Peruanos en Alabama

Image001

Peruanos en Alabama, circa 1993

Ever since I left the South—as I’ve wandered from New York, across the Midwest, to the Southwest, eventually landing in Califas (interspersed with long stints in Lima)—no matter where I go, I’ve always been confronted by incredulous looks when I tell folks where I spent my childhood: Alabama!? That’s right. Perhaps it doesn’t seem that random to me because we weren’t the only Peruvian family around. In the golden age of the 1980s, peruanos in Birmingham could field two full soccer teams (see photo above) and collectively cook up an enormous buffet table every July 28th, for Independence Day parties. There were lots of us, or at least that’s how I remember it.

(Of course, now, there are many, many more Peruanos and all sorts of Latinos around Bama… Don’t believe me? Check this out.)

Still, part of me has always wondered too. Why there? How? Recently, on a trip back, I had the chance to chat with my uncle Hubert and my aunt Mercedes. They were raised in Arequipa, and Hubert and my father were childhood friends. Like my old man, Hubert also studied medicine at the local university. When my father transferred to Lima, they lost touch, and found one another, quite by accident, a decade later in Alabama. When I asked Hubert and Mercedes how this came about, my uncle began with an observation about the university in those days: the old, fusty, boring teachers had all studied in Europe, whereas the good, young, dynamic teachers had studied in the US. Naturally, Hubert began thinking he should come north. Like any good student, he went to the library, where the university kept a green reference book containing the addresses of American universities and a listing of scholarship possibilities in the US open to Peruvians, alphabetized by state.

He turned to the first page: Alabama. And that was it. The whole story.

At that point in the interview, my aunt started laughing: if only he’d turned a few more pages, she said, we could have moved to California!

With the International Day of the Migrant coming up this Saturday, I thought I’d share this little story with the extended Pelanga fam. Here’s an audio clip from the interview:

Interview with Tio Herbet

And here’s “El Jet”, a song from Los Compadres del Ande that makes me think of my parents’ generation, the ones that left Peru for all those random places that beckoned. It goes out with much love to my folks, to Hubert and Mercedes, and all the peruanos in Alabama.
El Jet – Los Compadres Del Ande

El Jet

– tunda

The Invisible City

We don’t usually write about television commercials here at La Pelanga, but then again, most commercials don’t have soundtracks like this one. I first saw this Cemento Sol ad a few years ago, and have had its laid-back cumbia reworking of the Augusto Polo Campos classic “Te Sigo” in my head ever since. I’ve done my best to find the complete track, but had no luck. The song (and the ad) recognizes a shift that was a long time coming: the capital used to be synonomous with música criolla; now, after decades of migration from the interior, that musical culture has changed dramatically. In colonial central Lima, just behind the Presidential Palace, there’s a boardwalk named after Chabuca Granda, one of the great songwriters of the creole tradition—these days it’s pretty common to hear the strains of Andean huayno there, something unimaginable not that long ago. Cumbia bands like Juaneco y su Combo perform at the Lima’s Centro Cultural de España in front of thousands. The once-obscure Los Belkings (perhaps the greatest Andean surf rock group ever) play sold-out shows in the hipster district of Barranco.

The images themselves tell an important story—moving from central Lima to the anonymous outskirts, from the landmarks of the city’s colonial past to the newly-settled neighborhoods where most Limeños live. And the very fact that cement would be advertised on national television says something significant. While it’s difficult to imagine this happening in the United States or Europe, in the developing world, it makes perfect sense, of course. Peru is a country where most construction is done informally; where houses are built, not by contractors, but by the owners themselves, in their spare time, often with the help of their neighbors or extended family. In the ad’s last image, we get a glimpse of this new urban pastoral: working men place their hands gently on the grains of cement, and the thin metal bars rise like corn stalks from the roof of a house, backlit by the setting sun. This could be anywhere in the city, one of literally thousands of neighborhoods. I’d go so far as to say most of the Peruvian capital looks just like this.

The situation was very different in the 1970s, when the song was originally composed. In case you’ve never heard it, here it is, as sung by late Arturo “Zambo” Cavero, along with a slideshow of images from a city that no longer exists.

slideshow courtesy of Gianlucca30

— franz tunda

Roots of Chicha, vol II / Los Compadres del Ande

15111706-P1060361

In a few weeks, October 12 to be exact, the second of the Barbés Records anthologies “The Roots of Chicha” will be released. I was thoroughly impressed with the first one, which featured classics by some of our favorite groups here at La Pelanga: Los Mirlos, Los Destellos, and Juaneco y Su Combo. The tracks chosen and the comprehensive liner notes show me this guy has done his homework. He also started a band called Chicha tu madre, which tours all over, playing Peruvian cumbias to worldwide audiences.

My guess (hope?) is that this track “Lamparita” will be on the new compilation. Or maybe some other track by the extraordinary Compadres del Ande. That’s one mean organ! I’ll be posting “El Jet”–another banger–in a few weeks…

Meanwhile, if you haven’t heard the first compilation, I do recommend it.

Lamparita by Los Compadres Del Ande

Lamparita

Felíz bicentenario a México y los países centroamericanos!

–franz tunda

[aka “the deejay formerly known as juancho3000”]

“El tornillo,” Orq. Show Sinfonica Sunicancha Huarochiri

14438313-P1050851

A few months ago, I posted this track, “Consuelo mio” by Orquesta Show Sinfonica Sunicancha Huarochiri. It’s still one of my favorite Pelanga songs, one I always try to sneak into rotation at a party. In Lima, I went in search of anything else by this group, and came across this: Los Ases de Huarochiri.

This album is a bit different from the other one, Cumbias, Mambos, y Salsas al estio de mi tierra (can’t say the first one, since I don’t really know which came first…), more Andean, less tropical. Musically, it’s all over the map: polkas, huaynos, cumbias, tracks (like this one) that feature a lot of guitar, and even a few with an acoustic guitar, accordion and very little in the way of horns. Here’s a sample from side b.

An added (non-musical) bonus: the third guy form the right looks exactly like my brother-in-law PJ. Maybe I’ll ask him which album came first, and why the band can’t decide on a style.

El Tornillo by Orquesta Show Sinfonica Sunicancha Huarochiri

El Tornillo

–juancho3000

 

 

More from “El Aromito”

p1050496-scaled-1000

Club Social Musical “El Aromito” was formed after the famed Centro Musical El Callao closed in the early 1990s. Today, Friday, August 20th, it celebrates its 16th anniversary today. For the occasion, I’m posting this recording from a few Fridays ago. I wish I could be there…

abrazos,

juancho