The renowned singer is the first Afro-Peruvian to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Latin Grammys.

By Brenda Barrientos
November 20, 2019 06:01 PM
Getty Images for LARAS

"This Grammy is dedicated to Peru," Eva Ayllón told People CHICA after accepting her Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in Las Vegas last week. "It's the country where I was born, it's the land with the most beautiful and diverse culture." She also dedicated it to her grandma, "who was the one who introduced me to música criolla." The Afro-Peruana was one of seven recipients of this year's award, which was presented to legacy artists who've made astonishing contributions in Latin music. (Other winners were Joan Baez, José Cid, Lupita D'Alessio, Hugo Fattoruso, Pimpinela, Omara Portuondo and José Luis Rodríguez aka El Puma.)

Peruvian música criolla, also known as Afro-Peruvian music, is a varied genre that encompasses rhythms found in Peruvian waltz, pregón, festejo, marinera, tondero and landó; it also involves richly detailed traditional dances. The genre was originated by enslaved Africans who were brought to Peru by Spanish colonizers during the 16th century. As slaves, they were banned from performing their own music, so they got creative and made musical instruments from old packing crates that could be disguised as seats or stools. These evolved into the cajon, a wooden box you sit on as you play with your hands; it became a prominent instrument in Afro-Peruvian music along with other key instruments like the cajita and quijada.

"A lot of people saw this as the music of the slaves. They were ashamed of it," renowned Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. She wasn't wrong — it wasn't until the 1950s that the genre was "revived" by Nicomedes Santa Cruz, an Afro-Peruvian musician who spent most of his life bringing awareness to the black Peruvian community. In 1995, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne curated a compilation album called The Soul of Black Peru, which featured key Afro-Peruvian figures like Peru Negro, Chabuca Granda, Baca, Ayllón and others. It was one of the first international releases of música criolla.

Getty Images for LARAS

Today, Ayllón is among one of the many Peruvian musicians bringing the genre to the forefront. She is well aware of her legacy and its impact on the people of Peru. "Everyone needs to get to know Peru," she says. "We haven't even opened up the door a little bit. This is recognition for a timeless name, but Peru needs to have its doors open! For example, for Peruvian artists to have a show here [in the U.S.] — there is still a lot of time left, and that's what I want to achieve."

She hopes that up-and-coming Peruvian artists stay patient and wishes them all the luck in the world. "I waited so many years for this recognition — 49 years of my life," she says. "Artists who are just starting need to push through with resilience! They have things I didn't have. In my time there weren't telephones, cell phones. There wasn't television — well, there was, but I didn't have one. Now there are social media outlets, there are millions of ways to upload a video to Facebook and speak. There are millions of ways to be found!"

The "Despierta Perú" singer is in a good place right now. She tells CHICA she's currently working on new music with her son Francisco Ayllón in his recording studio. "I have two songs coming out, a bolero and a waltz," she adds. "A sort of novelty, like a tropical fusion. I really want to push for that category."

As for the Afro-Peruvian community, it is still socially and economically invisible, and racism continues to thrive in Peru. It was only two years ago that Peru apologized to its African-descended population for years of discrimination. When asked what steps need to be taken in order to bring awareness and visibility to the Afro-Peruvian community, Ayllón had this to say: "Love them a little more. We must create a community of people who understand and accept our culture."

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