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Latin America: Peru

Afro-Peruvian Folkloric: Festejo & Zapateo

Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Son De Los Diablos
De Rompe y Raja Cultural Association
Instruments Used

As in other parts of the Americas, Africans arrived in Peru as part of the Spanish trade between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Their labor built coastal cities and enriched valley farms; their contribution to music and dance created a fusion known as landó.

Traditional festejo and zapateo are styles that come from "El Carmen," a village located in the Chincha province south of Lima, in the coastal region. This is a distinct region where the pronounced legacy of African slaves adds a unique flavor to the ever present Spanish and indigenous heritage.

Though in many parts of the Americas indigenous peoples were decimated, Peruvian indigenous culture continues to be a strong presence in Peruvian life and art. However, the unique coastal styles of music and dance are dominated by African and Spanish influences, with indigenous elements. Some subtle aspects of the song format and the musical intonation, and some costuming elements, can be traced to indigenous peoples. Much of the instrumentation and language of the songs are clearly Spanish, and the syncopated rhythms, call and response song format, and many of the dance movements are African in origin.

Peruvian musiciansThe Africans that arrived in Peru were brought mostly from the regions of Angola and the Congo, but also many other people of African descent arrived who were born in Panama, Spain, and Brazil. Since the African ethnic groups were so mixed by the time they reached Peru, most religious traditions and languages were lost, though some music and dance survived.

In festejo, a festive social dance, it is easy to see the African influence in the rhythmic movements and isolations of the torso and pelvis. Zapateo (footwork competition) exhibits the subtle and intricate footwork based on African rhythms, which is related to North American clogging and tap dancing. Though not directly influenced by each other historically, dancers in both Peru and North America developed percussive dance under similar conditions and circumstances, attesting to the creativity and adaptability of strong traditions such as those from West Africa.

De Rompe y Raja Cultural Association performs Son de los Diablos for People Like Me 2009. This dance originated from The Corpus Christy Celebrations in the colonial period in Peru representing the "Good" and the "Evil". In this case the "good" was the dominant class (Spanish) and the "Evil" were the African slaves and their traditions. This dance form evolved in 4 centuries to be part of Carnival celebrations in the Coast of Peru, mainly in Lima. This folkloric form was no longer practiced by the 1950's. The Afro-Peruvian revival (Jose Duran's Pancho Fierro & Victoria and Nicomedes Santa Cruz "Cumanana"groups) from the late 1950's & 60'sbrought this dance from the forgotten past to the stage. Elders gave a lot of advise to develop a recreation of the dance. Footwork was used as well. It was practiced as a "Comparsa Style" where minor devils obeyed the commands of their leader called "Diablo Mayor" (Main Devil) 

The costumes and instruments were based on watercolor works from a mulatto painter, Pancho Fierro who was a live witness of the first years of the Republican period in Peru (1821-1850) (Freedom from Spain). Small masks for the regular devils and a big mask for the leader, this character usually had a notebook where he noted who was beheaving good or bad, he also had a whip and was responsible of the quadrille's (gang) order.

The main instruments were Donkey's Jaws & Cajitas (Little wooden boxes).

In People Like Me 2001, De Rompe y Raja presented "Amador," the story of one of the last guardian/masters of Afro-Peruvian traditions. A recreation of how oral traditions passed through generations in Peruvian black communities, this piece brings humor, fancy footwork, and lively music featuring guitar, singing, and the playing of the Peruvian cajón, or box drum.

Master dancer "Lalo" Izquierdo performed along with Artistic Director Gabriela Shiroma. Señor Izquierdo and master guitarist Santiago "Coco" Linares, brought directly from Peru for People Like Me, joined Bay Area musicians Pedro Rojales and Javier Nunton, creating a versatile and engaging musical and dance ensemble.

Here's a translation of a famous song about Amador:

"If you listen at night, he is playing his cajón, he will play with his two hands, shiny black hands Panalivio, Malivio, Zá"


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