Various Artists – Smithsonian Folkways, Traditional Music of Peru, Vol. 1: Festivals of Cusco

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Away from the city, history still speaks loudly.

Religious festivals have long been a vital part of Andean cultural life, and these 1989 field recordings show that modern times haven't diminished their importance. This disc, covering celebrations in the Cusco region, offers a huge range of music, from the frenzied accordions and flutes of “Saqra Urku Saqra” to the more martial beat of “Qhapaq Ch'unchu.” Flutes and drums (both easily portable instruments) predominate, although a trumpet or violin sneaks in here and there, and you can even find a parading brass band. The melodies are brief, even fragmentary, both played or chanted, although at times, as on “Qhapaq Negro,” a distinctive, delightful Andean tune peers through; but the entire disc has a strong sense of ritual, occasion and history. It's a colourful window on a fragile piece of life, and on a grounded people for whom the past is very much alive in the present. Away from the city, history still speaks loudly.