The efforts of Peruvian music group Novalima are a refreshing example that we all gain with equality, coexistence and diversity.
That, in a country like Peru where white and black people hardly socialize in public, where Afro descendants are openly discriminated, and where Afro Peruvian culture is not given the credits for its contribution to our national identity.
If you are into Afro beat, international, jazz, fusion or electronica music, then you will love this long-overdue Novalima’s new production Coba Coba, a superb and rich compilation of twelve songs -of what I prefer to call Afro electronic fusion music- that will transport you into a cheerful, celebrating state of mind.
- [Note: One of the members of Novalima has sent me an email to make some corrections to this post and to authorize the use of their music for the video I am posting today.]
These songs are performed by talented Afro Peruvian musicians: Juan Medrano, Mangue Vasquez, Milagros Guerrero, Marcos Mosquera and Constantino Alvarez; played with several other guest musicians from Peru, Cuba, Spain and New Zealand.
The latest work of Novalima is amazing but not fully what I expected: it's better. It starts with 'Concheperla', a return of traditional dance Marinera to its Zamacueca roots: the African beat of northern Peru, where slaves played their music in the sugar cane farms, mixing them with the Muchik native dances of the region, dressing it with Hispanic tunes.
Unfortunately at the end of the first song a racist slur is shut (chola is a derogative term to Native women), a wrong choice that I am sure was not bad intentioned, since some Peruvians still use that word naively.
Then, Liberta’ (Freedom) is a song with a typical Afro Peruvian feel to it and great lyrics, telling about the day when a black man will one day become President. Written by legendary Carlos ‘Caitro’ Soto who –rest in peace- knew that Blacks one day will raise. "No more chains, now we can scream!"
After listening to ‘Se Me Van’ (they are out of control) -which is a party song- I was surprised. This song that talks about dancing, reminds me of the play “Latido Negro” (Black beat) that I saw two years ago in Washington, DC, by a group of Afro Peruvian singers and artists. Although this version is very jazzy, with some reggae even, but I must admit that I like the traditional version better. Still, I kept singing the song for the rest of the day.
‘Ruperta’, is a song about a free spirited woman who ends up alone in conservative-minded Peru. It has some reggae and hip hop tunes, very slow and with some lyrics that got my attention but then again, I am used to hear the usual version, so it takes me a bit to get into this one. Now, ‘Africa Lando’ in the contrary, is a song I feel very much –the Lando is a traditional Afro Peruvian genre, an old dance that has spiritual meaning to Black people and it tells the stories of slavery and struggle for freedom. The lyrics are by Afro Peruvian icon Nicomedes Santa Cruz.
‘Coba Guarango’ didn’t impress me much, it’s a chill kind of song, very mellow but what is interesting is that
‘Mujer Ajena’ (someone else’s woman) has some Cuban salsa flavor and it gets you in a dancing mood, a very sexy piece with a nice vocal work. ‘Tumbala’ is a nice jam, very cool and ideal for entertaining, it has some funk and jazz on it although the vocals sound kind of out of place at some point.
One my favorite songs in this CD has to be ‘Kumana’ because it actually captures the African rhythms of Peru, with the instruments and the great voice
Finally ‘Yo Voy’ (I go) is another party type song, it’s based on an Afro Caribbean song (Cuban Montero) and mixed with interesting keyboard mixes, neat. Now... the last song ‘Bolero’ is just not right, the voice is really annoying and a proof that is hard to mix romantic music -Cuban bolero is one of the most love-making inspiring genres- with electronic instruments. Unless you understand Spanish, you might think the singer is going through some sort of pain, not the love kind.
My final word, Novalima has done a great job and buying Coba Coba is worth it -look for it in iTunes. This production is a cheerful and sexy fusion of passionate and strong Afro Peruvian remixes. The result is a jazzy, sexy, and very ideal compilation for a party, or for listening while driving or exercising.
We know it, this is not traditional Afro Peruvian music, but its roots come very much from the culture of Black Peru. Say, I am sure one day this CD will become a reference for Black Peruvians to create more of that permanent fusion experience called Peruvian music.
I want to mention also the photography included in the CD brochure. They are beautifully sad: the images of Afro Peruvians enduring poverty and harsh living conditions (including snapshots of Amador Ballumbrosio family) remind me of Peru’s unfair society and the beauty of Peruvians.
At the end of the brochure a group photo of Novalima shows smiling faces of different complexions and races, in front of a modest adobe house. All of them share a common root: it’s called Peru, a place where no matter what, people love to celebrate, create and sometimes coexist.
Photography by Larry Salcedo, Yayo Lopez and Grimaldo del Solar