EOL CD review: Peru
Peru CD cover

EOL CD review

Peru and Bolivia
The Sounds of Evolving Traditions:
Central Andean Music and Festivals

Produced by Yuji Ichihashi, Aki Sato, and Stephen McArthur. Recorded by Norio Yamamoto. Multicultural Media: Music of the Earth MCM3009. 1997. Compact disc. Liner notes by Norio Yamamoto; photos and map.

This compact disc features diverse musical performances recorded in Peru and Bolivia from anonymous peasant musicians, mestizo harpists, and urban folk music groups. The recording contexts are also diverse: from solicited recordings of specialized harp soloists to public festival music.  It is one of the first ten titles of the Music of the Earth collection of Multicultural Media (Barre, Vermont), a series previously released in Japan by JVC under the name Music of the Earth: Fieldworkers’ Sound Collection.

The record under review is divided into regional areas: Lima, La Paz, Lake Titikaka, and Cuzco. But they are preceded by an opening section entitled "harp music" (with examples from the region of Ayacucho and Cuzco in Peru). The Peruvian part of the record is clearly more noteworthy. From nineteen examples of the record only two of them are indisputably from Bolivia. Since we are not informed if the examples from "Lake Titikaka" are Peruvian or Bolivian, we cannot truly affirm neither case (the lake is situated in the middle of both countries).

Let me first describe all the musical content of the record. The first four examples are from two excellent harp players from Peru: the renowned Florencio Coronado from Ayacucho, and Leandro Apasa Ramos from Cuzco. The former harpist has issued many commercial records in Peru, and Apaza Ramos can also be heard on the CD Peruvian Harp and Mandolin: The Blind Musicians of Cuzco (Music of the World CDT-105).


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The three examples from Lima, the capital of Peru, consist of two renditions of folk music by a urban group  which is very popular because of their commercial recordings and presentations on radio and television. They were recorded in a private home in Lima. But there is no discussion in the notes as to how this music relates to the other Andean musical rural traditions included in this record (the above description of the musical group "Los Rodriguez" is mine). The third example presents a rendition of the huayno "pio-pio" (the most recent hit record of Andean urban popular music) by a brass band (Audio 1).


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The following two examples of Bolivian music consist of two renditions recorded in touristic restaurants (peņas) located in the city of La Paz. The recordings even allow us to listen to the applause of the audience. Ironically, the first of them is a "chacarera" from Argentina, which the editors say is also popular in Bolivia (Audio 2).


The four examples from Lake Titikaka take us back to the rural scene. They are from sicu and quena musical ensembles playing in an unidentified festival. In examples 11 and 12 we can listen to a boisterous loudspeaker through which a commentator narrates the events, a frequent practice in the Andes today.


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The examples from Cuzco are also from an unnamed festival. These examples are interesting listening, but the notes are questionable. Two of the pieces are ascribed to the Mule (example 17) and to Chicha beer (example 18, Audio 3), which is puzzling. In my experience, I have never heard music dedicated to animals or to Chicha beer in the context of a public festival (while in private rituals it is common). Until further consideration, I warn the listener to ignore the descriptive notes to these examples.


And now let me turn to comment on the notes. The author of the fieldnotes, Norio Yamamoto, chose the title "The Land of the Incas" for the booklet, a straightforward and sexy title used profusely in tourist brochures. It is a fine marketing strategy for tourism developers, since it connects immediately an impression with a place. In the academic world, however, it is widely known that the Inca Empire ruled only for nearly two centuries (fifteenth and sixteenth). Hence, Andean heritage is sustained mostly by many regional cultures (or ethnic states) which were pre-Inca. Otherwise, the introductory notes are useful and accurate, though brief.

The descriptive notes of each individual musical piece always mention the instrument(s) used. But only occasionally do they mention the musical genre, the place of the recording, or the origins of the performers. For example, in the "Lake Titicaca" section we are only told that musicians "gather around Lake Titikaka" but no indication is given as to what event brought these musicians together, or if it was held in Bolivia or Peru. The succinct notes in the examples in this section are also indicative: "Features an ensemble of sicus, or panpipes" (track 10); "Features sicus of different sizes" (track 14). We do not get any more information than that. In the Cuzco examples we are informed that "villagers turned out in full force for a week-long church re-thatching festival," but we are not told which festival is this, or even its dates.

In conclusion, I found this record somewhat disappointing. From the title I expected a thorough musical overview of two South American Andean nations, but the fact that only two examples were actually Bolivian questions the credibility of the ethnographic work as a whole. Moreover, the fact that these Bolivian examples were recorded in a urban restaurant by an undisclosed urban musical group (one of them not even playing Bolivian music!), clearly suggests a clever marketing tactic (the title is definitively not a reflection of the content of the record). I also found the presentation of the musical examples erratic, and the descriptive notes partial and inconsistent, yet well-written (which makes me wonder if perhaps the search for simplicity went perhaps too far).

From the initial harp Indian-mestizo music examples from Andean Ayacucho, we were suddenly transported to urban restaurants in Lima and La Paz, but the notes do not explain to the reader how this music (urban re-recreations of Andean rural music by neo-folk musical ensembles), and its context, differ from the previous and subsequent examples. Later, the compiler brings us back to the rural scene when turning to Lake Titikaka and the Cuzco region. The fact that this apparent aural inconsistency is not referred at all in the notes makes matters worse.

The music, however, removed from its mode of presentation and its accompanying notes, is real and spontaneous. These are solid field recordings without any doubt. The music from Ayacucho, "Lake Titikaka," and Cuzco, are a welcome—yet not very innovative—addition to the existing Andean discography (similar material is also available in previously released compact discs). The initiated listener will know what to do with them in an intellectual sense. The unfamiliar world music consumer, however, will be left with only a partial view of the richness and complexity of Andean music and culture.

Raul R. Romero

Raul R. Romero is a Peruvian ethnomusicologist. He obtained his M.A. degree at Columbia University and his Ph.D. degree at Harvard University. He has written several articles of Andean music and culture in academic journals and books, and is editor of the book Musica, Danzas y Mascaras en los Andes (Lima, 1993). He is currently Director of the Archives of Andean Traditional Music at the Catholic University of Peru (Apartado Postal 1761, Lima 100, Peru).

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