgetting to press the record button flooded my mind days before the interview. Thankfully I discovered that a series of quickly, and methodically, applied mental slaps can quickly help you regain your focus. A few days before my interview I was finally ready to commence filming.

My interview with Rafael went better than planned. Not only did I touch upon all the central themes I had envisioned, Rafael also put me in touch with another one of Peru’s best cajon players. Having begun a production phase, I was soon whisked away from Lima to Northern Peru. I hadn’t imagined that I would travel to Northern Peru so soon into my grant, but this trip proved invaluable for my research.

When speaking of Peru’s Afro-Peruvian population the northern part of the country is rarely thought of. This is unfortunate given that several important Afro-Peruvian communities reside in this part of the country. My trip to Northern Peru began in Yapateras, a small town of less than six thousand residents. Although small in size, Yapateras is currently considered the town with the highest percentage of Afro-Peruvians. There I had the opportunity to listen in on an interview with the community’s leaders. Abelardo Alzamora and Lilian Leon spoke to me about the town’s efforts to progress and become better known through its implementation of a ceramics program. Although I wasn’t able to witness the musical culture in Yapateras, there was a noticeable effort by community leaders to incorporate art, in this case ceramics, as a source of financial and cultural empowerment. It was interesting to hear community leaders express their desire to use artistic mediums in their struggle to be seen and heard. This program hopes to instill pride, as well as increase tourism, by creating ceramics pieces that celebrate the community’s African heritage. The pictures below are examples of the pieces of artwork being created.

Although I didn’t get the chance to interview Abelardo and Lilian during my short stay in Yapateras, I hope to come back next month to film. Soon afterwards I left Yapateras and headed three hours south, where I would visit Zaña.

The small town of Zaña left me in utter amazement. I had heard about Zaña and its strong musical culture, but I hadn’t imagined it to be as strong as I would soon discover. In Zaña I visited the Museo Afro Peruano, the first museum in the country devoted to showcasing the impact of the African Diaspora not only in Peru, but throughout the world. I loved the strong presence of music and dance in the lives of the children who help run the Museo AfroPeruano. The most interesting part of this town was how intercultural it appeared to be. It was wonderful to see young children, Afro-Peruvians and non-Afro-Peruvians alike, sing and dance together. Seeing the group of children use music in this way I felt as if their songs and rhythms weren’t just about the empowerment of one race, rather they were an attempt to bring everyone together and to share and blend the beauty of all the races present (whether that be Afro-Peruvian, indigenous, or mestizo). Aside from being intercultural, I noted a strong desire, on the part of the museum, to reconstruct and save musical instruments that otherwise wouldn’t be known. I left Zaña with strong hopes of heading back, and I plan on doing so soon. The following is a picture of Zaña and some of the children who help run its museum.

Afterwards I would visit the small town of Capote. Capote is also known for its strong Afro-Peruvian presence; unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to witness the impact of its musical culture. The picture below is a brief snapshot of quotidian life in Capote.

3 thoughts on “Musings From Northern Peru

  1. Hey Yessica! Congrats on the Fulbright! I´m on a grant as well, but in Brazil. Thanks for bring Afro-Peruvians to the table. I look forward to following you these next few months. Btw, how can I keep in personal touch with you?

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  2. Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I¡¯m going to watch out for brussels. I¡¯ll appreciate if you continue this in future. Numerous people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

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