Chicha , the fermented maize beer, has given its name to a new and hugely popular brew of Andean tropical music – a fusion of urban cumbia (local versions of the original Colombian dance), traditional highland huayno, and rock.
The music’s origins lie in the massive migration of Amerindians from the inner mountain areas to the shantytowns around cities such as Arequipa and Lima. Chicha emerged in Lima in the early 1960s and by the mid-1980s had become the most widespread urban music in Peru. Most bands have lead and rhythm guitars, electric bass, electric organ, a timbales and conga player, one or more vocalists (who may play percussion) and, if they can, a synthesizer.
The first chicha hit, and the song from which the movement has taken its name, was La Chichera ( The Chicha Seller) by Los Demonios de Mantaro (The Devils of Mantaro), who hailed from the central highlands of Junin. Another famous band are Los Shapis , another provincial group established by their 1981 hit El Aguajal ( The Swamp), a version of a traditional huayno. Pastorita Huaracina is one of the more well-known female singers. Another good band – and the first to get a Western CD release – are Belem , based in Lima.
While most lyrics are about love in all its aspects, nearly all songs actually reveal an aspect of the harshness of the Amerindian experience – displacement, hardship, loneliness and exploitation. Many songs relate to the great majority of people who have to make a living selling their labour and goods in the unofficial “informal economy”, ever threatened by the police. Los Shapis’ El Ambulante ( The Street Seller) opens with a reference to the rainbow colours of the Inca flag and the colour of the ponchos the people use to keep warm and transport their wares. “My flag is of the colours and the stamp of the rainbow/For Peru and America/Watch out or the police will take your bundle off you!/Ay, ay, ay, how sad it is to live/How sad it is to dream/I’m a street seller, I’m a proletarian/Selling shoes, selling food, selling jackets/I support my home.”
Chicha has effectively become a youth movement, an expression of social frustration for the mass of people suffering racial discrimination in Peruvian society.

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