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July 23, 2009

Eva Ayllón and Novalima: Two Top Afro-Peruvian Acts


"Quema la vida, quema la muerte" (Burn life, burn death), sings Novalima vocalist Milagros Guerrero in this sharp video for "Coba Guarango"

by John Oseid

How many of you Peru-ophiles know that a half-million Peruvians are of African descent? Few, I'll bet. But Afro-Peruvians have long been making their own music, from festejo and vals dance music to my favorite, landó, a bluesy sound with Angolan roots. Last week, two of the scene's stars made a convert of me.

Eva Ayllón brought her supercharged voice to the Blender Theater, a converted cinema in New York's Gramercy neighborhood. In addition to an African djembe drum, her tight group featured the signature Afro-Peruvian quijada de burro, a donkey jawbone that acts as a rattler, and the cajón. I'm amazed at the sundry sounds that can be coaxed from the simple wooden box drums. You can hear Ayllón's slow love song "Adoro" and the brisk, jazzy call-and-response "Akundun" on her vibrant new album Kimba Fá.

Novalima is an acclaimed young group that fuses hip-hop, dub, reggae, and various electronic sounds with robust Afro-Peruvian percussive beats. In support of their new album Coba Coba, they performed spiffed-up versions of traditional songs like "Se me Van" at Le Poisson Rouge.

Afro-Peruvians have long been migrating to Lima from their coastal communities. Ayllón and Novalima are shaping their new sounds there, but they both perform songs in praise of their black heritage and rural roots. You won't find a single panpipe on stage, though--we're a long way from Machu Picchu.

More music:
* Here's a video of Eva Ayllón performing the classic folk song "Toro Mata" (The Bull Kills). Check her MySpace page for dates for upcoming European shows.
* With cutting-edge bands like Novalima, the three-year-old Cumbancha label has already made itself a world music leader.
* Out of nowhere, an Afro-Peruvian restaurant and music space just opened in Midtown Manhattan. I'll be heading to the Tutuma Social Club soon.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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