On today’s Martes de Música, we visit a powerhouse cumbia voice belonging to the one, the only, Marisol. It is quite simple to recognize a Marisol song, one because she screams her name, but also because she has a very distinctive, powerful voice, that you can’t help but take notice of.
Marisol is quite popular, and regularly travels across the country belting out cumbia, and the occasional Huayno classic. In fact, at the beginning of June she was hired by Caraz’s largest school, Micelino Sandoval Torres, to perform during their anniversary celebration.
On a side note, anniversaries are very important here in Perú. While in the States, we usually only seem to celebrate the “important” anniversary years such as the ones ending in 0s and 5s (25th, 30th, 50th, etc.), in Perú, anniversaries are celebrated EVERY year. And anniversary celebrations are not a 1 day affair, oh no. Anniversary celebrations, especially for schools, tend to consist of a week long schedule of activities including sports tournaments, food fairs, several parades, masses and religious ceremonies, nice lunches, and of course, a final, big, all-out party (if they can afford it). While anniversaries are extremely fun, they do tend to disrupt classes, which isn’t so fun. Fortunately I have had the opportunity to witness and participate in several anniversary events here in Perú, and I can imagine I will be witness to several more before my service comes to an end a year from now.
Given the fact that I am a big cumbia fan and also work on environmental issues in the school, I of course attended the concert, which happened to be the day before my birthday. She blew the roof off the place, and even wished me a happy birthday thanks to the sneaky intervention of my friends. Well, I guess she didn’t exactly wish me a happy birthday since she said, “Felíz Cumpleaños al gringo que tiene un corazón caracino” (Happy Birthday to the gringo with a Caraz heart). Either way, it goes without saying that Marisol and her orquesta gave me a good start to my birthday.
Today’s song is essentially a break-up song. In it, Marisol sings about how she misses her love, how even seeing a photo of them together makes her cry, how listening to their songs pushes her to drinking; she wants to move on, but her heart won’t let her forget. If you can’t tell, it is a tad melodramatic, but such is the story of many Cumbia songs here in Perú.
So without further ado, here is Marisol singing Gitana, for your listening pleasure.
Hope you enjoyed the music and be sure to look out for 2 more posts this week since I missed out on my Foto Friday from the last.
So the musical genre Reggaetón is not a Peruvian innovation. In fact, when I asked my host uncle if there were any famous Peruvian Reggaetón songs, he simply said, “jaja no”. So if this blog is supposed to be about Perú, why am I talking about Reggaetón, you might ask?
Well, while Reggaetón did not come from Perú, it certainly came into Perú, and is currently one of the most popular musical genres among Peru’s jóvenes (young people). This past Friday, my local school held an event for Teacher Day, and I somehow got put in charge of the music (probably because I had my laptop). While I tried to get everyone interested in the english pop songs on my playlist or the few cumbia songs I had downloaded, within a short span of time I had about 15 different students come ask me to put on some Reggaetón.
So, what exactly is Reggaetón? Well, it is a genre that emerged from the fusion of Jamaican reggae music with pop music, first manifesting in Panamá and then hitting the mainstream and gaining popularity from further innovations in Puerto Rico. I would guess that most people are probably aware of the connection between Reggaetón and Puerto Rico, at least peripherally. Anyways, most Reggaetón music can be recognized by its killer beats, pulsing electronic sounds, and Spanish lyrics, which are generally rapped as opposed to being sung. Additionally, there is a sort of repetition to most Reggaetón songs, whether in beat or lyrics, which makes them great for dancing and quick to learn for those who want to sing along. If you were to hop into a nightclub anywhere in Perú, and possibly anywhere in Latin America, you would probably encounter several Reggaetón songs throughout the night.
So, to introduce you all to the world of Reggaetón, we have Ginza by J. Balvin which is the quintessential Reggaetón song of 2016. Seriously, absolutely ALL the jóvenes are listening to this song.
This week, I am once again late because this past Tuesday I was away all day visiting a school in another district of my province. Considering this trend, I might have to eventually change the name of this series to Miércoles de Música.
While most of the music I’ve been promoting so far has been traditional music, influenced by the diverse culture of Perú, this week we are highlighting a different musical genre of which I am sure many of you are quite familiar: rock music.
Rock music is very popular in many parts of Perú, and in fact when I arrived to live with my first host family in Lima, they were enormous fans of many famous rock groups like the Rolling Stones or AC/DC. So, it is only natural that a few rock groups eventually emerged in Perú to develop Perú’s very own rock music heritage.
Today, per recommendation of my host uncle, I am highlighting the Peruvian rock group, Mar de Copas, which formed in Lima back in 1992. They have released a few albums throughout the years, but today I am highlighting one of their earlier songs, Mujer de Noche (Night Woman, or Woman of the Night), at my host-uncle’s request. It’s quite catchy, and reminds me of another rock song in English, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
So without further ado, Mujer de Noche by Mar de Copas.
Last March, I was lucky enough to have a friend from the U.S. come visit me here in Perú. We spent about 1 week together, hanging out in my site, Caraz, and getting to know some other sites and scenes here in Áncash. So, in order to get a different perspective about Perú, here is a guest blog post from my friend Nish about his time here in Áncash. Since Nish is incredibly busy with Medical School, I made the Guest Blog easy on him by writing up a few interview questions to answer. I hope you all enjoy!
1) What’s your name and what’s your current job?
Nish Pandya and Medical Student at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College.
2) How do you know the PCV?
(I’m guessing this means Peace Corps Volunteer). Despite graduating from rival high schools, Mark and I both met as freshmen at Penn State University. We were both heavily involved in a service organization and were roommates during our senior year.
3) What did you know about Perú before your visit?
My greatest exposure to Peru before the visit must have been from watching The Emperors’s New Groove. Through high school Spanish courses we had learned countries and capitals, so I could locate it on a map but not much else.
4) What did you learn about Perú from your visit?
Mark had mentioned this, but life really did seem to move a step slower in Peru. As a “Northeasterner” at heart, it was a stark difference that stood out. The views and natural beauty of the Ancash region I had the opportunity to see made me wonder if stock photos for “awesome sights” are taken in Peru.
5) What was your favorite dish you tried?
Whenever I travel, my goal is to try something I probably will not have the chance to eat again. This made me excited to try guinea pig for the first time.
6) What do you think of the PCV’s work in his site?
It didn’t surprise me after having known Mark for 5 years, but Mark seemed to have a positive and friendly relationship with so many people he came across at his site. He was continually running into people he knew and it really helped me see how much Mark had tried to become part of the community. I enjoyed listening to the many plans Mark was continually balancing and trying to execute, which really showed the impact he wanted to make with a multi-pronged approach.
7) What is your favorite memory from the trip?
Another Peace Corps Volunteer gave us an oral history of the avalanche at Yungay while walking through the area it affected. Hearing that story at its site was a really memorable part of my trip.
8) What did you know about Peace Corps before your visit? What did you learn about Peace Corps from your visit?
The camaraderie between the Peace Corps Volunteers was really wonderful to see. In theory, each volunteer has a different background but shares the desire to make a positive impact on the people and community they live with. Seeing the power of a shared goal bring people together was powerful to see.
9) What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
Honey Bunches of Oats
10) If you could be any Pokémon, which would you be and why?
I would be Farfetch’d because few people would believe I was a Pokemon.
11) Is there anything else you would like to share?
This past Sunday as I was with my family in the Caraz market selling fruit, I decided to head down to the Plaza de Armas to try and get some money out of the bank. As I was walking down to the Plaza, I noticed that the streets to the plaza had been blocked off and that large masses of people had gathered. Curious, I walked closer and discovered that the main streets around the central plaza were covered with alfombras, or rugs. However, these were not typical rugs made out of fabric, but rather temporary “rugs” made out of dyed and dampened sawdust.
As I began to make my way around the various works of art, someone called out my name, and looking around I found a group of students from my local school in Yuracoto. Now, another school in town is in the midst of their 111th Anniversary celebrations, so I naturally assumed that the alfombra contest was just one of the many activities the school had organized. However, one of my students filled me in, telling me that the “competition” was in honor of a religious holiday during which they celebrate many Catholic Saints, and therefore independent of the school anniversary. Students from all over Caraz and the campiña organized into groups to design and create their alfombras. I spent a while talking with my seniors from Yuracoto about their alfombra and the whole process they went through to make it. They explained to me how everyone chipped in for the materials (4 bags of sawdust at S/. 4 each, lots of dye, and transportation), and then how they all met up in Yuracoto on Saturday to dye the sawdust into the proper colors; many of them still had green and red hands come Sunday morning. On Sunday, they all met up in the Plaza at 6am to begin construction of their alfombra, which first involved drawing out the design with chalk, and then painstakingly placing the damp sawdust overtop. My student said it took about 3.5 hours to finish the whole thing; I was impressed with the commitment given there wasn’t even a prize or anything.
So what is the point of making the alfombras? Well, the alfombras seemed to have served as a way to show of artistic talents, to contribute to the religious holiday, and to maybe show up your rival schools to some degree. However, like many things in life and nature, the alfombras were ephemeral, and after having been displayed for a mere 2 hours, the beautiful alfombras were quickly disfigured by a large procession of Saints who emerged from the church to continue with the religious celebration. At least the rugs wasted away doing what they were meant to do: getting walked on.
And then, as soon as the procession had passed, what remained of the alfombras were swept up into colorful piles of sawdust, a poor vestige of what they had been only minutes before.
I am hoping that the students in Yuracoto will give me a heads up for next year’s celebration, so that I can get in on the Alfombra-making. I would love to get some experience making an alfombra here in Perú (maybe the Peace Corps logo???), because I think it would be a fun concept to bring back to the US. It could also be a great Goal 3 project for those working in the World Wise Schools Program.
Well, what started off as a normal Sunday in the market turned into an awesome cultural surprise, and reminded me once more why I love my Peace Corps experience.
When most people think of Peru, they probably think of Spanish, Machu Picchu, the rain forest, and maybe the Incas. But what most people probably don’t think about is Africans. Unfortunately, Perú and many South American countries were largely involved in the slave trade after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores. Consequently, many South American countries like Peru and Brazil have a very large groups of people from African descent. Here in Peru, people of African descent are generally known as Afro-Peruanos, and typically are the result of a blending of the African slaves and the indigenous peoples, often referred to as mestizo or criollo.
While slavery has long since ended in Perú, there has still been a lot of discrimination against Afro-Peruvians, to the extent that in 2009 the Peruvian government released an official apology for the years of racial injustice against Afro-Peruvians. Now, I am no expert on the history of Afro-Peruvians here in Perú, and I will likely be asking a friend to write a guest blog post to give a far better explanation than what I have included here.
While the history of Afro-Peruanos in Perú is not the brightest, the inevitable blending of cultures that occurred between the indigenous people of Perú, the Spanish, and the people from various parts of Africa led to some very interesting cultural developments, most notably in the realms of dance and music. Festejo is a genre of Afro-Peruvian music which has a very distinctive sound due to its heavy reliance on percussion instruments such as the cajón and the lower jawbone of a horse. I really enjoy the music because it has a great beat and just makes you want to dance.
Speaking of dancing, there are an abundance of interesting dances to accompany Afro-Peruvian songs, such as the one I am highlighting today called “El Alcatraz”. While I really enjoy this song and the beat, the best part would have to be the dance which involves a man and a woman dancing after each other, each trying to use a lit candle to burn a paper towel attached to the back of the other dancer’s clothes. I couldn’t find a great video of the dance, so if you are interested in checking it out, just do a quick YouTube search for “El Alcatraz”.
In the month of February, for anywhere from 1 week to 1.5 months, the celebrations of Carnival commence all across Perú. According to this article, Carnival originated as a time for indulgence prior to the arrival of the solemn time of Lent. Essentially, here in Perú Carnival is celebrated via lots of parties, a lot of drinking, a lot of water shenanigans, and a lot fallen trees. The biggest Carnival celebrations occur in Cajamarca, another department of Perú, but I thought we had some great celebrations here in Caraz.
The beginning of the Carnival Huaylino was marked by a series of different activities, a summary of which you can watch below in a video produced by my municipality.
One of the first activities was the selection of the Shumaq Shipash (“beautiful girl” in Quechua) via a sort of beauty pageant in which girls from different barrios of Caraz compete in events such as evening wear, Q&A, speaking Quechua, and performing a traditional dance. The winner earns the title of Shumaq Shipash and achieves a spot of honor for the Carnival festivities. The Shumaq Shipash competition was really interesting, and two other Volunteers and I were almost roped into performing a sort of half-time show when the contracted entertainment backed out. While I am not a huge fan of beauty pageants in general, the Shumaq Shipash competition is different because it serves as a way to remember and honor the sierra culture of Caraz.
Cultural dances in the Shumaq Shipash competition.
The following day was the principal Carnival activity, a.k.a. the Rompecalle (literally road breaker). Essentially, the Rompecalle is a giant parade in which the municipality and many community organizations participate. Each participating group dresses in some kind of traditional attire, and then constructs a tablada (think portable shrine), upon which they tie foods such as noodles, cookies, bread, beer, wine, candy, etc. The tabladas are carried throughout the parade and then judged at the end to determine who made the best one. My gerencia made a triangular tablada, and my contribution was a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups; I’m fairly certain our tablada was the only one in all of Perú with that special ingredient.
Just like all of my co-workers in the municipality, I dressed up in some traditional sierra attire that I had rented for the Rompecalle. While the parade was long, it was a ton of fun to dance to and sing along to Huayno with my passionate fellow Caracinos. Check out a video of the dancing below:
However, apart from the length, the Rompecalle was also very HOT. Fortunately, an important component of Carnival celebrations is water, usually in the form of water balloons. Throughout the entire parade, there was no shortage of kids (and sometimes their parents) dumping buckets of water or throwing water balloons upon the parade-goers from the heights of their homes. Personally, I found the water quite refreshing, and frequently told them to give us more, and more water is just what I got, however not from a kid.
As we reached the end of the parade, we were met with a wonderful surprise in the form of a fully stocked fire engine, whose hose was aimed straight at my fellow municipality workers and me. If you are wondering what it is like to get hit by water streaming out of a fire-engine hose, you are in luck, because I recorded the entire experience on my camera.
Now, while the parade was probably the principal event of Carnival for the whole city, another important component for Carnival celebrations are the Yunzas. Essentially a yunza is a party in which a family cuts down a big tree, generally a molle, “replants” it in another location, and then decorates it with lots of goods like blankets, sheets, bins, clothing, etc. Now, as the party progresses and everyone has a good time, you draw closer to the principal event. At some point near the end of the evening, a special yunza song is put on and then people pair up, and take turns swinging an axe at the decorated tree in an attempt to fell it. Generally, it takes quite some time for the tree to fall, but once it does, it is a mad rush to quickly gather as many items as possible from the fallen tree. Per tradition, the pair that deals the final blow is to provide the tree and the goods for the following year’s yunza.
At the yunza I attended, I managed to grab 3 plastic bins and some hangers from the branches of the fallen tree. I just wasn’t quick or aggressive enough to get the treasured mantas from the flourishing hands of the mothers.
And that’s really it. While the main events only lasted about 1 week here in Caraz, there were Yunzas and parties for Carnival going on for well over a month after the main events had passed. As I said, many Peruvians like fiestas, and plenty of fiestas there were.
While I had a great time with the parade and yunza, my favorite Carnival memory came via my neighbors. One Tuesday after the Rompecalle, I was riding my bike back from the school to my house, and I discovered that my neighbors were throwing water balloons and buckets of water at cars and moto-taxis as they drove past. Unfortunately, they let me pass without a word, and so of course I yelled at them asking why they didn’t drench me with water like everyone else. So, I did what any reasonable person would do, and went back to my house, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, and then came back and MADE them give me a solid drenching. I think they were really confused, but I had a grand old time.