Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific

By Crook, Larry | Yearbook for Traditional Music, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific


Crook, Larry, Yearbook for Traditional Music


Feldman, Heidi Carolyn. Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2006. ix, 306 pp., photographs, musical illustrations, glossary, notes, references, index.

This is an ethnographic study of memory, history, diasporic consciousness, and me genesis of Afro-Peruvian music and dance. Skilfully weaving together voices from the field, travel diaries, observations of live performances and recordings, archival sources, and theoretical reflections gleaned from seven years of multisited research in Peru, Spain, and me US, Heidi Feldman retells me story of Afro-Peruvian music through multiple-often contradictory-versions of remembered history. Throughout the book, Feldman effectively presents intimate and highly textured portraits of Peruvian artists from multiple perspectives while reflecting on them within a comparative theoretical framework. The result is a well-written and insightful book describing the complex shifting terrains where expressive culture and racialized identities are forged.

Feldman is concerned with explaining how ideas about Afro-Peruvian musical heritage mobilized Black diasporic identity within and beyond Peru. Extending Paul Gilroy's influential mapping of the Black Atlantic world (1993), the author charts the contours of the Black Pacific: "a newly imagined diasporic community on the periphery of the Black Atlantic" (p. 7). Feldman explains the complex and ambiguous relationship of Peru's Black community to the country's criollo (European dominated) and (to a lesser degree) indigenous cultures, while nesting this within the diasporic context of Black Peru as an outpost of the Black Atlantic. In Feldman's elaboration, several successive generations of Afro-Peruvian musicians and dancers conceptualized Black Atlantic expressive culture, such as Cuban drumming, as important African "points of reference" in their projects to re-Africanize Afro-Peruvian culture. Feldman argues that staging Afro-Peruvian music and dance created the cultural memory of Black Peru for present and future generations.

After the introduction, each of the chapters focuses on individuals in charge of memory projects that reworked the collective knowledge of Afro-Peruvian tradition. Chapter one explores the revivalist attempts of White criollo folklorist José Duran to reconstruct the foundational genres of Peru's idealized Black musical past. Duran's project comprised staging selected Afro-Peruvian traditions widely believed to have been lost or assimilated into coastal criollo culture. Feldman explains Peruvian criollismo as both a sociocultural manifestation of the urban multiracial working class communities in Lima, as well as a "nationalistic strategy, elevating Whites (symbols of modernity) over indigenous Peruvians (symbols of barbarism), with Blacks aligned with White criollos in the national imagination" (p. 19). It was in Lima's multiracial social gatherings known as jaranas in the early twentieth century that música criolla first developed and by the mid-twentieth century came to include two musical instruments (guitar and cajón) that symbolically linked European and African heritage in Peru. The discussion could be enriched by presenting comparative reflection on similar processes that occurred in relation to Peru's mestizo- and indigenous-identified communities and traditions. Nevertheless, Feldman's detailed account illustrates how Duran's revivalist project froze Black Peruvian traditions in an imagined past but also opened the doors of opportunity for Black performance traditions in Peru.

Chapters two and three explore the contributions of the two Black performing artists (Nicomedes and Victoria Santa Cruz) who carried Duran's revival of Black Peruvian music and dance into the 1960s and 1970s with diasporic Afrocentric recreations of many of the same music and dance forms. Here, Feldman uses historical records and her own interviews with dancer/choreographer Victoria Santa Cruz in situating Santa Cruz's "ancestral memory project. …

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