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Herencia Afro Peruana
Peru Negro: Sangre de un Don
Times Square Records TSQD 9013

Lead percussionist and artistic director Ronaldo Campos formed Peru Negro in 1969, part of the second wave of an Afro-Peruvian folklore resurgence set into motion in the mid-1950s. As with folk revivals generally, much of the Afro-Peruvian repertoire that has evolved has been shown by ethnomusicologists to be recent creations or Africanized folk stylings whose connections with documented Afro-Peruvian traditions can be tenuous. But authenticity is always a dicey proposition. What matters is the music's vitality, and what its performance and popularity signify, culturally and politically. In this case the music, some of the most vital in Peru today, signals the nation's valorization of a long-disparaged but integral cultural influence, in a land coming to a reckoning with its African past.

Three centuries of slavery in Peru left a musical legacy as vibrant as (if lesser known than) those of Cuba, Brazil, Jamaica and the United States. Elemental in sustaining African folkloric roots were the cofradías or religious brotherhoods established in the 1540s. Nominally overseen by the church, each was dedicated to a particular Catholic saint, but along with discharging prescribed religious duties, Africans used the cofradía as a mutual support association and a kind of social club in which music figured prominently, marked by unmistakable West African aesthetics.

As in many other parts of the Americas, fearful authorities outlawed drums and other African instruments, so the enslaved found other means to express their vocal, percussive and dancing inclinations. Recalling the Cuban rumba's origins, Afro-Peruvians made music on table tops, chairs and wooden packing crates. Stylized as the cajón, the box is now integral to the music, along with its dynamic call-and-response vocals, augmented with sprightly acoustic guitar, bass and a variety of hand percussion. The group's first international release, Sangre de un Don ("Blood of a Gentleman") presents an accomplished blend of original compositions and traditional arrangements, most by Campos. Listeners familiar with Susana Baca, Pepe Vasquez or David Byrne's Afro-Peruvian survey will recognize the compelling musical territory demarcated by one of Peru's enduring proponents of the country's African cultural heritage. — Michael Stone

Available from cdroots.com

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