Peru: Afro-Peruvian Christmas Music

Christmas, a celebration that came to Perú with the Spaniards at the beginning of the sixteenth century, was adapted over the years by the different communities of the country. One of those in particular, the black community, which arrived at almost the same time as the Europeans, and was fervently Christian, managed to include their own individuality in the festivities, expressing their particular experiences in the artistic creations made to honor the holidays.

Perhaps modern-day Lima, now virtually mestizo and Andean, no longer reflects the important influence of blacks in Lima for hundreds of years, so much that during colonial times it was known as The Old Zamba [es]. As noted by the great black folklorist Nicomedes Santa Cruz: “Lima was an enclave more tied to the Caribbean than the rest of Perú, because it had developed a mixed race culture in three hundred years behind the scenes. There were no mountain people. Nobody talked about Huaylas or Muliza. There was one name: ‘Serranitos, serranitos are dancing’.”

We can learn something about the black culture in Lima from this “Christmas Dance”. The Festejo is one of many Afro-Peruvian dances that still exists and has become popular throughout the country. The lyrics of this song mention several old districts of Lima, as well as its cuisine and flora, among other things. Eva Ayllón's interpretation dates back to 1999.

The following “Criollo Style Christmas Carol Waltz” while certainly being part of what is known as “Criollo style music”, is not without elements of black music in it. The voice belongs to Marco Romero and the master musician Carlos Ayala is on lead guitar.

Feliz Navidad” (Merry Christmas) is a modern festejo version of the well-known Christmas song, this time in the hands of the popular Pepe Vasquez, Jose de la Cruz (Guajaja) and Marco Romero.

The following two videos, according to their descriptions on YouTube, are “Depictions of Afro-Peruvian Christmas. Adoration of the Baby Jesus based on the celebrations of Cañete, Chincha and Pisco. Christmas carols sung by the Black Troupe (Hatajo de Negritos) of Sur Chico.” The blog Cañete – Arte y Folklore Negro del Perú, explains [es] more:

Por otro lado, Perú Negro realiza cada cierto tiempo un espectáculo llamado Navidad Negra. El número consta de tres partes, la primera consta de unos versos compuestos por el poeta César Calvo, con acompañamiento de guitarras; la segunda parte muestran los villancicos recopilados en El Carmen; y en la última parte se danzan los panalivios de los Hatajos de Cañete y Chincha.

On the other hand, Black Perú from time to time puts on a show called Black Christmas. The number consists of three parts: the first are some verses composed by the poet César Calvo with guitar accompaniment; the second part showcases Christmas carols compiled in El Carmen; and in the last part, they dance the panalivios of the Dance Troupes of Cañete and Chincha.

César Calvo, mentioned as the author of the lyrics of the first part of Black Christmas, was a Peruvian poet of loretano (Loreto District) descent, who, without being of the black race, became Artistic Director of the famous Black Perú Folkloric Ensemble. In this tribute blog to Calvo, the lyrics of said song are the lyrics posted: [es]

Navidad Negra – Lamento
César Calvo autor de Letra y Música

Lavado con noche
igual que yo y tú
nació entre los negros
el Niño Jesús.

No bajes, Niño,
no de tu altar,
no sea que el amo
te haga azotar.

Su cara morena
es morena Luz,
único consuelo
en la esclavitud.

No bajes, Niño,
no de tu altar,
no sea que el amo
te haga azotar.

Black Christmas – Lament
Words and music by Cesar Calvo 

Washed by the night
Just like you and me
Born among blacks
the Baby Jesus.

Don't come down, Baby,
from your altar,
lest the master
has you whipped.

Your dark face
is dark Light,
the only comfort
in slavery.

Don't come down, Baby,
from your altar,
lest the master
has you whipped.

There is no better way to end this post than with the aforementioned Nicomedes Santa Cruz. In the following performance, also called Black Christmas, Nicomedes starts with a “jolgorio” [es], then moves on to recite some décimas very much in his style, sounding like the speech of old Lima blacks.

This is only a small sampling of the large heritage of Afro-Peruvian culture, and there are also more examples of how Christmas in Perú has been adapted to some of our many cultures and artistic expressions.

Post originally published at the personal blog of Juan Arellano [es] 23 December, 2011
Thumbnail image from Flickr user stevendamron, under Creative Common license Atribución 2.0 Genérica (CC BY 2.0)

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