MACUILXOCHITL: Five Flower”, the Aztec god of music and dance
By Francisco Ciriza
In the early 1900’s, Peru, suffered in similar fashion, as did much of the “new” world. Communities, perhaps, in desperate searches for identity, clamored for the ever elusive, European ideal while indigenous and anything else close to home was first ignored then nearly forgotten.
Ronaldo Campos de la Colina, changed that in 1950 when he started his group now known as, Peru Negro. Campos understood the implications of losing such a large part of his people’s culture. Campos and his band mates went back into the traditionally African coastal communities of Peru to rediscover what mainstream society was attempting to leave behind. “They attempted to leave behind what they felt they needed to leave behind,” says Ronny Campos, who has succeeded his late father, Ronaldo, as the group’s musical and dance director.
With such a strong desire to preserve the rich history of Afro-Peruvian music and dance Campos and his cohorts conducted personal interviews with the elders and those of the communities through which they traveled via impromptu lessons from the masters who quietly maintained the traditional sounds and dances born out of the harsh lives lived by African slaves brought to work in the country’s mines. “Those elements never disappeared, but we never saw Africans becoming famous or even having the opportunities to perform their music and dance,” added Campos who spoke with us from his cellular phone as he and the rest of the rest of Peru Negro rode to their hotel having just arrived from Peru.
While most of those familiar with Peruvian music would probably think pan flutes and guitars, the Afro-Peruvian sound is based predominantly on dynamic percussive elements. A ban on drums placed on slaves by Spanish colonizers, Afro-Peruvian music was the act that gave impetus to the genre to develop its distinctive sound.
The cajón, which evolved from crates used to collect fruit, is a wooden box straddled by its player who bends down to beat the box by hand. The cajita is a small box used for collections in Catholic churches. One hand claps the lid open and closed while the other beats the side of the box with a stick. And there is no mistaking the sound of the quijada de burro. The side of this dried-out donkey jawbone is beaten with the player’s palm, which resonates the tuning-fork shape causing all the loosened teeth to vibrate
Guitar and passionate chanting and singing are added in tasteful doses to form the heart of Afro-Peruvian music that was literally brought back to both nationally and internationally by Peru Negro’s founders. Their sound became the national standard that all other Afro-Peruvian bands emulated. Peru Negro’s first internationally available recording, Sangre de un Don, was released by Times Square Records in the US in 2001 and their follow up, Polgorio, was also recently released by the label.
Campos and his troupes look forward to their current U.S. tour and have high expectations. “We are excited to be here once again and invite everyone to come witness our performances. I promise you will not be disappointed.”