Afro-Peruvian Music and Dance: An Introduction - by Film-maker Eve A. Ma
Thank you to film-maker Eve A. Ma for another great contribution to the World Music Travel Blog. If you like this article, check out her previous article on flamenco music in Spain here
If you’ve never heard of Afro-Peruvians (or Peruvians of African descent), you might wonder why anyone in the world (other than a person who was Afro-Peruvian) might be interested in Afro-Peruvian music.
Jesús López, dressed to participate in the Afro-Peruvian Christmas celebration with the hatajos de negritos (photo: Lidia López)
Well, first and foremost, because the music tells stories of how people who lived through horrific circumstances managed to come out of the experience with a sense of humor and an ability to rise above the terrible things that were happening to them. That, in my opinion, takes courage and wisdom, and is something to be admired.
So, you may ask, who ARE Afro-Peruvians?
They are Peruvians who are descendants of African slaves and the community numbers several million. They live mostly in the countryside of Peru near the coast, and in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Lima, the capitol city.
They are fully Peruvian in their language and customs, but in addition to mainstream Peruvian culture, they have inherited cultural traditions - including music and dance - from their African ancestors, and have been deeply influenced by their community’s history. In terms of music, they have created complex rhythms and numerous percussion instruments. The best known of these percussion instruments is the Peruvian cajón, which today is used not only in their traditional music, but also in some forms of Latin jazz and in flamenco fusion.
Their dances are very lively and colorful. One element of the dance is the zapateo footwork, which is kind of a cross between Spanish folkloric footwork, flamenco, and African dance. In the more traditional Afro-Peruvian communities, this zapateo is used in religious celebrations, especially during the celebrations of Christmas and the Virgin of the town of el Carmen.
Boys in the central square of el Carmen doing zapateo for tourists (photo: Hugeaux Photography)
In less traditional Afro-Peruvian communities, zapateo is used in stage productions, and many groups that now present Afro-Peruvian music and dance are made up of people who have no roots whatsoever in Africa. But they love to do zapateo because it´s pretty exciting to execute, and it also attracts a lot of audience attention.
Mother and daughter in the predominantly Afro-Peruvian town of el Carmen (photo: Hugeaux Photography)
To get an idea of what Afro-Peruvian traditional music and dance are like, you can go to YouTube. I, myself, created a documentary about these art forms and here is a LINK to one of my video clips from it. (I´d like to improve the quality of the image, but then I´d lose all those 21,000 + people who have watched it!) And here are other clips by other people, showing the Peruvian cajón and the other percussion instruments LINK, a stage presentation of the zapateo LINK, and a colorful dance presentation LINK.
Lalo Izquierdo, master percussionist, with some Afro-Peruvian percussion instruments
If you love world music and dance, or are interested in the African diaspora, or in the people of the world, or in percussion, you will find lots to attract you in the Afro-Peruvians.
The author of this article, Eve A. Ma, created the documentary A Zest for Life: Afro-Peruvian Rhythms, a Source of Latin Jazz. She has also made documentaries about other music and dance forms, as well as fictional dramas. Sign up for her mailing list to get some video from her work and learn about her projects and the cultural traditions they represent.