Checos y Cuy

Since my arrival in Peru I have had the good fortune of being in contact with a family from Villa El Salvador, one of Lima’s most populated districts. In several of my blog posts I’ve mentioned Jaime Zevallos and his family’s dedication to keeping the Afro-Peruvian musical tradition alive from generation to generation. While I’ve hung out with the family and learned about Afro-Peruvian musical culture quite a bit as a result, it wasn’t until March that I realized what a big role this family was beginning to play within the production of the documentary I’m working on.

Although I’ve interviewed several musicians and dance groups within Lima, the Zevallos family has provided a different perspective on Afro-Peruvian music and the significance it plays in the family’s everyday lives. Having been in contact with the family since September I have now had the opportunity to meet most of the family living in Lima, and their accounts of the importance of Afro-Peruvian music in their daily lives has helped give me a broader sense of the role which music can play in the lives of people who do not practice Afro-Peruvian music for a living. Not only did I get to experience the impact of this music within the family’s lives, during the month of March I was able to film how the family’s passion for the music transcends the boundaries of their living room.

In January, when school was let out for summer vacation, the Zevallos family began hosting musical workshops for children living in Villa el Salvador. While the Zevallos’ implementation of musical workshops within Villa el Salvador is nothing new (workshops teaching the rhythms of Afro-Peruvian music exist throughout several districts of Lima), it still left me in awe that this family would, collectively, decide to spend its entire summer teaching the music that has helped define their identity to children in one of Lima’s most impoverished districts. A culmination of the family’s efforts was carried out at the beginning of March, when the family put together a festival for the residents of Villa el Salvador to enjoy.

I was there as the family worked steadily from seven on a Sunday morning, until the following day. The night’s events were full of laughter, and of course music, as the children who had participated in the family’s musical workshops presented to their family and friends (atop a large stage assembled just for the occasion) what they had learned in the cajon, zapateo, and festejo courses they took throughout the course of the summer. Even though it took months of practice and preparation, the Zevallos family managed to entertain members of the community, and it was great to see the audience get bigger and bigger as the event unfolded. It was even more amazing to witness the smiles on the faces of the Zevallos family at the end of the night.

The beginning of March may have started off well with my filming of the Zevallos family’s efforts in Lima, but the fun and sense of accomplishment continued when I travelled back to Northern Peru.

Given that March is the last month of summer in Peru, many summer classes host presentations to showcase the work their students have been busy learning all summer long. Having already filmed in the urban context of Lima, I travelled to Zaña (in Northern Peru) to film the efforts of workshops given in a rural environment. Talking to the founders of Zaña’s Museo Afro Peruano, I learned that more than four classes were taught over the course of three months and it was all done free of cost. I was impressed by the museum’s dedication to teaching the town’s children several skills, such as writing and performing decimas (a kind of performance poetry), dancing marinera norteña, and playing the checo (a percussion instrument shown below). The night’s performances did not fail to impress and as I looked around at the crowd that filled Zaña’s small plaza I couldn’t help but smile as I once again witnessed how music can bring together a group of people.

While filming in Zaña I also saw my first cuy (guinea pig) pen. Eating cuy is quite common in Peru and, although hesitant at first, I got to taste some during my stay in Zaña. It tasted like leathery chicken.

4 thoughts on “Checos y Cuy

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