Hot fusion

Pub date March 19, 2008
SectionArts & CultureSectionDance

If you’ve done any traveling at all, you know about Peruvian dance and music. You will have seen the small groups of black-caped musicians (occasionally accompanied by dancers) playing pan pipes anywhere from Tokyo to New York City, Copenhagen to Atlanta. But there is another aspect of this country’s culture, one that originated halfway around the world. Early in their sixteenth century conquests, Peru’s Spanish colonial powers imported slaves from Africa to work the silver mines. But with the abolition of slavery in 1854, the thriving Afro-Peruvian culture gradually started melting away. By the mid-twentieth century it was composed of fading memories, dances half-remembered, and musical instruments in disrepair. One was the cajon, today known from flamenco dancing; a wooden box Afro-Peruvians used for percussion instead of the forbidden drum. One man, Ronaldo Campos, realized what a tragedy the loss of these cultural traditions would be. In 1969 he founded Perú Negro (now run by his son), and with the help of ethnologists they began to save and revitalize Peru’s African heritage. If you have seen the Bay Area’s El Tunante perform Peru’s national dance, the zamacueca (now often called the marinera), at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, you’ll have had a taste of how European, Indian, and African cultures have mixed in Peru. Perú Negro’s one-night-only concert presents a collection of dances, including the percussive zapateos; the popular zamacueca, which is danced with handkerchiefs; the landó, originally from Angola but entering Peru by way of Brazil; and the toro mato, which mocks the stiff-boned formality of the European minuet. Thematically, the dances both lament and celebrate the slaves’ daily working and living conditions. In addition to the guitar, you may also hear quijadas, or jaw bones, and cajitas, small box drums worn around the neck. (Rita Felciano)


Thurs/20, 8 p.m., $22–$42

Zellerbach Hall

UC Berkeley, Lower Sproul Plaza (near Bancroft at Telegraph), Berk.

(510) 642-9988