African slaves were brought over to the Spanish colony of Peru in the 16th century, to work the
gold and silver mines of the high Andes. However, their physique was not suited to the high
altitude and they died by the hundreds. Their Spanish or Criollo (born in Peru of Spanish decent)
masters sent them down to work in the milder climate of the desert coast. There they labored in
the large haciendas (private farms).
It was in their small adobe huts, on the packed dirt floors of the courtyards overrun with animals
and in the fields of cotton and sugar cane that the Afro-Peruvian music, song and dance were
born. They played in the fields, and their songs are of warning to beware of the white devils, talk
of the cruelty of slave masters, of freedom, as well as the joys of their everyday life and loves.
This tradition is still alive along the coast of Peru, especially in a small valley a few hundred
miles south of Lima, named Cincha, which is predominantly populated by blacks. It is also part of
black culture in Lima, in the southern suburb of El Carmen.
The religious origin of this music is the African-derived religion, Santaria, the ritual form of this
music in the Caribbean as well. The percussionist is seen as a sort of shaman who calls or evokes
the spirits, he is a mediator between heaven and earth since the spirits are expressed through his
El CajónThe Cajón is a wooden box-drum, which the player sits on to play. It is thought to have
originated in Peru (although the Cubans also claim it as their own). The cajon has many voices.
The cajonero makes it talk. Usually when Afro-Peruvians get together to play there is someone
rattling the “quijada de burro” which is a donkey’s jaw, and nowadays, the guitar is also often
incorporated, but this is more a criollo addition.
These instruments reflect the poor origin of the music; a music for which all that was needed was
your body and the nearest objects from which to make sounds. Another extremely important
element is the Zapateo; a peculiar form of tap-dancing that is done with bare feet. Everybody is
involved in this music, which builds up throughout the evening into an intense competition by
daybreak, each trying to outdo the others with complex and subtle rhythms. It becomes a
conversation between the dancers and the cajon as they work themselves into a late night ecstasy.
Chocolate was born Julio Algendones in 1934 in Peru. He grew up in a community of poor Black
farm workers and was carried by his mother as she picked cotton. When he was older and had
begun to develop his considerable musical talents, he earned enough money to survive by
performing in bars and clubs in Lima. Though surrounded by a colorful and violent life in the
streets of Lima’s barrios, Chocolate took hold of his music and his deeply religious path of
Makumba and Santaria. He began to find a power in his soul that took form in his music. This
reality of Chocolate’s past is what produces the real depth of his sound.
Julio "Chocolate" Algendones died in July 2004.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
BLACK STAR LINERS: Julio "Chocolate" Algendones-Peru's Master Percussionist