Oftentimes when a spurt of creativity begins, you’re really not sure how long it’ll last. The insecurity posed by such moments of hardcore awesomeness makes you work intensely. Savoring every moment of hard work, while at the same time experiencing wavering moments of doubt, you launch into a phase of uncontrolled productivity. This is what I experienced as 2011 finally came around.
I started the year off right in Peru by beginning to film in Lima. I had the opportunity to film several musicians and families, so when February rolled around I loaded my filming equipment onto a bus and began the month by taking a 14 hour bus-ride to Northern Peru. I had previously traveled to Northern Peru in December, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to film in this part of the country. Two communities in particular, Zaña and Yapatera, left me in awe by the dedication of its community members to keep the town’s Afro-Peruvian heritage alive, and I intended to use my camera to capture their efforts.
After my fourteen-hour bus-ride I finally arrived in Piura, one of Peru’s coastal cities. Located only forty minutes east of Piura is Yapatera, a small town of about six thousand residents. This small town in Northern Peru has the largest percentage of Afro-Peruvian residents and I was eager to find out how music played a role in the lives of its inhabitants. In Yapatera I spoke with two of the town’s leaders, Abelardo Alzamora and Lilian Leon. Speaking with Abelardo and Lilian, I learned more about the dynamics of race relations in the town and negative implications which discrimination had previously had on the town’s children. Lilian explained to me how prior to the community’s efforts to exalt their Afro-Peruvian heritage, self-hatred had been one of the negative consequences of discrimination. Luckily Lilian and Abelardo explained how this was becoming less of a problem, especially since parents were now being more conscious of teaching their children that Afro-Peruvians have also contributed to Peru’s history.
I accomplished a lot of filming in Yapatera and I learned that more than music, literature and ceramics were helping the community’s members appreciate their African heritage. Although music didn’t play such a strong role in the community, poetry did, and I was able to speak with several of the town’s cumananeros, or poets of Peru’s cumananas. I had heard about cumananas before when speaking to other musicians, but this was the first time I was able to experience the presentation of cumananas firsthand. Cumananas are native to Peru and they can best be explained as improvised poems that are presented in a singsong style. Listening to Yapatera’s cumananeros was an amazing experience, especially given that many of the cumananas I heard have never been published before.
After spending three days filming inside mototaxis, I jumped unto another bus and headed fours hours south to Zaña. I had visited Zaña before, but this time I was able to interview the founders (pictured above) of the small town’s Museo Afro Peruano, the first museum devoted to Afro-Peruvian culture in all of Peru. Speaking with them I learned that the museum offered the town’s children with musical opportunities they otherwise might not have. Not only does the museum allow the town’s children to play an integral part in their programming at no cost, the town’s adolescents are also given an opportunity to volunteer at the museum.
Visiting Zaña I was also introduced to musical instruments I hadn’t seen in Lima or southern Peru. Some of these instruments included the checo, a hollowed out gourd used as a percussion instrument, as well as the marimba, an instrument recently reconstructed in Zaña. The picture above includes several of these instruments, many of which have been reconstructed and saved by the Museo Afro Peruano.
My trip to Northern Peru was a welcome change from the constant chaos of Lima. Filming was productive, and I got to enjoy the beaches of Northern Peru!