Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A history lesson that will make you dance

As you know, during the 16th Century, Peru was a colony (a "Viceroyalty" to be precise).

The Spanish Inquisition, which nobody expects, didn't feel it had oppressed and beaten people enough. So it placed a ban on drums for slaves, who were brougth to the country from many different parts of Africa to prevent them from developing a culture or identity.

Unfortunately for the culturally-challenged colonizers, the slaves would have none of it. Forced to work in farms, slaves used fruit crates, Catholic collection boxes and even the lower jawbone of donkeys to create a remarkable and infectious sound, as culture and identity was forming anew.

This tradition is alive and well today (the music, not the slavery!) thanks to the late Ronaldo Campos de la Colina. In his succesful effort to preserve black Peruvian tradition more than 30 years ago, Colina and his family fused the percussion, acoustic guitars, vocals and dances like "zapateo" (a funky and fun tap dance) into a company.

The result was Peru Negro ("Perú" to be precise), now "Cultural Ambassadors" — officially — for the South American country. The Grammy-nominated group performed in 1995 with Carlos Santana in his triumphal return to Lima, the Peruvian capital where the group is from.

TANGENT: Santana was kicked out of the country by a whacky military government in 1971 for being an "alineating" force. Because, you know, when you think of "gringos" and "yankis," you think of Carlos Santana.
Here is a video of the ensemble, now comprised of a score of singers, dancers and musicians.

Peru Negro has embarked on a tour of 45 U.S. cities to promote its new album, "Zamba Malató," released a week ago. The company is stopping Tuesday at 10 a.m. and noon at the Bardavon, 35 Market St., Poughkeepsie, and at 10 p.m. Wednesday at the Ulster Performing Arts Center, 601 Broadway, Kingston.

Tickets are a modest $10. For more information call Kay Churchill at (845) 473-5288, extension 106 or send an e-mail to kchurchill@bardavon.org.

Full disclosure: I'm from Peru, I've seen the group and I love them.
I can guarantee you that if you see them, you'll love them too (but I can't help you with the "being from Peru" part).

Here's another video that'll make you dance (see if you spot the jawbone):