Perú Negro - Jolgorio
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Perú Negro
Times Square Records

cd cover Perú Negro is a 35-year-old entity that has been celebrating the African influence in Peruvian music that has existed and evolved for over four hundred years. A characteristic element of Afro-Peruvian music is the use of the cajón, a wooden box that the player uses as a drum, sitting on it to play it. The instrument is an adaptation that arose when slaves in Peru were forbidden to use drums.

More a national institution than a band, Perú Negro is a large group of musicians and dancers that was founded in 1969 during a time of political upheaval in Peru. Many skilled musicians and dancers have gone through its ranks since its inception. The group's repertoire consists of dance forms such as the upbeat festejo, the dance-game alcatraz (a dangerous game in which dancers try to ignite paper "tails" affixed to their partner's clothing), and the slow, sinuous landó.

The centerpiece of Perú Negro's current sound is lead singer Monica Dueñas' strong, joyous vocals. The percussionists set up a crisp, percolating backdrop using cajón, congas, bells, bongos, and a battery of other tone colors. They get to strut their stuff in "Afro," a percussion-only track that builds from a couple of pointillistic drum lines to a complex, multi-layered tapestry using a sampler of African drum patterns. The Spanish influence is present in the form of acoustic guitar and violin. "Con su toque de Violin" is a 6/8 dance number with a folksy violin ostinato.

The group is constantly evolving and younger players are not only tolerated but often given center stage. Eleven-year-old percussion phenom Mauro Edu Campos gets to shine on "Picarón." The group's training school, the youthful Perú Negríto, closes out the disc with "Negríto," a habanera made even more appealing by the children's laughter and shouting between verses. The future of Perú Negro is in good hands. - Peggy Latkovich

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