Afro-Peruvian music has its roots in the communities of black slaves brought to work in the mines along the Peruvian coast. As such, it’s a fair way from the Andes, culturally and geographically. However, as it developed, particularly in this century, it drew on Andean and Spanish, as well as African traditions, while its modern exponents also have affinities with Andean nueva canción. The music was little known even in Peru until the 1950s, when it was popularized by the seminal performer Nicomedes Santa Cruz, whose body of work was taken a step further in the 1970s by the group Peru Negro. Internationally, it has had a recent airing through David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, issuing the compilation, Peru-Negro, and a solo album by Susana Baca.
Nicomedes Santa Cruz is the towering figure in the development of Afro-Peruvian music. A poet, musician and journalist, he was the first true musicologist to assert an Afro-Peruvian cultural identity through black music and dance, producing books and recordings of contemporary black music and culture in Peru. In 1959, with his group Conjunto Cumanana , he recorded the album Kumanana, followed in 1960 by Ingá and Décimas y poemas Afroperuanos. In 1964 he recorded a four-album set Cumanana, now regarded as the bible of Afro-Peruvian music. Santa Cruz himself followed in the footsteps of Porfirio Vasquez , who came to Lima in 1920 and was an early pioneer of the movement to regain the lost cultural identity of Afro-Peruvians. A composer of décimas, singer, guitarist, cajonero (box player) and zapateador (dancer) he founded the Academia Folklorica in Lima in 1949. Through Santa Cruz’s work and that of the group Peru Negro and the singer and composer Chabuca Granda , Latin America came to know Afro-Peruvian dances, the names of which were given to their songs such as Toro mata, Samba-malató, El Alcatraz and Festejo.

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