the black pacific

(photo courtesy of Times Square Records)

Perú Negro (photo courtesy of Times Square Records)

Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Caribbean, Pan-African…there don’t seem to be any limit to the ways that Africa has become hyphenated over the last few centuries of cultural blending and development.

UVM music professor Alex Stewart went a long way to sort it all out in last night’s pre-concert talk at Burlington’s Amy Tarrant Gallery.

The evening’s concert featured Afro-Peruvian singer/goddess Eva Ayllón, and with a night of traditional valses, festejo, and landó ahead a bit of explanation greatly helped in understanding how all these related but distinct musical styles came together.

A few illuminating stats opened the discussion, like the fact that half of Lima’s population was black in the year 1593. By the year 1940 only 0.47% of the population was black, as intermarriage had become common.

It wasn’t really until the mid-1950s with increased international civil rights awareness that Black Pacific* culture was revitalized and recognized for its uniqueness, thanks largely to the efforts of Jose Duran’s Pancho Fierro Dance Company, and brother/sister musicians Nicomedes and Victoria Santa Cruz. The old dances, the traditions and musical language were revisited through the recollections of the elders, and restored with a new infusion of sounds and rhythms.

I didn’t get to the concert itself, but Stewart’s compelling pre-show discussion sent me on a late-night dig through my archive to hear some of the sounds he had mentioned. From my own collection, a few recommendations: Coba Coba, a new recording from the contemporary Afro-funk band Novalima; Lima’s own roots folk band Perú Negro; singer/guitarist Chabuca Grande; singer Susana Baca; and Eva Ayllón (who is both a force of nature AND pop culture).

For further reading: Paul Gilroy’s 1993 book, The Black Atlantic & this article about Peruvian folk styles.

* (Stewart generally identifies the “black Pacific” culture with Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and the Guerrero and Oaxaca regions of Mexico)

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