Rhythm is such an integral part of our lives that we almost forget about it, and view the rhythms in musical forms as a kind of entertainment. In fact, however, these rhythms are a reflection of reality and Afro-Peruvians have developed some of the most complex and lively forms that you are ever likely to encounter.
To capture them, I made a trip to Lima, Peru’s capitol, to film three master percussionists: Lalo Izquierdo, Cotito, and Huevito. This documentary is the result.
At one point in the documentary, Huevito states that Afro-Peruvian percussion instruments are the cajón, cajita, quijada, zapateo, palmas and guapeo. This is not a complete list, but does give the most important ones. I’ll explain them here.
By now, you surely know what the cajón is: that box that our stars are sitting on in the performance (and that Lalo Izquierdo is sitting on as he explaines the meaning of some of the rhythms). The cajón is now also used in Latin jazz and even in flamenco, where (according to flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia) it was introduced via Afro-Peruvian performers – specifically, Caitro Soto and three of his friends (one of whom was Lalo Izquierdo).
The cajita is a small box. It used to be the box that was in the church where people put their donations. It has now been modified a little in shape so that it will give a better sound…and doesn’t come out of a church!
The quijada, or quijada de burro, is a donkey’s jawbone which has been dried and cleaned, so that it can give interesting sounds as a percussion instrument. Lalo Izquierdo plays one in the final performance number. Afro-Peruvians, generally speaking, are poor but resourceful, and have been able to make good use of whatever comes their way.
Zapateo is the fancy footwork that we see demonstrated in the main part of the documentary, and also in the addendum. In Afro-Peruvian towns in the countryside, especially in the coastal area south of Lima, zapateo forms an important part of the celebration of Christmas, where it is performed in honor of Baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary. And as you can see, it has also become something done in friendly competition unrelated to any religious meaning.
Palmas. The word “palmas” in this context means hand-clapping, and palmas is the rhythmic hand clapping used in Afro-Peruvian music (and also, incidenally, in flamenco).
Then finally, we come to guapeo. Guapeo refers to the verbal encouragement that the audience, or anyone watching, will give to someone performing. (In flamenco, if I may be permitted to digress again, it is called jaleo.) In many forms of classical music including “Western,” Persian, and southern Indiian, if you go to a concert you are expected to keep quiet out of respect for the performers. In many other forms of music, including Afro-Peruvian, silence indicates a LACK of respect, or at least a lack of appreciation. Guapeo is important to the performers – something to remember next time you go to a show!
Palomino Productions is the production arm of independent filmmaker Eve A. Ma. Through Palomino Productions, Ma has produced and directed quite a few documentaries, but also a feature-length (one hour) drama called Domino: Caught in the Crisis (Dominó: agarrado por la crisis) , which was released in 2014.
Ma's documentaries include a series about world music and dance. So far, three have been released: A Zest for Life: Afro-Peruvian Rhythms, a Source of Latin Jazz; Of Beauty & Deities: Music & Dance of India; and Pearls from the Sea: Music & Dance of Tahiti. Even other work includes experimental shorts shot in Spain and the United States.