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The Soundtrack for a City: Lima’s Diverse Musical Styles

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Despite being an authentic melting pot of many different cultures, Lima is filled with musical secrets that aren’t apparent for those who are just passing through. But if you know of the right places to look, you’ll open yourself to experience Peru’s wide-ranging musical heritage.

If there is one thing you ought to know when you arrive in Lima, it’s that below the surface there’s a musical explosion underway. It’s a countercurrent that feeds the tastes of cosmopolitan residents as well as immigrants from the mountains and the coasts. They are the songs of the cities, of the seas, of the rivers, and of the mountains. It’s a city where everything makes a sound, and where every soul needs a song to stay alive.

Lima Bewitched

Creole music is an essential aspect of Lima’s musical heritage. As a mixture of Spanish, African, and Andean styles, it took root at the beginning of the 20th Century. It’s relatively recent emergence means that the Creole spirit is still vibrantly alive in the city’s most emblematic neighborhoods: Rimac, Barrios Altos, Breña, La Victoria, and Cercado.

Big names in Peruvian Creole music

Following in the footsteps of interpreters such as Limeñita y Ascoy, Los Morochucos, Oscar Aviles and Arturo “Zambo” Cavero, and composers like Felipe Pinglo, Chabuca Granda, Manuel Acosta Ojeda, and Augusto Polo Campos, the creole legacy in its purest form continues. Contemporary Creole artists include Manolo Castillo Vera, Jorge Armas, Francisco “Chiquito” Rodriguez, Cesar Manuel “Pescado” Oliva and Alberto “Chiquitin” Borjas. All of these musicians have recently published records with the company Sayariy, under the La gran reunion label.

Apus and flowers

After decades of migrations from Andean highlands, Peru’s capital city now supports innumerable clubs located throughout the city that embody traditional Andean flavors. These clubs located in the center and outskirts of Lima regularly host local fiestas in order to honor the communities, districts, and provinces of the Peruvian highlands from where many residents migrated.

And when this beautiful flower of folk tradition blooms, you can sense the joy shared among all who are present. Many people nurture strong identities to their homelands. From the likes of Raul Garcia Zarate and Manuelcha Prado, who are custodians of the traditional Ayacucho guitar, to Dina Paucar, Sonia Morales and Laurita Pacheco, exponents of the Andean harp. The area surrounding the Central Market is a great part of the city to go in order to take part in these kinds of events. Here you can connect with every variation of Peru’s folklore.

Contemporary music

Since the middle of the 20th century, contemporary and experimental music has developed a strong presence in Lima. It was during these times that artists such as Edgar Valcarcel, Cesar Bolaños, Arturo Ruiz del Pozo, and Jorge Eduardo Eielson began their search for new sounds. In the vanguard of modern music, new exponents are coming to prominence today. It’s not uncommon for fusion and experimental musicians to put together collaborative performances with visual artists in venues around the city. If you are in the northern suburbs, keep an eye out for Luis Alvarado and his label Buh Records. As far as venues go, you can usually find great performances at the MAC, Telefonica Foundation, the National Theatre, Proyecto AMIL, and 80m2.

Rock and Roll

Rock is not a musical genre in Lima. Rather, it is a fusion of various styles born in the city’s streets. At venues scattered around the city in the neighborhoods of Miraflores, Barranco, Los Olivos, and within the Historic Center, you can get a good taste of contemporary Peruvian rock. You’ll also encounter a range of sub-genres within this genre, such as countercultural rock, freak folk, indie, hardcore, and metal. Live performers include artists such as Kanaku y El Tigre, Cocaina, Menores, Jiron Mercurio, La Sarita, El Aire, Cuchillazo, Cobra and many others. If you appreciate this type of music, then expect these artists’ gigs to blow you away.

Tropical anarchy

There is also something else in the air which fully represents the spirit of Lima in the 21st Century: it’s cumbia. Having risen into popularity in the seventies with the emergence of psychedelic cumbia, over the years this genre has taken Peru by storm. Keep an eye out for bands such as Los Destellos, Los Mirlos, and Juaneco y su Combo. These artists brewed their musical styles from Andean cumbia of the eighties. Artists include Chacalon, Los Shapis, Pintura Roja, and Armonia 10.

Make no mistake: the new generation’s cumbia rhythms are potent and extremely popular. Big names include Dengue Dengue Dengue!, and Elegante y La Imperial. You’ll also find many popular DJs of digital cumbia such as La Mente and Bareto. Their dub beats set the stage for tropical anarchy and contemporary music.

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Cover photo: Flickr

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The Living in Peru travel team is dedicated to featuring travel articles that provide you with insider information, tips, travel inspiration and best places to visit in Peru to help you plan your next vacation.