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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An Undisputed Star of Black Peruvian Music




About six months after my first trip to Perú, visiting the Afro-Peruvian cultural hub of El Carmen, and hanging out in the Barranco District of Lima, where many Afro-Peruvians work and perform for a living, I then happened to stumble on a CD by Afro-Peruvian singer Pepe Vázquez, which contained the hit song “No Valentín,”and that song, to this day, became a hit with me. In fact, he wrote the song, and the famous Susana Baca sung it. However, about six months after my trip, I was delighted to have met Pepe Vázquez, and had a brief conversation with him before his performance at the Fina Estampa Restaurant in San Francisco. He even gave me some dap when he came out singing.

On the Pacific coast of Peru, a Black music culture has survived in spite of repression by the Europeans. Drums and marimbas were forbidden because they "generate trance-like states and are the work of the devil." As a substitute, unique instruments were created out of everyday materials and developed into unique instruments, such as the cajon (a wooden box) and the jawbone of an ass, that have remained a staple of Afro-Peruvian rhythm. 

Vásquez, with his smokey voice is the undisputed star of Afro-Peruvian music. He is also a composer mixing traditional Afro-Peruvian folk forms with Afro-Carribean. The son of musician and researcher Porfirio Vásquez, singer/songwriter, Pepe Vásquez started singing and playing guitar at a very young age, performing a folk genre originated in black Peruvian communities to preserve African heritage. He made his international debut with the release of Ritmo de Negros in November 2000. Afro-Peruvian music has really caught on since Susana Baca first broached the subject to our ears. It's the black music of Peru, handed down by former slaves for centuries.