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Photo by Max Fox

Peru has numerous rich musical traditions, ranging from the Coast to the Sierra to the Rainforest, and from North along the border of Ecuador, to the South along the border of Chile. Afro-Peruvian music occupies a unique place in Peruvian music and culture, influencing and being influenced by different musical genres. Some of the most iconic Peruvian songs, such as the Flor de la Canela, Toro Mata, and Son de los Diablos, have deep roots in Afro Peru. One of the most ubiquitous Peruvian instruments - the cajón - is an Afro-Peruvian creation, and can be found in many genres of music around the world.

The Instruments

While the cajón is the most important, there are a number of other percussion instruments played in Afro-Peruvian music.

La cajita is a small box hung around the neck. It is played with one hand opening and closing the top, and the other hitting the side with a stick. It keeps a steady beat and emphasizes the basic polyrhythmic structure of the song.

La quijada de burro is the jawbone of a donkey, with loose teeth that rattle when it is struck from the side. The quijada is used to emphasize some of the principal beats in the rhythm, and can add to the excitement of a song when dancers get really into it.

Las congas are an import from Cuban music, and add texture and rhythmic complexity to the music.

El bongó, another Cuban instrument, initially keeps the steady beat but adds flavor throughout the song as the bongocero adds ad lib accents.

La campana or cencerro is a cowbell often played by the lead singer, which keeps the beat but also often joins in during the call and response section of the song, giving extra energy and signaling to the dancers and the audience that it's time to really cut loose.

Festejo and Landó

While there are many genres within Afro-Peruvian music, the festejo is the most popular. Festejo - meaning party or celebration - is energetic dance music that often conveys messages about the community, daily life, or the struggles of African slaves or their descendents. One of the most popular festejos that the group loves to perform, "Jipi Jay" by Pepe Vasquez, is joyful. It says:


Why lose hope in seeing each other once again my friend?

It's just a so long, it's just a simple good bye.

Goodbye, goodbye, perhaps one day we'll meet again.

Festejos can also depict the struggles of black Peruvians. One festejo the group often performs is called "Compadre Nicolas". In this song, Nicolas comes from Lima with news of the liberation of all slaves, but the slave owners don't want to grant their freedom. The lyrics sing:

When my friend Nicolas came from Lima

He told us, "Negros! Relax!"

But my owner just said before lunch

Go plow the entire field.

Can't you see it's clear, my friend,

That they want to deceive us.

They say Ramón Castilla hasn't signed our emancipation.

Landó is another common Afro-Peruvian genre. Landó is slower and in a 6/8 time signature. It's songs can be more melancholic, but not always.

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