Music and Dance
Traditional Peruvian music can be easily divided between música criolla, music from the coast, and música folklórica, known as music from the mountains and the jungle. The best-known example of the latter is Simon & Garfunkel’s 1970s hit “El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could),” arranged from an original song composed by Daniel Alomía Robles in 1913.
The huayno is the most popular dance form in Andean music. It originated in Peru as a combination of traditional rural folk music and popular urban dance music. High-pitched vocals are usually accompanied by a variety of instruments, including the quena (Andean flute), charango (a small mandolin), harp, saxophone, and percussion. In the last few decades huayno has undergone a huge change with the introduction of electronic instruments, including synthesizers and electric guitars. Nevertheless, the dance form utilizes a distinctive rhythm in which the first beat is stressed, followed by two short beats. The huayno is pop music for an audience of millions of listeners across the Andes. Despite constant evolution, its themes remain the pain of love lost and being far from home.
Andean music sounds different from Western music in part because it relies mainly on the pentatonic scale instead of the diatonic scale. The instruments include different types of quenas, zampoñas (double-row panpipes including the sicus, which can be as tall as the musician playing it), tarkas (squared flutes that produce an eerie sound), and antaras (single-row panpipes). There is also a huge range of rattles, bells, and drums, such as the tambor and bombo, which are made from stretched animal skins. Most of these instruments, as excavations prove, have been used at least 5,000 years.
In the last five centuries Peru’s highlanders have incorporated a range of wind and brass instruments, including clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, euphoniums, and tubas. But the most important European contributions were stringed instruments like the violin, the guitar, and the harp, which was transformed into the Andean harp. This instrument looks like a western harp with 36 strings but has a half-conical, boatlike base that gives it a rich, deep sound. The 10-stringed charango is about the size of a mandolin and is made from wood or the shell of an armadillo.
Music evolved in a whole new way on Peru’s coast, where African slaves were brought from western Africa over three centuries to work on sugarcane and cotton plantations. Nowadays the Afro-Peruvian population—though small compared to that of other South American countries such as Colombia or Brazil—continues to exert a huge influence on Peru’s music, food, and sports. The slaves brought with them African rhythms and combined them with Spanish and Andean music to create festejo and the landó. Dance forms sprung up alongside the music, including zapateo—a form of tap dancing—and zamacueca. In one frenetic dance known as El Alcatraz, women shake their hips furiously to avoid having their skirts lit on fire by men holding candles behind them.
The area of Afro-Peruvian music expands from Lima all the way south to the small town of El Carmen, including Mala, Cañete and Chincha. But it was in El Carmen where a renaissance began in the 1970s, mainly due to the Ballumbrosio family, which made Afro-Peruvian music famous around the world. Outstanding performers of this genre include Victoria Santa Cruz, Susana Baca, Eva Ayllón, and more recently Novalima, a band from Lima that blends Afro-Peruvian rhythms with electronic sounds. Novalima’s second and third albums, Afro and Coba Coba, can be bought online from Amazon.
There is a wide range of percussive instruments used in Afro-Peruvian music. These include several types of drums, the rattling jawbone of a burro (known as a quijada), and a wooden box that is drummed with the hands (known as a cajón), among others.
The term música criolla refers directly to music played and danced by the criollos. The vals, which was inspired by the Viennese waltz, and the marinera, a very elegant dance from Lima and the northern coast similar to the Chilean cueca, both have unmistakable influences from Afro-Peruvian music as well. Major artists in this field include Eva Ayllón and Chabuca Granda, author of the popular La flor de la canela.
In these last 40 years, Peruvian music has evolved rapidly. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the traditional huayno fused with the tropical cumbia. As a result, chicha was born, the iconic music of highland immigrants living in Lima, having in Chacalón y la Nueva Crema the maximum exponent of this genre. Around the same period of time, hundreds of rock-based bands in the jungle were turning to cumbia, either tropical or psicodélica. Legendary bands such as Juaneco y su Combo and Los Mirlos have been revived in U.S. and European compilations and through local bands in Lima, such as Bareto.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition