|music that makes my ears wiggle|
~ THE AFRICAN DIASPORA IN SOUTH AMERICA - A SPECIAL
REVIEW SECTION ~
Slave traders brought Africans to the South American shores hundreds of years ago. These unwilling slaves brought African traditions and culture with them, and throughout the centuries, they've melded with Spanish and South American indigenous culture to create truly special music.
The musical samples on this player are for educational purposes only. If you dig the cuts, support the artists by picking up a CD.
I heard a lot of Afro-Peruvian music during my first visit to Peru in 1998. I am grateful to the Peruvians who played Eva Ayllon cassettes for me or took me to peñas (restaurant/bars featuring folk and criollo music and dancing) in Lima. I''m enthralled by Afro-Peruvian music and have purchased more CDs on subsequent trips to Peru or online. These are some of my personal favorites from my collection:
The following two I originally wrote I wrote upon returning from my first trip to Peru in 1998. Both CDs remain are still among my favorites.
Eva Ayllon "Musica
Negra" (1998 Mediasat America, Ltd.)
has noticeably more percussive elements in her music than Susana Baca, in
addition to the requisite nylon acoustic guitar. The grooves are very seductive,
with a very loose, relaxed sort of feel that is intoxicating. "No Valentin,"
"Toro Mata" and "Ruperta" have this sort of feel, and also incorporate male
background vocals in a quasi-call and response manner that reveals further
African influences. Eva Ayllon seems to be extremely popular in her homeland, as
I talked to quite a number of people in Lima, Puno (by Lake Titicaca), and Cusco
who really liked her, and saw a multitude of posters announcing her concerts.
She has a very rich, big voice that often tends to be more lively than Susana
Baca. I have not seen this disc in the United States, but you may want to try
your luck at some of the Latin record stores. Me gustan las obras de Eva Ayllon
-- su voz esta bonito y sensual.
Listen to "Toro Mata" on the MP3 flash player above
note: I've still never seen this Eva Ayllon CD anywhere. I have, however, seen Eva Ayllon twice here, once at the John Anson Ford Ampitheatre, and the other at Amoeba Records in Hollywood for an in-store promoting her first American release. Live, she is engaging and lively, and exudes great playfulness along with her band. She autographed my copy of "Musica Negra", shown above.
|"Lo Mejor Del Ritmo Negro Peruano" (El Virrey Ind., Musicales S.A.) is a well-recorded compilation CD of songs between 1971 and 1985 that I heard while eating breakfast at a really cool art gallery/restaurant in Cusco called Las Señoritas. It features more Afro-Peruvian music, as the title states, from artists such as Nicomedes Santa Cruz, Conjunto Peru Negro (singing "Lando", a popular song in Peru that appears on other compilations by other artists), Carlos Soto, Lucila Campos, and others. It also features "Toro Mata" by Conjunto Peru Negro, with male vocals, matching Eva Ayllon's version with equal finesse. "Saca Camote Con El Pie" by Lucila Campos Con Pepe Torres y su Conjunto is somewhat reminiscent of "No Valentin" in feel at the beginning, incorporating some lively piano playing in the background. The nylon acoustic guitars, like Eva Ayllon's, offer serpentine, earthy grooves and complement the vocals and low-key percussion beautifully. This CD is also another great Peruvian find!|
(note: this compilation remains my favorite compilation of Afro-Peruvian music, and as well, one of my favorite CDs. It focuses primarily on 1970s, although there are three songs from Lucila Campos from 1985, and is beautiful and groovy all the way through. This compilation is still in print and available through www.perucd.com.)
Oscar Avilés y Arturo “Zambo” Cavero, "Música
negra del Perú: Mueve Tu Cu-Cu", IEMPSA (10" EP)
I purchased this from an eBay seller who lives in Peru, and fortunately, over five months later, she actually decided to send it. And thankfully, it was worth the wait. "Mueve Tu Cucu" translates roughly to "move your bum", aptly titled, as if you can sit still to this, you need to check yer pulse. These two heavyweights of Afro-Peruvian music naturally kick things off with "Mueve Tu Cu-Cu", a lively festejo written by José Villalobos, and keep it moving with "Son de los Diablos". The entire six-song EP is filled with extremely lively playing, kicked along by Cavero's loose cajón (wooden percussion box which originated in Peru) playing. A lot of my older Afro-Peruvian music does not have bass guitar, but this does here, giving Avilés' acoustic guitar more girth. Side Two ends with the always racy "El Alcatraz", an erotic, agile couples dance where a woman has paper tied at the back of her waist. The man attempts to ignite the paper with a lit candle. Agile waist movements are used that draw loving encounters. This six-song EP is highly recommended.
Listen to "Son de Los Diablos" on the MP3 flash player above
Juntos", Oscar Aviles, Lucila Campos, Arturo "Zambo" Cavero, IEMPSA (CD)
Also purchased in Peru but available through perucd.com, much of this CD is similar stylistically to "Música negra del Perú: Mueve Tu Cu-Cu", although a bit dryer (less reverb) and more direct sounding...and of course, with Lucila Campos on some of the songs. "Mueve tu cu cu" sounds relatively similar to the EP, but with 19 songs, there's generally more diversity. Stylistically, it makes a departure from "Música negra del Perú: Mueve Tu Cu-Cu" by including more of the jaunty festejos. "Negro ñato" is has an insanely sultry groove with call-and-response choruses, while "Dos papas" (festejo) sounds more like many of Lucila Campos' later solo efforts, with big sunny horns (there's not many horns on this release). There's numerous cajón-handclap breakdowns with shout-outs (where the engineer seems to love cranking up the reverb). Also features the bass prominently in every song, again, often doubling Avilés' acoustic guitar. Lively and sure-footed, there's not a clunker in the bunch. Damn good stuff.
Lucila Campos y Arturo
“Zambo” Cavero, "Mueve Tu Cucu", 2004 IEMPSA (CD)
Lucila Campos has a history with Afro-Peruvian music extending back to the '60s, when she was one of the singers performing with Peru Negro (along with Eva Ayllon). Her bold, brassy voice counters Cavero's big, scratchy rhythmic voice. Again, as with the previous two, we have bass guitar as well. The guitar playing (presumably that of Avilés since he plays guitar here) has more of a festejo feel, giving a slightly different flavor and groove to the CD. Track 11 is a medley ho-down of Afro-Peruvian proportions, replete with vocals from all three and festive horns, with "Aurora" (vals) leading straight into "El Negrito Chinchivi" (festejo) and on, alternating between valses and festejos. The festivities close with the striking "Jesu Y Manue" and "Que Linda Que Soy Negrito", with Campos' striking vocal soaring over increasingly insistent rhythms. Available through perucd.com.
"Sus Raíces", Peru
Negro, IEMPSA (2 CD)
This two-CD brings together two 1970s releases, "Gran Premio Del Festival Hispanoamericano de la danza y la cancion" and their follow-up, "Son de los Diablos", and is not only an amazing collection of Afro-Peruvian music, but one seriously groovy collection of music.
Peru Negro was the brainchild of Ronaldo Campos, who formed in the folkloric dance and music group in 1969 with three other men who were members of Victora Santa Cruz' Teatro y Danzas Negras del Peru, who initially trained them. According to Heidi Carolyn Feldman's informative Black Rhythms of Peru book, Victoria Santa Cruz initially criticized these men for "exoticizing their blackness for tourists", but one pointed out to her that this was a much-needed opportunity to earn an income." Indeed, Peru Negro won first place at the 1969 Hispanoamerican Festival of Song and Dance in Argentina (Lucila Campos also performed with them), transforming them into the toast of Peru overnight.
Feldman's book discusses the collaboration that
existed between Peru Negro and several white and mestizo artists and
intellectuals, including Chabuca Granda and poet César Calvo, explaining how
Calvo infused Peru Negro's programs with explanations of Afro-Peruvian folklore,
religious elements of West africa, and the writings of black poets. Calvo
performed with Peru Negro while painting his face black, an act that was not
common and not considered "minstrelsy" or racist in Peru. Much of the
staging of African traditions and "blackness" was an effort to bolster an
Afro-Peruvian revival, as much of the older African slave traditions had died or
were in danger of dying. Due in part to Peru Negro's continued existence
and touring, as well as some of their members serving on the faculty of LIma's
National Folklore School, has resulted in the perception that Peru Negro's way
of performing Afro-Peruvian music and dance is the "correct way" of doing so.
Because of this, they've created a "new" national memory of Afro-Peruvian
folklore and influenced just about all Afro-Peruvian music and dance that has
come since them. Fortunately, it's a lively, lovely music.
Many of these songs, including "Toro Mata" (referring to the defeat of Spain), "Mi Compadre Nicolas", "Lando", "Ollita No Ma", and "Alcatraz Quema Tu" also appear on the amazing Lo Mejor Del Ritmo Negro Peruano compilation. Lucila Campos' vocals, particularly on the lament "Pobre Negrita" (which she performed at the Argentinean festival) and "Navidad Negra Y Zapateo Criollo" are almost eerie in their emotion, where you can really feel the heaviness of the lament. Most of the other songs are fast-paced dance songs filled with dense percussion, groovy 6/8 guitars, and lively call-and-response vocals. A classic, beautiful collection, and easily one of my favorites.
Listen to "Lando" by Peru Negro on the MP3 flash player above
Novalima, "Afro" (Quango,
When I first came across Novalima on MySpace, before their music started, I wasn't sure that I would like this blend of Afro-Peruvian music and electronica. One of the aspects of Afro-Peruvian music I enjoy, after all, is the exuberance and looseness and interplay of the cajones, quijada, and other percussion instruments. I needn't have had this thought. When their music started up, I was impressed. Novalima's approach is a decidedly low-key albeit danceable one, and one that not only respects the Afro-Peruvian music that came before it, but does so with by keeping a strong sense of the song. Although hardly dub, Novalima incorporates dub-like echoes throughout its spacious mix. Producers Ramón Pérez Prieto, Rafael Morales, Carlos Li Carrillo, and Grimaldo del Solar formed Novalima in Lima, inviting several other respected musicians, including vocalist Milagros Guerrero, cajón player Juan Medrano Cotito. Percussionist Mangue Vasquez is also the grandson of Porfirio Vasquez, one of the earliest founders of the Afro-Peruvian movement in the 1950s. They've created a deep blend of lounge, downtempo with dub-like elements, and moody electronica that incorporates samples of Lucila Campos and Arturo "Zambo" Cavero alongside new instrumentation and electronics. Well done.
Victoria Santa Cruz, "...con Victoria
Santa Cruz y Gente Morena", IEMPSA
A release from Victora Santa Cruz, the creator of Teatro y Danzas Negras del Peru, and the person who guided and trained the four founding members of the influential music/dance group Peru Negro. She is a polarizing figure in Peru, and if the book "Black Rhythms of Peru" is any indication, a charismatic and spiritual one. This release begins with five lively valses, with her earthy rich voice grounding the affair. Then, with "Caramba Si", a marinera, the music slows and becomes more precious, and in my opinion, beautiful. She performs "Ven a mi Encuentro" (zamacueca), the lovely "La Picantera", "Los Tamaleros" (a lovely duet with Nicomedes Santa Cruz, her poet and musician brother,and one of the most influential figures in Afro-Peruvian music), and "Las Lavenderas" with grace.
Beginning with the eleventh song, Gente Morena takes over, with Nicomedes Santa Cruz introducing the songs and then playing them. I do find the constant introductions, followed by very short versions of the songs, to be distracting. I'd rather have more songs and less talking. Nevertheless, the Gente Morena songs are engaging.
Listen to "La Picantera" on the MP3 flash player above
"Lo Mejor Del Genero Afro
Peruano", (Play Music & Video - 2 CD)
Why am I reviewing this although it's not among my favorite Afro-Peruvian releases? Because it's also by far the most comprehensive, far-reaching compilation that I've heard.
For me, its diversity is wonderful, but ultimately what makes it extremely uneven for me.
You can hear the poetic musings of one of modern Afro-Peruvian's founders, Nicomedes Santa Cruz along with the bland ballads of Elsa Maria Elejalde (singing "Negra" here, sounding a bit like Susana Baca). I like the version of "Toro Mata", one of my favorite Afro-Peruvian songs, by Caitro Soto, although I don't care so much for the calm, smooth female chorus responses in the, preferring the rougher, cruder call-and-response vocals in other versions, such as Eva Ayllon's incredible version on "Musica Negra". "Saca Las Manos" by Julie Freundt creates a sort of contemporary Afro-Peruvian fusion with jazz-style bass and sax, world-beat percussion, three-part female choruses of the blandest variety, digital horns, and percussion breakdowns with curious lo-fi rapping. Ugh. I understand the desire to move beyond tradition (see my review on Novalima, for example) but this sucks so bad I can't imagine even NPR touching this. There's lively versions of "Mueve Tu Cucu" (roughly, "move your butt") with Zambo Cavero and Lucila Campos, a smooth but nice version of "Inga Inga", "Saca Roncha" by Hnos. Santa Cruz, who introduces some jazz-like diminished chords on guitar that smooths out some of the choruses, and the amazing "Prendeme La Vela" by Aberlardo Vasquez and Cumanana from 1971, which also appears on "Lo mejor Del Ritmo Negro Peruano", my favorite compilation of Afro-Peruvian music.
The second CD continues with the rough voice of Zambo Cavero with a calmer female chorus singing "El Alcatraz", a fiery sexually charged song. After this, the venerable Victoria Santa Cruz (all hail one of the founders of modern Afro-Peruvian music, director of the Teatro y Danzas Negras del Peru, and the one who trained the founders of Peru Negro) sings the sublime "No May Negro Que Se Me Resista", a song I am excited to finally have heard. Los Hijos Del Sol (with Eva Ayllon singing) turn in an updated, breezy version of "El Tamalito" with steel drums and flute. Caitro Soto delivers a version of "Zambo Malato" fusing the lando with jazzy alto sax. "Jipi Jay" by Pepe Vasquez begins with boogie-woogie piano before a harmonica plays "O Susana" just before the horns kick in and Vasquez starts singing choruses of "Jipy Jay" ("yippee yai, yippee yippee yai! yippee yai, yippee yippee yai!") amidst piano and large groups of female background chorus, then ends with slow boogie-woogie piano. No, I'm not making this up. Why didn't he include steel drums and rapping to round it out? "A Golpe de Tierra" by Maria del Carmen Dongo y Manomadera features thundering drums and cajon percussion solos. The compilation closes with several songs that were nominated for Grammy Awards: The jazzy smooth stylings of Susana Baca, newer Peru Negro, jazzy breezy workouts by Alex Acuna and Felix Casaverde, new versions of old songs by the still-performing Peru Negro, and "Zapato Prestao" by Ronie Campos and Felix Casaverde.
Festejos, valses, landos, contemporary Afro-Peruvian fusion, poems, old, new. Pepe Vasquez, Eva Ayllon, Katherine Cuadros, Rafael Santa Cruz/Leslie Patten/Laureano Rigol, and many others. Jazz bass and sax, steel drums, horns, rapping, and more alongside the more traditional cajon and quijada, and more. If you wish to hear an extremely diverse listen of Afro-Peruvian music old and new in all its diversity, this is the compilation to get. Its comprehensiveness is its strength. But for me, it's definitely also its weakness. Purchased through www.perucd.com.
Classics: The Soul of Black Peru, Luaka Bop, 1995
This is the compilation that introduced many North Americans to Afro-Peruvian music. I first heard this in 1996, and was immediately taken by the music, particularly Manuel Donayre, Lucila Campos, Roberto Rivas and Conjunto Gente Morena, Eva Ayllon, Aberlardo Vasquez and Cumanana, Peru Negro, and Nicomedes Santa Cruz.
Susana Baca starts off the affair with a calm, soulful (some would say "untraditional" or "watered down") rendition of "Maria Lando". In what must be arrogance of the tallest order, the liner notes state that Susan Baca represents a more "sophisticated" Afro-Peruvian music. Gregorio Martinez and Fietta Jarque apparently feel that softly crooning over a slower tempo and injecting North American-style chord changes to the chorus automatically denotes additional "sophistication."
The compilation ends awkwardly, with David Byrne (who compiled this disc) of Talking Heads fame reducing "Maria Lando" to an hyper-dramatic, bombastic, string-laden affair with strong gringo-accented vocals and not much of a groove. Still, this is a strong compilation, easily available in North America, and a strong introduction to the world of Afro-Peruvian music.
"Black Rhythms of Peru", Heidi
Carolyn Feldman, author (Wesleyan University Press, book)
After attending a Susana Baca concert, author Heidi Carolyn Feldman was moved to write a book about how some, such as Susana Baca, have saved Afro-Peruvian traditions from obscurity by, in some instances, recreating forgotten music, dance, and poetry of the descendants of African slaves living in Peru. The book's own description is good, so I'll let it do the rest:
Book Description: In the late 1950s to 1970s, an Afro-Peruvian revival brought the forgotten music and dances of Peru's African musical heritage to Lima's theatrical stages. The revival conjured newly imagined links to the past in order to celebrate--and to some extent recreate--Black culture in Peru. In this groundbreaking study of the Afro-Peruvian revival and its aftermath, Heidi Carolyn Feldman reveals how Afro-Peruvian artists remapped blackness from the perspective of the "Black Pacific," a marginalized group of African diasporic communities along Latin America's Pacific coast. Feldman's "ethnography of remembering" traces the memory projects of charismatic Afro-Peruvian revival artists and companies, including Jose Durand, Nicomedes and Victoria Santa Cruz, and Peru Negro, culminating with Susana Baca's entry onto the global world music stage in the 1990s. Readers will learn how Afro-Peruvian music and dance genres, although recreated in the revival to symbolize the ancient and forgotten past, express competing modern beliefs regarding what constitutes "Black Rhythms of Peru."
Festejo: festive music (from "fiesta," Spanish for party). The festejo is the most joyous of Afro-Peruvian music styles.
Alcatraz: One of the most flirtatious and erotic dances in the world, and also a dance with a remarkable sense of humor. This is a couple's dance. Traditionally, the woman has a piece of tissue on her behind while the man dances with a lit candle. If the man can light the woman's fire, she is his.
|Cajon: A wooden-box in which the player sits on to play. Developed as a percussion instrument because the Spanish conquerors banned the West African drums that the slaves used, fearing that they were communicating with slaves.|
|Quijada: A donkey's jaw that is played by striking the wide part of the jaw with the fist to obtain a rattle sound (an instrument called a vibraslap is a copy of this instrument), and is also scrapped with a thin stick.|
(note: this Sexteto Tabala review was originally written in 2002)
|Sexteto Tabala "Colombie:
Les Rois Du Son Palenquero" (Musique Du Monde, 1999 - CD)
Afro-Colombian music from the Caribbean coastal town of Palenque de San Basilio. This fugitive slave village was isolated from the rest of Colombia, isolated from the Spanish slave traders. Sexteto Tabala are the descendants of the peasants from this village who decided to add a Colombian flavor to Cuban son (the sort of music that Buena Vista Social Club made famous). This music, however, is created without the use of guitars or horns, using primarily drums, bongos, maracas, and a marimbula, which produced the double-bass type sounds. Hypnotic rhythms, beautiful vocals, this is a another fine example of Afro-Latino music (Eva Ayllon's "Music Negra", an Afro-Peruvian CD, is another -- reviewed here in 1998), and shows decidedly more African influence than son or most Afro-Peruvian music. Highly recommended, and almost impossible to stop playing! (this review originally written in 2002)
|Les Joyeuses Ambulances,
"Musique Funéraire de Palenque" (Buda Musique, CD)
More music from the descendants of African slaves living in the Caribbean coastal town of Palenque de San Basilio. As the bandleader Graciela Salgado says, "We have named this band 'The Jolly Ambulances' because we are jolly old women, we drink rum, and sing and liven up funeral wakes. It is the art of mourning the dead to please our ancestors." And it is indeed music to liven up funeral wakes, but just about anything else as well. These laments or litanies are usually sung by women while men play the batata drums. No guitars, nothing else, simply voices and drums and shakers, playing mesmerizing, repetitive music that reaches far back to the Bantu people of Africa, retaining some of the indigenous flavor of lumbalu and bullerengue that their slave ancestors brought with them, transmitted orally through the centuries. "Chi Ma Ri Luango"'s lumbalu lyrics translate to: "I am from the Congo/I am from Angola/I am from Luango Angola/My name is Juan Gungu/Juan Gungu you must call me." I call it celebratory. To see the the Jolly Ambulances sing nonstop all night long to celebrate the dead with dignity would likely leave a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, even as the groove stayed on. As with Sexteto Tabala, highly recommended.
Festival and Cult Music of Northern Brazil" (Lyrichord, CD)
The prominent drums here are hollowed-out tree trunks with deerskin called carimbo drums. Another drum provides a groaning bass line by passing a piece of palmito through a wooden box. The player wets his hands in a bowl of water kept nearby, reaches into the box, and pulls on the palmito, creating the groan by friction. Gongs and rattles are also used. This is a fantastic recording of various religious ceremonies and festivals, with large crowds playing driving drum rhythms, clapping, shouting, singing haunting chorus melodies, and dancing, and possession sequences that occur among devotees of the batuques. Excellent release with in-depth liner notes.
(NOTE: The Marimba Cayapas review was originally written in 2006 after returning from Ecuador)
|Marimba Cayapas, "Típica Marimba
Esmeraldeña" (orig.1970, ONIX)
So good. Frantic and joyous Afro-Ecuadorian music from ancestors who arrived on the Esmeraldas coast between the early 1500s and 1600s via wrecked slave ships or bold escapes through the dense jungle from Colombian sugar plantations. The main instrument, the marimba, is virtually unchanged from its West African origins, and in Esmeraldas is made from a very hard wood called chonta and bamboo resonators. The music is frenzied, with maracas and drums accompanying dizzying marimba rhythms while trance-like, often improvised vocals weave it all together. It's almost impossible to hear this and not want to get up and dance. Very colorful and vibrant, and highly recommended, assuming you can find it. It was originally released in 1970 on LP, and I found a copy in a CD store in Loja, Ecuador. If anyone else has cool Afro-Ecuadorian marimba music, please email me about how I can get it - thanks!
"Vodou: Ritual Possession Of
The Dead" (Interra Records, 1997 - CD)
You know the story by from the previous reviews. West African slaves with Yoruba traditions were forcibly brought by slave traders to - this time - Haiti. "Vodou" (or "voodoo" as it is commonly called) is a word that some trace to an African word for "spirit" by the West African Yoruba people who lived in 18th and 19th century Dahomey, now present-day Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. Its roots may go back 6,000 years in Africa. Vodou belief recognizes a Supreme Being, but feel he is too remote for personal worship. They instead hope for possession by the loa, intermediary spirits between the hopeful devotees and the Supreme Being.
Vodou uses music, dance, and spirit possession as a part of religious rituals. There are two kinds of loa, either rada or petwo. Rada drums have cowhide covers attached with wooden pegs, and tend to be played more on the beat while devotees typically wear all white. Petro drums, which have a goatskin cover attached with cords and a more aggressive sound. Petro rituals are characterized by red clothing and off-beat, sharp drumming. Of course, there are many regional variations, and only some are presented here. There's a lot of reverberation on the voices, and this creates an extremely heady, hallucinatory atmosphere. Definitely recommended despite the dippy, sensationalistic cover, even more so if you can purchase it for thirty cents used from Amazon as I was lucky enough to do.
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