Fusing Memory to Compose History
This is not a history of dates, with the potential for a sliding chronological timeline of events that mark climactic moments in the development, disappearance, and evolution of “Afro-Peruvian” music. No such one-dimensional construction as a timeline could exist, what with the multitude of people, places, and effects that shaped the identity and “history” of this musical genre. Heidi Feldman, in her book Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific, describes her work as an “‘ethnography of remembering,’” making the history of criollo, Afro-Peruvian, musica Peruana, insert preferred categorical descriptor here, a history of memory (Feldman, 5). Before commencing on this historical documentation, I would like to employ Feldman to prepare you, the reader, for the unpaved historical journey onto which you are about to embark: “[The] events that take place within these pages are not always what we wish had happened, but they are true in someone’s memory, somewhere” (Feldman, 15).
In an interview with Señor Fred Rohner Stornauiulo, a professor at PUCP (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú) in Lima, we questioned him not only about the “Afro-Peruvian” descriptor, but the titles that Señora Bustamente provided us with, particularly criollo. According to Professor Stornaiulo, there are three critical, historical conditions that make identifying and historicizing this musical tradition problematic: 1) the African population in Peru did not immigrate directly from the continent, 2) interracial marriages and the process of mestizaje, that occurred in most of South America, blurred racial lines and created new mixes, and 3) the African descended community did not self-identify as such until the 1950’s-60’s.
This music came to Perú with distantly Afro-descended islanders who emigrated from the Caribbean, underwent mestizaje (the process of racial mixing) in Panama, and then settled in Perú, a process that took about 300 years. Therefore, most of the musical influences actually originated in the Caribbean islands, not Africa.
Once in Lima, this “African” population from Panama, called mestizos, mixed and integrated into the urban setting very quickly; after all, in an urban setting the mixture of cultures happens more quickly because of the concentration of people in limited space. For this same reason, Lima was the birthplace of criollo identity. After colonialism, a brand new, non-Spanish identity was sought and reconstruction of a national identity occurred in Lima, the capital city where all group cultures around Perú fused to create what would be called a criollo identity.
In connection with the creation of criollo culture, in the 1870’s the Spanish festejo, composed in the Spanish tradition of coplas (4 lines, 4 verses with an A-B pattern in the lyrics) and decimas (4 lines, 10 verses with an A-B-B-A pattern where the first and last line of each verse must be the same) underwent an affiliation and rhythmic adjustment. Originally it was played for criollos blancos (white criollos), but African rhythms, Son de los diablos and las Fugas, were added because Afro-descendents felt that the festejo had a larger connection to their cultural heritage as Africans. The festejo, after this point, became associated with poor economic status because a majority (though not all Afro-descended Peruvians) lie in this socio-economic class. Today, however, it is a fundamental element of the criollo repertoire.
The Carneval de Los Diablos, where participants wore masks, played harps and various traditional instruments while dancing such customary dances as the festejo, celebrated the folkloric culture of Afro-descendents. In the 1940’s, however, the carnival died as a folkloric expression and the dancing died from practice, surviving only in academia.
Fifteen to twenty years later, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Victoria and Nicomedes Santa Cruz took action, through music and a movement called “Africanismo,” to connect and embrace their African roots and cultural heritage. Victoria Santa Cruz fueled this proud, cultural resurrection with so-called reconstructions of the dances and rhythms that were part of the folklore of El Son de Los Diablos.
According to Professor Stornaiulo, however, it would be more accurate to say that the folklore inspired her to reinvent the dances in service of her African cultural pride. One of the dances that Victoria Santa Cruz recreated was the zamacueca. This she did based on the watercolor painting Zamacueca by Pancho Fiero. Professor Stornaiulo, a musical historian, knows that this painting was not only left unnamed by Fiero but was actually named 50 years after it was painted by Ricardo Palma, a man without any academic expertise nor license to name the painting nor the dance. Historically, the names of this dance transition from chilena to zamacueca and finally settle as marinera. Because Perú had the prosperous port of Lima, the dance, known first as chilena, traveled through South and Central America on ships with traders. In Argentina, the dance was called samba while in Chile it was called cueca. The dance traveled with the traders to Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico, and made its way back to Perú with the name zamacuca and several new melodies and national special touches. In 1880, at the end of the war between Chile and Perú, Abelardo Gamarra, with nationalist intentions and injured pride, changed all of the names of the single dance to a standard marinera.
Memory would before have been dismissed as historical bias. But our research experience and exposure to this musical culture has demonstrated that there is the potential for our knowledge of history to be richened by memory. There are already multiple ways to understand the genealogy of the people and the cultural traditions that shaped their lives. For example, some Peruvians might look back and focus on the Spanish roots that lie at the base of all of the music and culture in Peru, while others might feel the effects of mestizaje strongly and connect to the constructed criollo identity. Still others hear the rhythms of Africa pulsing through their songs. However one understands the history, we see that memory is an active, validating process that, more than anything, gets to the heart of what people value. “Good music, good food, good people,” are the reasons that Guido Arce gave for loving this music, peña life, and this untitled culture. These seem to be the the parts of life that pull at the romantic, nostalgic hearts and memories of Peruvian criollos and are what they value most.