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Peruvian ancestral music that goes around the world

Four musicians use ancestral instruments to capture the echo of our roots. They are not national idols, but they have taken Peruvian music to every corner of the world. Today, with a record of more than twenty years of experience, they narrate with joy their travels around the world, including their last tour of Nepal, the land of Buddha and Everest.*

By Arnol Piedra.**

The four musicians meet each night to rehearse in a small space adorned with all kinds of musical instruments. Pachacamac, the name given to the group in honor of the pre-Hispanic god, is characterized by musical diversity.

"Each of us comes from different artistic backgrounds and that has enriched our work", says Hernan Caro, vocalist and leader of Pachacamac, while introducing his colleagues: Alex Acuña (charango player), Manuel Nivin (woodwind), and Giovanna Ramos (percussion). All of them describe with enthusiasm the quartet’s personality.

"This group was born to revalue our roots", points out Hernán, who adds that they seek to approach the oral tradition of the Andean peoples, characterized by community cohesion. "The community was the concept of ancient Peru and we look for that concept through music”, adds Alex.

Following this philosophy, Pachacamac has exhibited its art in all kinds of scenarios. From large theaters to popular cemeteries, rock concerts and prehistoric caves at 4,000 meters high. From Peruvian archaeological sites, such as Chavín de Huántar or Caral, to remote enclaves like Petra (Jordan), one of the new seven wonders of the world.


The most peculiar aspect of Pachacamac is its wide variety of pre-Hispanic instruments that includes quenas, panpipes, maracas, ocarinas, rattles, tarkas (indigenous flutes of the Andes), whistling huacos (Peruvian whistling vessels), and some very exotic items like a curtain of seashells and apricot seeds, and a donkey's jawbone. They also use Creole and Afro-Peruvian instruments such as guitar, cymbals, bass, charango and cajon, a fact that reflects the multicultural nature of their music.

While showing their instruments, Hernán and Alex unpack some replicas of black antaras (Andean panpipes) from the Nazca culture, all of them of different sizes and well-wrapped in fabrics like funerary bundles. They begin to rehearse a song called "Acueductos", which, through the magic of the sound, tells the history of the Nazca people and their prowess to manage the scarce water in the desert.

"Each theme tells a story about our roots. It does not matter if the instruments are native or foreign, the important thing is that the sounds adapt to our environment", says Giovanna, who performs as a percussionist like many female musicians from ancient Peru.

A “genre” of innovation

The music of Pachacamac is difficult to classify in a specific genre. But its members call it "genre" of innovation, in which they work with two different aspects: instrumental music and songs. In both, they develop a long-term research work, in which they study the culture of the indigenous peoples and perform a musical exploration with different instruments to narrate different stories or mythologies, which is noticeable in themes such as “Inkarri” or “Los Ojos de Naylamp”.

In these stories, Pachacamac tries to convey a present dimension to the pre-Hispanic instruments they use, since it is impossible to specify how pre-Hispanic music really was. "We create ‘music with pre-Hispanic instruments' and not 'pre-Hispanic music'. Being a social person is also being a current person", clarifies Giovanna

But not all the stories are about ancient Peru. Another example of creative and innovative work is the theme “Mañana Mesozoica” (Mesozoic Morning), which reconstructs nature sounds from a geological era dominated by dinosaurs through sounds that induce the imagination. This work was achieved in several weeks using only indigenous instruments of wind and percussion.

"We always had the premise of being creative and innovative, and looking for a group language that reflects a way of perceiving Peru through music, merging different elements", says Hernán, while summarizing the artistic essence of Pachacamac: "We do not classify ourselves in any specific musical genre. Our music is in constant evolution and creation”.

Travelling around the world

"Our tours abroad have derived from our music", says Manuel, while his companions tell picturesque adventures and anecdotes they experienced while traveling through different countries. "A documentary about our trips is already being shot to let the world know about the influence of music on people, regardless of cultural differences", he adds.

On the American continent, they visited Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Argentina. In Argentina they were interviewed by several local newspapers, although they did not manage to bring the package of newspaper clippings due to customs problems at the airport. They made four trips to Mexico, in which they also visited archaeological sites such as Teotihuacan, where they used the opportunity to photograph themselves in front of the Pyramid of the Sun, the most majestic pyramid of America.

In the Middle East, they toured Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. They visited historical places like Byblos, Damascus, and Petra. In Lebanon (a Christian and Muslim country), they arrived in the throes of a political-religious conflict due to the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, thus experiencing the upheaval of the environment. Finally, in Egypt, they enjoyed a pharaonic journey, visiting the Pyramids, the Great Sphinx and Luxor city, and navigating the waters of the Nile.

For Pachacamac, it was a gratifying experience to visit the cradle of great civilizations and societies so different from Peruvian society and culture. The image of Peru in the Middle East is very distant and unknown. “We had to associate it with Argentina or Brazil (countries very well known throughout the world for football) for people to locate Peru", says Giovanna in a humorous way before talking about their most oriental trip. To the land of Buddha.

Pachacamac in the Nyatapola Temple

Over the Himalayas

Pachacamac travelled to Nepal in November 2015 to participate in the International Festival "World Wood Day", held in Kathmandu. This event brought together artists from one hundred countries that work with wood, whether they are carvers, architects or musicians.

During this tour, Pachacamac performed at the Nepal's Academy Theater and gave didactic concerts in a school for the deaf and in a nursing home. The group also held open to the public workshops on Andean instruments and worked with local musicians composing new themes and integrating Peruvian and Nepalese instruments.

The quartet also got to know the ancient Nepalese culture by visiting temples and sanctuaries near forests and mountains that cover the cradle of Buddhism, such as those of Pashupatinath, Nyatapola and Swayambhunath, the latter known as "the temple of the monkeys". "We were surprised to see that the spiritual link between people and nature is similar to the link Andean people have in our country", says Giovanna, speaking of the similarities between Peru and Nepal.

Despite the linguistic barriers, the Nepalese were captivated by the pre-Hispanic sounds and joined the musical celebration, as did the natives of all the countries they visited. "Without a doubt, music connects people regardless of cultural differences," Giovanna concludes, as she picks up the ocarina and lets another melody emerge.

*This article was originally published in April 2017 and translated in April 2019. Check the original version here: 

**Arnol Piedra is a Peruvian journalist specialized in culture.

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