Cross-cultural songs from Arequipa

The ancient colonial city of Arequipa, situated at an altitude of over 2400 meters, was greatly appreciated by the Conquistadores for the clemency of its climate. During the 18th century the city saw a period of extensive development which is reflected by the prestigious civil and religious colonial architecture, still visible today and generally well-preserved in the historical center of the city.

The inhabitants of Arequipa, the Arequipenos, have always held themselves apart from those living on the coast, in the Andes or in Lima, the capital. Seen to be proud and vain - even somewhat pretentious - they set great store on their identity which they jealously uphold to the point of having created their own - theoretical - autonomous republic with its own passport and currency. This is fertile territory for the perpetuation of traditional cultural expression, though even here the social and economic upheavals to which the city is subjected increasingly threaten this identity.

The population of Arequipa, second most populated city of Peru, has nearly doubled over the last twenty years. Today the population is around one and a half million, of which almost a third live in the ever expanding shanty towns on the outskirts, constantly fed by the exodus from rural areas and demographic pressure. The inhabitants of this belt of poverty come mainly from the neighbouring departments of the Apurimac, Cuzco and Puno and are mainly of Indian origin. On the economic level, the importance of the tertiary sector grows yearly due to the general recession and the large number of peddlers. In other words there is a disturbingly high proportion of people who survive on a day-to-day basis. For instance, in the shanty town of Israil, more than eighty percent of families survive solely through the informal economy by improvising work as craftspeople or peddlers. Nevertheless, the migrants of the pueblos jovenes, thanks to individual and collective effort and through the work of neighbourhood associations, have managed to improve their urban environment by installing, as best they can, water which is sometimes drinkable and electricity, by setting up a modest socio-educational infrastructure and by consolidating the social and community fabric. Despite these efforts infantile malnutrition and school drop-out rates are high and environmental degradation is alarming.  Over the last few years the quality of water, air and the soil have been seriously degraded as a result of badly managed natural phenomena, lack of suitable resources and uncontrolled population growth.

Arequipa, like so many cities in Third-World countries is on its way to becoming a sprawling, polluted, ugly, poverty-stricken urban canker. However, popular tradition, carried by these songs and spirited rhythms, perpetuates the image of the “white city”, of balls and the parties of yesteryear as if to ward off ill fortune. Culture, the only wealth left to the poor, persists and resists, final bastion in the face of delapidation and decay.

The musical identity of Arequipa
The musical culture of Arequipa is fundamentally urban and Spanish with an undeniably strong Indian influence and from time to time distant echoes of Africa.
The main musical genres typical of Arequipa and of the region are all, with the exception of the yaravi, meant to be danced to. The most common are the marinera, the creole waltz, the huayno and the pampena.

The creole waltz. These days the term creole has been extended to include all things belonging to the coastal region and the towns which have developed there. In the past, in Peru, the term ‘criollo’ meant the sons of Spanish settlers born in the new territories called ‘Inde’. Later the term signified all forms of interbreeding and today, ‘criollismo’ encompasses a set of national traditions including the practices, customs, music etc. originating at the coast, to the exclusion of all which is native. At the end of the last century, Strauss’ waltzs made their appearance in the salons of Lima. They were quickly integrated into the popular repertoire but in no way replaced the old mazurkas or the joyful Aragon jota. A sort of musical symbiosis took place between these genres which gave rise to an original form : the creole waltz.

The marinera owes its name to the heroic sailors engaged in the campaign led by Admiral Miguel Grau during the war against Chile. He is said to have African origins, to have come from Angola with the slaves in the 17th century. Known under the name of ‘Lando’, this dance mimickedthe sexual act. Subsequently named Lundero, Tondero, Zambalando, Zamacueca or resbolosa, mozamala and the chilena, its form varies according to region and culture, sometimes with a more African flavour, sometimes more Spanish. Its origins remain however a total mystery apart from an obvious  resemblance to the ancient fandango and the Aragon jota. The marinera is nevertheless definitely creole. It was very popular, spread quickly from the poshest to the poorest areas and thus naturally became established as the national dance.

The pampena is a musical genre with a strong rhythm to which sarabands can be danced in processions and carnivals. The pampena of Arequipa forms the basis for all sorts of improvisation full of popular irony and mockery.

Finally, the yaravi, which is often preceded by an instrumental solo introduction, puts  in song form poems which express pain, impossible love, the melancholy of the Andean man. Yaravis are never danced. This form, derived from the harawi of the Inca poets, has undergone many transformations and cross-cultural influences since the colonial era. It is inspired by pain, the loss of a loved one, the ingratitude of the woman loved, by solitude. It is also to be found in Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay (1).

The huayno, a genre more rural than urban, more native than creole, is not represented on this record. Its origins go back to the pre-Colombian era and are identified with the history of the Andean people. It is very widespread and is considered to be the symbol of the cultural and artistic integration of Indian culture in Peru.

Alberto Valencia (singer and rhythmic guitar) and Percy Murguia (lead guitar) offer us a representative sample of the popular repertoire specific to Arequipa.



CD tracks

  1.  La Chica que me quiera - "The girl who will love me" (Pampena)
    “The girl who will love me
    Under her long brown hair,
    I would die for her...”
  2. Quisiera ser pica flor - "I wish I were a hummingbird" (Pampena)
    “...and that you were a carnation,
    that I could suck the honey from
    the bud of your mouth”.
  3. Como una vision - "Like a vision" (Waltz)
    “You are engraved forever in my mind,
    that is why I seek you...”
  4. Ciudad Blanca - "White City" (Waltz)
    “Have a happy honeymoon...”
    A man leaves his home town the day his beloved marries another.
  5. El regreso - "The Return" (Waltz)
    “Now I return, tired pilgrim,
    my heart weary from the search for happiness...”
  6. Cardo Santo - "Sacred Thistle" (Pampena)
    “Ah yes. Ah no, don’t  dress your hair
    with my comb.”
  7. Gentil Gaviota - "Gentle Seagull" (Yaravi)
    “Like the maggot which devours the bitter sorrows
    in the sepulchre of the heart, so I find myself each morning”.
  8. La Traidora - "The Traitress" (Marinera)
    “Why did she caress me ? Why did she caress me ?
    Why did she caress me ? O, traitress...”
  9. Natividad (Marinera)
    Natividad is beautiful ... and unfaitful.
    “My love, my love, where were you ?
    I looked for you all night, Natividad.”
  10. No se puede, si se puede - "We cannot, yes, we can" (Pampena)
    “Don’t forget who you love.
    The Devil comes for a love betrayed
    and takes it away.”
  11. Mi Idelfonsa - "My Idelfonsa" (Pampena)
    (Monologue) :
    "One day I was washing my face when my mother arrived and said to me :
    - Where are you going ?
    - I’m going to town to buy a guiriguiri.
    - What ?
    - I’m going to town to buy a guiriguiri.
    - We’ll see about a guiriguiri ! You’d do better to take the donkey to the meadow !

    On the way there, I meet Idelfonsa : she says to me :
    - And where are you going ?
    - My mother has sent me to take the donkey to the meadow, but first sing me one of your songs.
    - Of course..."

    (Beginning of the song)
    “My Idelfonsa
    you left me so many memories
    from our times in the corn fields...”
  12. Soy soliterito - "I am a bachelor" (Pampena)
    “I am a bachelor, Sir,
    and I live better alone. I live better !
    There’s no one to nag at me :
    Where did you go, where have you been ?”
  13. La Bonita - "Pretty one" (Pampena)
    “Arequipa’s feast day is here.
    Let us celebrate as our soul commands us...”
  14. Desde u separacion - "Since your separation" (Yaravi)
    “If your life has been taken away,
    take mine as your vessel...”
  15. Sonriendo estoy - "I am suffering" (Pampena)
    “For the love of my beloved one.
    This woman has no heart...”
  16. Rio de Arequipa - "Arequipa River "(Pampena)
    “You go away, you betray (people)
    You leave me weeping...”