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Canción Criolla, the Afro-Peruvian cultural legacy

Written by Laurent Escobar | 29th September 2015 |

Category: Peru

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Each year on October 31, Peru celebrates its iconic 'Canción Criolla' (Creole Song), a music style that evolved between Colonial times until the first decades of the 20th century in Lima's Barrios Altos, Rímac, and La Victoria districts.

This event has taken place every year since 1944 when President Manuel Prado Ugarteche founded this tribute to creole music and the musicians who have pushed it into the spotlight over the years.

Canción Criolla has its roots in the Afro-Peruvian and Andean music, and really reflects the coastal culture of Peru today.

As Spanish colonists brought African slaves to Peru a musical style was created blending African, Andean and Spanish (ironically itself a mix of north African, middle eastern and European influences).

This hybrid, slightly subversive, musical genre was only practiced in semi-secret private gatherings until the 1950s, when scholars decided to compile traditional Peruvian songs and dances in a bid to counteract racism and marginalization of the country's traditional art forms..

Lucila Campos, Arturo 'Zambo' Cavero, Caitro Soto, Susana Baca, Eva Ayllon, and the Peru Negro dance company are some of the most famous artists that brought Cancion Criolla to the world's attention.

Canción criolla exists in various subtly different forms: Festejo, Landó, Pregon, El Tondero, Vals Criollo and Zamacueca for instance. However, it is the Marinera which is most famous, to the extent that it is often called 'the national dance of Peru'.

Chabuca Granda - Tun Tun (Marinera Limeña)

The Marinera is commonly thought to have originated with the Zamacueca, a dance and music style brought by African slaves to the coast of Peru. Also known as 'Chilena' it gained the name 'Marinera' after the Pacific War between Chile and Peru in 1879, in honour of the Peruvian Navy. Different versions of Marinera exist but the most popular ones are the 'Limeña', 'Costeña', and 'Serrana'.

Eva Ayllón - Za, Za, Za (Festejo)

Festejo is a festive form of the music. It can be seen as a celebration of Perú's independence and the emancipation of slaves. One of its main features is the cajónes (box-like drums) sound. It was not until the 1940's that Porfirio Vásquez invented it as a proper dance form.

Peru Negro - Zamba Malató (Landó)

Landó is often compared to blues music because of its minor scale and its rhythmic origin. Slower than the Festejo, it is related to South American dances of courtship because of its sensual movements and the soft tempo (composed in 12/8 time).

Victoria Santa Cruz & Abelardo Vásquez - La Picantera / El Tamalero (Pregones)

Pregón , meaning 'announcement' or 'street-seller's cry' in Spanish, is a type of song very popular in all of Latin America. It comes from cries of hawkers who added rural tunes to their lyrics in order to sell products (food, flowers, etc).

Lucy Avilès - De la misma sangre (Tondero)

El Tondero derives from the Spanish gypsy and ancient Andean music. It also has African influences in its chorus form. It is known as 'Marinera del Alto Piura' too.

Lucha Reyes - Jamas Impediras (Vals Criollo)

Vals Criollo (or Peruvian Waltz) is an adaptation of the European Waltz characterised by the use a cajón (box-like drum) as a rhythmic base. It became the main musical expression of the urban working class, with lyrics reflecting their cultural personality, conflicts, and value systems.

If you are in Peru during 'Día de la Canción Criolla,' expect numerous performances (both free and paying) in concert halls, peñas criollas, restaurants and in main squares, especially along the coast. In Lima, for example, free performances featuring famous Peruvian artists often take place in Plaza de Armas and Parque Kennedy.

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