By Jacob Katel
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By Jacob Katel
Not unlike many musicians in Cuba or Brazil, the members of Peru Negro demonstrate strong African influences in their sound. Of course, it's mostly thanks to the Africans who were tragically taken from their continent to be enslaved in the Latin American country during the 16th and 17th centuries. Forbidden to play their own music by the plantation masters, they blended their style with that of the natives and came up with something entirely new. It's miles away from most people's conception of Peruvian music (if they have one at all), exemplified by the Andina tunes of pan flute players who commonly perform on street corners.
On the group's latest release, Zamba Malató (Times Square), Peru Negro follows up on its 2004 Grammy-winning Jolgorio by exploring the future of Afro-Peruvian music. The title track is an old chant commonly sung by black women doing their daily chores. And "Bailarás" reveals the bandmates have absorbed other influences during recent tours; the song seems to have a flamenco soul mixed with a Brazilian samba feel, which fits their Carnaval-style live peformances.
Dance is also a large part of their stage shows. The styles they perform — such as festejo, the incredibly sensual landó, and zapateos, which is a take on tap dancing — hold strong connections to African religious figures. And the instruments they use — including the djembe, a traditional African drum; and the cajón, a crate drum commonly used by Latin jazz groups — reflect the group's miscegenation.
The Peruvian government has bestowed upon them the official title of Cultural Ambassadors of Black Peru, a well-deserved honor. Through their educational work (the group runs a school in Lima, the country's capital), they have helped revive and preserve music and dance styles that had practically disappeared for almost half a century.