Musical Tour: Peru
by Rachel Devitt | April 13, 2014
What do you think of when you think Peru? Llamas? Pisco sours? Machu Picchu? Pan pipes? OK, all of that is there -- in spades, in fact. But this amazing country is home to a vast wealth of cultural riches, including a range of musical cultures that might surprise and will definitely enchant you. In the Andean highlands, folk music featuring various flutes (such as the quena and the zampoňa panpipe, also known as the antara in Quechua and the siku in Antara) is prominent, often in company with drums and played to accompany folk dances. Elsewhere, from the Cusco/Sacred Valley region to the villages and cities around Lake Titicaca, festivals and religious celebrations are often celebrated with brass instruments like the guayllaquepas trumpet. These celebrations are often marked by days (or weeks!) of raucous parades that feature brass bands, costumed paraders and dancers (we were lucky enough to recently witness the delightfully drunken and delirious last gasp of the famous Festival de la Virgen de la Candelaria, held every year in Puno, broadcast across the country and starring marching ensembles that put our high school band to shame!).
Along the coast, criollo musics (a mix of Spanish, indigenous and African influences) can be found, including Afro-Peruvian traditions like lando that feature the cajon drum (a big box you sit on to play) and the quijada (an actual donkey jaw played by scraping and rattling the teeth!). Artists like Susana Baca and Peru Negro introduced this sound to the world -- with a little help from David Byrne -- a couple decades ago, and the tradition continues today with innovative artists like Novalima (technically Peruvian expats based in New York) and Bareto.
In oil boom cities in the late '60s, a brand of psychedelic cumbia called chicha was created by bands like the legendary Juaneco y Su Combo. Named after an Incan corn liquor, chicha often featured Farfisa organs and wah-wah pedals, sometimes took up indigenous political causes and continues to enchant artists like Dengue Dengue Dengue! today. And don't forget pop music: Peru's got representatives of every brand of it you can imagine -- including Los Saicos, a foundational garage rock band sometimes credited with the birth of punk. Mix yourself up a wicked pisco sour, indulge in a little suspiro de limeña (or any selection from Peru's generally amazing cuisine) and start trekking!