On 27 May 2015—the day of indigenous languages in Peru—Rock Achorao’ and PenZion Producciones released a compilation album of contemporary musical genres in indigenous languages entitled ‘Mana Wanaq: 22 canciones en los idiomas del Perú’. The songs on this album were recorded between 2000 and 2015 by Peruvian bands primarily from Lima. The majority of the tracks are in Quechua—the most widely-spoken indigenous language in Peru—but there are also five tracks in the Amazonian indigenous languages Shipibo, Bora, and Kukuma. While the album includes some well-established artists like La Sarita, Uchpa, and Sylvia Falcón, most are contemporary independent fusion musicians. Like numerous others in the independent music scene in Lima, the contemporary fusion musicians featured on this album incorporate the local into their music in the form of autochthonous musical genres and instruments, indigenous languages, and references to Peruvian writer, anthropologist, and musician José María Arguedas (1911–1969). In this article, I will analyze two songs from this important compilation album—‘Harawi’ and ‘Wifala’—in which Crónica de Mendigos and Tayta Bird use excerpts of Arguedas’ texts as a way of engaging in dialogue with Arguedian ideals and their own ideas about Arguedas, thus setting themselves up as his heirs.

Crónica de Mendigos is a band composed of a mix of professionally trained and self-taught musicians in their mid 20s to early 30s from different parts of Lima. Band leaders Albania Sánchez and Enzo Aranda are originally from northern Lima.1 Tayta Bird, artistic name for Edwin Carrasco, is a self-taught musician and music producer in his early 30s who also grew up in northern Lima. These musicians self-identify as both middle class2 and mestizo. They form part of a recent trend in Lima called música fusión, or simply fusión, which had its first boom in 2005 (Montero-Diaz 2016: 3).3Fusión is an umbrella term for a range of hybrid musical genres in Lima’s independent music scene and refers to a very specific cultural product which relies on a conscious mixture of autochthonous musical genres and instruments with global ones. Fusion musicians in Lima form part of a worldwide phenomenon of young cosmopolitans mixing local and global musics, which Motti Regev (2013) calls ‘aesthetic cosmopolitanism’.4 In this way, this article contributes to studies of fusion music in Lima and to broader discussions of hybridity in popular music.

Like other bands on the ‘Mana Wanaq’ album and in the independent music scene in Lima, Crónica de Mendigos and Tayta Bird look to Arguedas as cultural hero. As I will explore here, knowledge of Arguedas and his ideals is used as a form of positively valued cultural capital that allows these cosmopolitan, upwardly mobile young people to keep a connection to an essentialized Peruvian identity while exploring new hybrid musical expressions. Here I will argue that contemporary fusion musicians in Lima such as Crónica de Mendigos and Tayta Bird establish themselves as heirs to Arguedas in order to legitimize their musical projects, negotiate their identities as limeños with roots in other parts of Peru, and celebrate cultural diversity through sonically modelling a more inclusive society. In setting themselves up as heirs to Arguedas, they attempt to continue his work by questioning discrimination and racism, calling for social justice,5 and reclaiming the notion of the mestizo, partaking in what I call ‘indigenismo for the digital age’. Through the use of autochthonous instruments, genres, and languages, these urban, nonindigenous musicians perform indigeneity in ways that are similar to the indigenista movement of the early twentieth century and other mestizo-led movements like la nueva canción, but which are updated through fusion aesthetics, and the new tools for musical production (sampling, home studios) and distribution (YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Facebook) that make these aesthetics possible.

This article analyzes material gathered during ethnographic fieldwork in Lima (August 2014–July 2015), including unpublished interviews with musicians Albania Sánchez and Enzo Aranda of Crónica de Mendigos and Edwin Carrasco (Tayta Bird). All interviews were conducted with these musicians as public persons and are cited with the permission of those interviewed. Both my research and interviews have been approved by the Norwegian Centre for Research Data (NSD), Project number 38904, although there are not any ethical concerns for this article. I interviewed over fifty fusion musicians during this period, but focus on Crónica de Mendigos and Tayta Bird because they both mentioned Arguedas in interviews and cite him in their music. Thus, they represent a trend that grew in importance throughout my fieldwork and was even more significant when I returned to Lima in April 2017. In addition to interviews, my material for this article includes song lyrics and music videos of their two songs featured on the ‘Mana Wanaq’ album, and use supporting information about the artists from their Facebook fan pages and other on-line media such as blogs and newspapers. This multimodal approach allows me to analyze not only what musicians are saying about Arguedas, but how they incorporate him into their music, and how this is perceived by digital media. This study of Peruvian independent musicians looking to Arguedas as a cultural hero inserts itself in the context of studies of music and identity in Lima.

Arguedian Ideals and Ideas about Arguedas

José María Arguedas’ novels, anthropological texts, and poetry expressed his love for the Andean peoples and cultures and served as a critique of the Peruvian society of his time, both of inequalities that the Andean populations faced and of the potential consequences that the modernization of the Andes could have on indigenous cultures and languages. Arguedas was a mestizo who proudly spoke and wrote in both Quechua and Spanish. He learned Quechua as a child, when he took refuge with the indigenous servants at his stepmother’s home when his father, a provincial lawyer who traveled from town to town, was away. His travels through the Andes with his father would also come to influence his work. Many of Arguedas’ novels and anthropological texts focused on developing the concept of the mestizo, as a modern Andean who has not lost touch with key indigenous values which included Quechua. Arguedas did receive criticism for some of his texts, such as his novel Todas las sangres,6 and is considered a tragic hero due to his suicide in 1969. However, these parts of his legacy are often ignored by the young limeños who cite him.

As a popular cultural icon, Arguedas is seen as someone who loved and respected the cultures of Peru, which he tried to reconcile with one another. He has become a symbol for intercultural communication and equality because of the way that he characterized mestizaje in his writings. Gonzalo Portocarrero defines the concept of mestizaje according to Arguedas: ‘Mestizaje a la Arguedas supposes equality and communication between people, differences without hierarchies. Cultural heterogeneity which is a source of richness and possibility’ (2007: 30). In this way, Arguedas has become a signifier used to celebrate Peru’s cultural manifold, and his notion of mestizaje is evoked to call for intercultural dialogue in Peru. However, using the figure of Arguedas like this can easily fall into what Jacqueline Lo calls ‘happy hybridity’, or an uncritical celebration of multiculturalism (2000: 153).

Many young people also evoke the concept of todas las sangres—a term used to celebrate cultural diversity in Peru and a reference to Arguedas’ novel of the same name—as a way of showing their cultural capital and connecting with Arguedas. Although this is not a synonym of mestizaje, young people who look to Arguedas as cultural hero often use these terms interchangeably to celebrate diversity. Another related concept central in Arguedas’ writings was transculturation; however, this is not something that is explored by young people in Lima in their quest to set Arguedas up as a cultural hero. Thus, Arguedas is seen by these young limeños as someone who loved the Andes, a spokesperson for the use of Quechua, and a proponent for the preservation of autochthonous musics and instruments. Arguedas saw mixture as one way of preserving indigenous cultures. Joshua Tucker points out that Arguedas used the hybrids danza de tijeras (scissors dance) and waqrapuku (an Andean horn) in his novels as ‘central symbols of indigenous inventiveness and resistance’ which were ‘evidence of indigenous survival and creativity, rather than cultural alienation’ (2011: 400). Fusion bands thus establish a connection to these ideas about Arguedas by singing in Quechua and expressing a desire to preserve autochthonous instruments and rhythms through fusing them with contemporary global genres.

Earlier studies have addressed the way that 1990s fusion bands, especially Uchpa,7 have established themselves as heirs to Arguedas (Oliart 2014, Zevallos-Aguilar 2011, 2016, Tucker 2011). Patricia Oliart argued that 1990s fusion bands Uchpa, La Sarita, and Los Mojarras have used Arguedas’ legacy as a way of exploring ideas of inclusion and fighting against racism in Peruvian society (2014: 196), which contemporary young musicians continue to do. Another aspect that contemporary fusion bands share with their predecessors is that they engage with ideas about Arguedas rather than with his work itself. Oliart asserts that, for 1990s fusion bands, ‘ideas about Arguedas’s work [were] … not always informed by close readings’ (2014: 194), which Tucker confirms in the case of Fredy Ortiz (2011: 411, footnote 20). Ortiz, the lead singer of Uchpa and a native speaker of Quechua, is characterized as a ‘modern Quechua individual’ (Zevallos-Aguilar 2016: 260) who is seen as ‘being himself’—a Quechua-speaking Andean who has been influenced by both rock/blues and Andean traditional musics (Tucker 2011: 408). Ortiz is compared to Arguedas because of his desire ‘to make ‘modern’ music in the Quechua language’ (Tucker 2011: 401). It is easy to draw parallels between Fredy Ortiz and Arguedas due to their origins in the same Peruvian department of Apurímac, pride in speaking Quechua, and desire to diffuse this language. However, the majority of the contemporary fusion bands featured on the ‘Mana Wanaq’ album are not native Quechua speakers. Most of their repertoire is in Spanish with just one or two songs in Quechua. Thus, they are not trying to prove that they are modern Andeans, like Arguedas or Ortiz, but rather young cosmopolitans who are in touch with the local, Quechua being one of many tokens of their identity as Peruvians.

The manner in which contemporary young limeños look to Arguedas as cultural hero can be seen in part as a continuation of the work of 1990s musicians as characterized by Oliart (2014); however, they approach Arguedas and his ideals in a different way. These young Peruvians have grown up in a country that is more accessible to them than it was for previous generations, both physically—through the freedom to travel throughout Peru regained after the end of the twenty-year Internal Conflict in 2000 and access to more affordable and safer national transportation than previous generations—; and virtually, through the contact with other cultures and musics, both Peruvian and global, through the internet. These young musicians have learned how to play autochthonous instruments themselves, in contrast to the musicians of La Sarita and Uchpa who hire traditional musicians to fill this role. Thus, the way of making fusion itself has changed, as has the way that young musicians incorporate Arguedas into their music, making use of digital techniques such as sampling to give Arguedas a voice. The fact that young people continue to celebrate Arguedas as a cultural hero suggests that they view his work of creating a more inclusive society as yet incomplete.

Quechua: Discrimination, Revitalization, and Rock Music

Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in Peru, making up 13.2% of the national population in the 2007 census (INEI 2008: 117). Although Quechua is spoken throughout the Andes and has had official status in Peru since the 1970s, it is still considered an endangered language (Hornberger and King 2001: 166; Moseley 2010). In fact, in Lima, a language shift from Quechua to Spanish resulting from migration has been documented in just two generations (Pærregaard 1997: 72). For Klee and Caravedo, the main cause of this language shift is not migration itself, but rather the stigma attached to Quechua and other indigenous languages (2006: 95). Hornberger and King assert that the reason that Quechua speakers are marginalized in Andean countries is that ‘Quechua continues to be strongly linked with the rural, uneducated and poor, while Spanish remains the primary language of national and international communication, literacy and education, and professional and academic success’ (2001: 167). Discrimination against Quechua speakers has even been revealed in regions with a Quechua-speaking majority such as Cuzco (Centro Guaman Poma de Ayala 2012; Huayhua 2010).8 This mirrors the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that identified Quechua speakers as one of the groups most affected by Peru’s Internal Conflict, which they believe signaled a ‘hidden racism’ in Peruvian society (CVR 2003: 316). To sum up, Quechua speakers are discriminated against in Peru, which has led to a language shift to Spanish among Quechua-speaking communities.

Efforts towards Quechua language revitalization and maintenance have included bilingual education, television and radio programming, as well as more recent efforts by the Ministry of Culture to fight discrimination through offering courses in Quechua, Aymara, and Awajún, establishing programs for raising awareness of indigenous cultures, and starting a campaign called ‘Alerta contra el racismo’ (Alert to racism) which combats discrimination based on ethnicity or language.9 Other efforts to give Quechua a space in national media include the first news program in Quechua on Peruvian national television (TVPerú) called ‘Ñuqanchik’ (all of us), which started airing in December 2016.

As mentioned above, Quechua was very important to Arguedas’ identity as a modern Andean, a mestizo, and is something that musicians incorporate into their music to evoke Arguedas. However, rock and other contemporary genres in Lima have generally not been sung in Quechua, but rather, making covers and singing in English were accepted practices which only began to be questioned in the mid 1970s (Cornejo Guinassi 2002: 30). Most Peruvian rock music since then has been in Spanish, and there have been very few bands in Lima who perform contemporary genres in Quechua, among these Pipo Ávalos and José Ninapaytán Huayta (‘Pepito Quechua’) in the 1960s, Trébol in the 1970s and Tercera Oficina in the 1980s (Lévano 2013), and Uchpa from the 1990s to the present.

One recent effort to spotlight contemporary rock and fusion in indigenous languages is the album I mentioned above, ‘Mana Wanaq’. In the liner notes of the album on Bandcamp, digital promoter Rock Achorao’ (2015b) asserts that the bands featured use their music to fight against discrimination surrounding the use of indigenous languages in Peru. They market these bands as revolutionaries who are going against the grain by mixing autochthonous musics and global ones—two currents previously seen as irreconcilable. They also argue that the album reconciles the traditional and the modern through the artists singing contemporary music in indigenous languages. However, rather than a rebellion or as a way to influence Quechua language revitalization efforts more generally, my 2015 interviews with Enzo Aranda of Crónica de Mendigos and Tayta Bird revealed that their use of this language was instead a way for them to explore their own identities as children of Quechua speakers.

Nira Yuval-Davis asserts that ‘belonging is about emotional attachment, about feeling “at home”’ (2006: 197) and ‘[i]dentities are narratives, stories people tell themselves and others about who they are (and who they are not)’ (202). Identity and emotional attachments are one level that can be used to construct and understand belonging (202).10 As I will explore in the pages to come, musicians such as Aranda and Bird articulate their own belonging as cosmopolitans who grew up in Lima who also identify with the Andes because of their family’s origins. Hybridity in the form of fusion music becomes a way for these young musicians to explore the multiple facets of their identities, thus showing that they ‘belong’ both in Lima and in the Andes. Through fusion, these young people also explore what it means to be Peruvian. They sonically model a more inclusive nation by fusing not just Andean musics, but music from different Peruvian cultures and corners of the nation. Yuval-Davis expands Benedict Anderson’s (2006 [1983]) theoretical concept of a nation as an ‘imagined community’ by including the notion of time, saying that ‘the national imagination also includes former and future generations’ (2006: 204). These limeño musicians’ notion of what it means to be Peruvian includes nostalgia for the past—in the form of Arguedas as cultural hero and autochthonous musical genres and instruments—and optimism for the future—through calling for a more inclusive society and promoting autochthonous musics, cultures, and languages that they see as being lost.

Crónica de Mendigos: Remediation of Arguedas’ ‘Oda al Jet’

The independent limeño band Crónica de Mendigos was founded in late 2013 by Albania Sánchez, Enzo Aranda, and other students at the National Music Conservatory in Lima (now the National University of Music). The band arose out of a desire to rebel against the limits that the Conservatory had placed on them and gave them the freedom to create the music that they wanted to create. The current line-up is (pictured from left to right in Figure 1) Hans Huarcaya, Orlando Carrasco, Roberto Mendoza, Albania Sánchez, Diego Ojeda, Alonso Pizarro, and Enzo Aranda. In the years that I have followed the band on Facebook, the description of the music they make has changed from ‘música mestiza’ to ‘neomúsica peruana’ to ‘Peruvian world music’, indicating that the exploration of identities and genre is an important part of their work as a band. Although they distance themselves from the fusion trend, as they view it as too all-inclusive and difficult to define, Sánchez explained to me in a 2015 interview that they do often use fusión as a description of their music because limeños understand what this means. Their multiple influences include shoegazing,11 tribal sounds, and what they identify as ‘Latin rhythms’12 (Crónica de Mendigos 2015a). The band’s music has been promoted by Rock Achorao’ and included on their ‘best of’ lists in 2014, 2015a, and 2016. Their self-titled EP (2016) is available digitally on Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, Google Play, and YouTube.

Figure 1 

Crónica de Mendigos in the Gamarra market (La Victoria, Lima).

Photo: Camila Villa. Reproduced with permission from Albania Sánchez.

There are several ways in which Crónica de Mendigos dialogue with ideas about Arguedas. First, they attempt to ‘reclaim’ the concept of the mestizo and mestizaje by calling their music música mestiza. Second, they aim to bring Quechua to a new audience through mixing it with Spanish. And, third, they incorporate excerpts of one of Arguedas’ poems into their song ‘Harawi’. In a 2015 interview, singer Albania Sánchez explained to me that reclaiming the concept of mestizaje required placing value on people of different (mixed) backgrounds, saying:

Using ‘música mestiza’ is … valuing this mix, no? That is, I am not Andean … I am an Afro-descendent, I have some Chinese [ancestry], I have some black [ancestry], I have a little bit of everything, and you do, too, … then, it is not defining yourself as just one thing, but rather accepting yourself with this variety of races that you have in your blood, no? … it is above all valuing this.

This explanation, by including others in her celebration of multiculturalism—’I have a little bit of everything, and you do, too’—indicates that, for her, the term mestizo is a personal exploration of identity as well as one that she sees as typical for most Peruvians. This illustrates Arguedas’ version of mestizaje as a way of celebrating diversity. Sanchez’s exploration of hybrid identity is also similar to that of Natacha Atlas, lead singer of the 1990s British ‘world dance fusion’ band Transglobal Underground. Atlas defends her groups’ music against criticism of cultural appropriation by explaining that she herself has ‘mixed origins’ which is reflected in the music, and connects racial mixture to musical hybridity, saying that ‘I have to be a hybrid—that is what I am; a hybrid of those cultures, those bloods. That’s why the music has to be a hybrid as well’ (Hesmondhalgh 2000: 294). Both Sánchez and Atlas signal their own racial mixture as an explanation for the desire to explore hybridity in music.

Not only does the exploration of musics from different parts of Peru allow for these musicians to negotiate their identities, but also serves as a way to negotiate their place in Peru. Guitarist Enzo Aranda told me in an interview that, although he is from Lima, he identifies more with the highlands. However, in Huanta (Ayacucho) in the Andes, where his mother is from, they consider him a limeño, an outsider. Music, for him, seems to be a way of constructing place and searching for belonging. This is consistent with Bennett’s view that young people can use popular music to redefine local spaces and create hybrid identities by combining local and global elements (2000: 70), which builds on Stokes’ view that music is a way for us to ‘“relocate” ourselves’ (1994: 3). Crónica de Mendigos ‘culturally relocate’ themselves by using their own musical backgrounds, including their experience at the Music Conservatory, to negotiate their identities as cosmopolitan limeños with ties to other cultures of Peru.

Language has a key role in this negotiation of place and search for belonging. Aranda mentioned to me that his mother speaks quechua chanka, the variety spoken in the departments of Ayacucho and Apurímac in the southern Andes. However, she never taught it to him, which illustrates the language shift in two generations that Pærregaard (1997) identified in Lima. Thus, Aranda views Quechua as an important part of his identity and expressed a desire to learn. Albania Sánchez and Enzo Aranda identified the role of Quechua in their music to me as educational, as they include a Spanish translation of their Quechua lyrics in their songs ‘Harawi’ and ‘Tataíto’ so that their audience can understand. They desire for their music to spark an interest in the language, explaining that there is a difference between their music which seeks to educate and music which uses Quechua as an exotic signifier.

Arguedas makes an appearance in the music of Crónica de Mendigos in the song ‘Harawi’, which is a musical arrangement of Arguedas’ 1965 poem ‘Oda al Jet’/‘Jetman, haylli’ (Ode to the Jet) (Arguedas 1983: 240–43). ‘Harawi’ is the fourth track on the ‘Mana Wanaq’ album and appeared on Rock Achorao’s ‘best of’ lists in 2014 and 2015, and Aranda (2015) told me that it is ‘the song that made us known in the independent [music] scene’. This poem is a good example of the band’s focus on the meeting between the urban and the ancestral, reflected in the instrumentation, language, and genres that the band uses. In an interview with Sánchez and Aranda on the radio program ‘Tren eléctrico’, host Giancarlo Samamé links the band’s goal of reclaiming the mestizo to Arguedas’ idea of todas las sangres—showing his own cultural capital—and identifies Arguedas as ‘present’ in the song through the incorporation of excerpts of ‘Oda al Jet’ (Crónica de Mendigos 2016).

The band engages with Arguedas’ notion of mestizaje in this song. They have taken fragments in Quechua from ‘Oda al Jet’—a poem that is about the impact of modernization of Andean culture—which they have translated to Spanish at the end of the song (See Table 1). The poem features the descriptions of nature and religious syncretism typical of Arguedas’ works. In ‘Oda al Jet’, we see the importance of rivers as revered figures, as apus (Quechua for ‘deities’, ‘mountains’), until they are placed in contrast to the jet, in which case they become like fragile spider webs. Arguedas juxtaposes nature (rivers, the earth, spider webs) and a belief system (apus, God) with technology (the jet). When the Quechua-speaking peasant expresses his wonder upon seeing this previously unknown piece of technology—the jet—it calls his own beliefs into question. He views powerful rivers as delicate, God as missing in action, and himself transported to another plane (heaven). If man was able to create this, he wonders, then who is God? Although this jet is shocking when the peasant sees it for the first time, he is able to situate it within his own reality and belief system. That is, he has been able to keep his values and language in the face of modernization.

Table 1

Lyrics of ‘Harawi’ with English translation.

¡Maytaq kay! Runan Dios. Diosmi runa.
Kayqaya Pacha muyuq apu mayukuna arañapa aswan llañu llikan
hinallaña, mana imapas kankumanchu hina mastarikunku.
Diosmi runa
[Diosmi. Diosmi runa.]
[Diosmi runa Diosmi (3×)]
What is this? God is man, man is God.
Here are the powerful rivers that divided the world, they are no longer, they have been turned into the most delicate thread that the spider spins.
Man is God.
[is God. Man is God.]
[Man is God is God (3×)]
Dios Yaya, Dios Churi, Dios Espíritu Santo, manañan kankichikñachu;
Hanaq Pachapin kachkani.
Gracias taytay, runa.
Diospa mana churin, taytan.
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, you are no longer;
I am in heaven
Thank you, father, man.
Not the child of God, his father.
[Spoken] ¿Qué es esto? Dios es hombre, el hombre es Dios.
He aquí … los …. ríos, los adorados, que partían el mundo, se han convertido en el más delgado hilo que teje la araña.
[¿Qué es esto? ¿Qué es esto?]
El hombre es Dios.
[Dios es hombre.]
What is this? God is man, man is God.
Here are the rivers, the worshiped ones that divided the world, they have been turned into the most delicate thread that the spider spins.
What is this? What is this?
Man is God.
God is man.

Linguistically, the poem is also a hybrid. In his Quechua poem, Arguedas mixes in Spanish words ‘Dios’ (God), ‘araña’ (spider), ‘Espiritu Santo’ (Holy Spirit), and ‘Gracias’ (thank you). With the arrival of the Spaniards to Peru in the 16th century, the Quechua language began to adopt Spanish words for the new concepts or things for which they didn’t already have a name, such as the elements of Catholicism seen here. This process of language hybridization is what Bakhtin (1981) would call an ‘organic hybrid’.

The video for ‘Harawi’ (Crónica de Mendigos 2014) was produced by Proyecto Cachibache, digital promoters of national music through audiovisual materials (active until December 2014). It was filmed on a rooftop overlooking the Cercado de Lima. The long instrumental introduction to the song features a didgeridoo, rain stick, maracas, acoustic guitar played as a drum, plastic recorder, and tinya (small handheld drum). Then, Albania Sánchez, whose soprano voice is often likened to lyrical singer Yma Sumac (Rock Achorao’ 2014; Guiné 2017), begins to sing in Quechua. The song ends with a spoken interpretation of the Spanish translation by former band member Zamy Juárez.

This song has the ancestral or tribal feeling that the band claims they are seeking: the constant drumming on the strings of the guitar, rain stick, and wind instruments mixed with Sánchez’s lyrical singing. However, the principal ‘ancestral’ instruments here—the didgeridoo, hand drums, and rain stick—are not Peruvian at all. Thus, Crónica de Mendigos is not actually engaging with their own ancestral heritage, but rather use essentialized pseudo-indigenous cultural symbols—here ‘tribal’-sounding instruments. In spite of elements that relate to the Peruvian context—Arguedas’ text, Quechua lyrics, and, in the video, a table of Peruvian artifacts and backdrop of downtown Lima—the song itself is more reminiscent of New-Age music. Without the figure of the jet, the song explores New-Age spirituality rather than the issue of modernization as the original poem does, seen in the repeated lines, ‘What is this? Man is God, God is man.’ Thus, the song becomes an eclectic exploration—both aesthetically and textually—of ‘ancestral’ and ‘tribal’ elements.

A harawi, as defined by Raúl R. Romero, is a monophonic pre-Hispanic musical genre that is still practiced in the southern Andes, which is ‘associated with specific ceremonies and rituals like farewells and marriages, as well as with agricultural labor’ (1999: 387). The song ‘Harawi’ by Crónica de Mendigos, unlike harawis as they are performed in the highlands, is not monophonic nor does it have concrete connections to any specific ritual. Sanchéz (2018) explained the origins of the title to me:

What happened was in the beginning, the melody occurred to me after listening to a radio program where they broadcast recordings of harawis sung in different parts of the country. I was moved and delighted with the voices and started to explore the way that they sang until I managed to project my voice in a similar way. Then, when we started improvising in a band practice, I sang the melody with a similar manner of projection to that in which harawis are sung. And, afterwards, it was only the name that stuck, because it is not actually a harawi strictly speaking.

While the melody of ‘Harawi’ was originally based on the singing style of traditional harawis, Sánchez explained that now the song can’t be classified as a harawi and that just the title remains. Consequently, ‘Harawi’ as the title of this song is a way of naming their experimental composition which evokes a connection with indigeneity, rather than a description of the musical genre.

Tayta Bird: Arguedas As Electronic Sample

Edwin Carrasco Zedano is a Lima-based musician and electronic music producer. He has had numerous musical projects—Tayta Bird, Ravelers, Andean808, Nationz—which explore Andean musics, instruments, and identities. Carrasco was born in Lima to parents from the department of Apurímac. He lived in Los Olivos in northern Lima for the first 15 years of his life and has since lived and traveled extensively in the Andes. As Tayta Bird, the name of his solo electronic music project, he mixes global electronic genres such as chillwave with Andean instruments and rhythms. His music—released as singles on Soundcloud and videos on YouTube—has been enthusiastically reviewed by on-line music media in Peru such as Rock Achorao’ and in other Latin American countries. He won the Electronic Producers Contest, put on by the Ministry of Culture and DJ College Perú in 2014 for his track ‘Apu Yaya’. In a June 2015 interview, he explained to me that he had become interested in giving a new life to traditional Andean instruments when he went ‘back’ to Apurímac and discovered the pampa corneta (Andean wind instrument similar to a didgeridoo) which his grandfather played.

Bird mentioned to me—similar to what Enzo Aranda of Crónica de Mendigos had said—that he doesn’t feel like a limeño even though he grew up there; however, he is seen as a limeño, an outsider, in the Andes. Bird told me that he identified with José María Arguedas, who also struggled with the issue of belonging, exclaiming, ‘I feel that we have lived many things in common’. His artistic name, Tayta Bird, also reflects his wish to emulate Arguedas, who was himself often referred to as ‘tayta’, or ‘father’ in Quechua. Bird also lamented to me that while he grew up hearing his parents speak quechua chanka, he was never taught to speak it.

In his song ‘Wifala’—the first track on the ‘Mana Wanaq’ album and Rock Achorao’s second best track of 2015—Tayta Bird incorporates a sound clip of Arguedas singing as a way of showing his high regard for this cultural hero and giving a ‘new life to the amauta (teacher)’ (Tayta Bird 2015). Not only did Bird identify Arguedas to me in a 2015 interview as his ‘John Lennon’, but also gave credit to him for rescuing Peruvian culture, stating in an interview with NoEsFm (2015): ‘“Wifala” is a tribute to the maestro and ethnologist José María Arguedas as, here in Peru, thanks to his investigations, our culture is still alive today’. Thus, the way that Bird articulates his own musical project—giving ‘new life’ to forgotten instruments—is a reflection and extension of what he views as Arguedas’ contribution to keeping Peruvian culture alive.

Tayta Bird is clearly a follower of—and, arguably, a kind of (self-styled) heir to—Arguedas. When he writes that his song is ‘feat José María Arguedas’ he signals that he is collaborating with him. The way that Bird sets himself up as a follower of Arguedas can be seen in the musical aesthetics and the structure of the song. The song mixes Andean instruments such as the charango (small Andean stringed instrument) and Andean harp with electronic instruments, mainly synthesizers. The song is a mix of huayno, an upbeat Andean musical genre which varies regionally, and chillwave, an electronic genre. The traditional finger-picking and strumming patterns on the charango are juxtaposed with synthesizers and electronic manipulation. The main instrumental section, which is repeated four times, includes an upbeat melody played on charango which is accompanied by synthesizers and bass drum. The chorus, which is a mix of Quechua and Spanish, has three lines: ‘Pachamama escucha mi voz /Cantar sin miedo/Cantar lloviendo’ (Mother Earth, listen to my voice /Sing without fear/Sing raining). The song builds until 3:24, when the 22 second sample of Arguedas is played and the musical texture changes.

What first appears to be a single sound clip, is actually two short clips of Arguedas singing ‘Lorochay’ and ‘Unshushukucha’ fused together (Tayta Bird 2017a). The sample is subjected to increasing electronic manipulation, which distorts and fragments the voice and text until it is just isolated syllables. When the sample of Arguedas’ voice comes in, most of the instruments that provide the harmonic support drop out, leaving a single note played on the synthesizer that slides continually up in a glissando, creating increased tension and harmonic instability. All of a sudden, this tension is resolved with an abrupt return of the original musical texture and harmonic stability and the entry of Tayta Bird’s voice with the ‘Wifala’ chorus. In this chorus, Bird repeats the line ‘Wifalitay, Wifala, Wifalalitay’, which is also the chorus of the ‘Carnaval de Tambobamba’, a popular carnaval which was recorded by, among others, Arguedas himself.

Bird emphasizes the importance of the sample of Arguedas by cutting the instrumental accompaniment except for a single note played on a synthesizer. However, the manipulation of the sample hides the message of the text. Thus, Bird and his audience are not able to interact with Arguedas’ text, thus reducing Arguedas to a signifier. We are left with the melancholic tone of Arguedas’ singing—perhaps an allusion to the tragedy (in the form of his suicide) surrounding his legacy—which stands in contrast to the upbeat tone of the rest of the song.

Tayta Bird’s use of chillwave as a genre has several implications for the meaning of this song. Chillwave is an electronic genre ‘that combines the digital effects and sampling of modern electronic music with low-fi, electronic pop aesthetic of the 1980s’, which evokes summer, the beach, and feelings of nostalgia (Zimmer and Carson 2012: 353–54). Laura Glitsos characterizes chillwave—a subgenre of vaporwave—as ‘a process of audio-visual collage that deploys the act of remembering as a central feature and concern [,] … aesthetic[ally] … tied to the recycling of the past through both artistic and musical forms’ (2018: 114). Georgina Born similarly characterizes chillwave as part of a series of genres that ‘knowingly recycle former musical, cultural, and mediatic materials, along with their associations, in order to remediate the past’ (2015: 378). ‘Wifala’ draws on chillwave’s aesthetics—especially the lo-fi sound and general aesthetics of nostalgia—and places them within a Peruvian context. Thus, a longing for the Andes—heard through the incorporation of Andean instruments, sample of Arguedas, and carnaval chorus—replaces the connections to the beach and summer that chillwave often evokes.

According to Glitsos, chillwave ‘plays with feelings of nostalgia, or more specifically, it plays with the idea of nostalgia for “something that never happened”’ (2018: 104). In ‘Wifala’, this nostalgia takes the form of both an imagined space and time. Bird’s celebration of Andean culture has links to Arguedas, who also painted a vivid picture of life in the Andes in his work. Thus, the Andes can be seen as an imagined space where the listener is transported in this song. Nostalgia also appears in the form of a time that never was. Bird seems to be drawing a trajectory between the past—embodied in Arguedas’ voice—and the present. Although Tayta Bird entitles the song ‘Wifala feat. José María Arguedas’, he and Arguedas would never have been able to actually record a song together as their timelines never overlapped. Nonetheless, both of their voices appear here, and their coexistence could be said to represent an imagined time. Arguedas’ voice is re-worked to fit the lo-fi aesthetics of chillwave, appearing here a bit muffled and, perhaps, ghostly. As the Quechua lyrics he is singing are distorted to the point of being impossible to understand, Arguedas is instead used as a signifier meant to represent and celebrate the Andes, just like the song’s musical aesthetics (Tayta Bird 2017b).

The videoclip for ‘Wifala’—which came out in May 2017, two years after the single—makes the song’s ties to the Andean imaginary more explicit, and makes use of lo-fi aesthetics, through video recording techniques which emulate the quality of VHS tapes from the 1980s. Bird commented to Alayo Orbegozo (2017) in an interview about the video:

This is a short video which represents my journey. A journey which began in 2012, a journey that my ancestors needed, places where my mother fed her animals, where my grandparents celebrated life, and where I was able to find myself. As the teacher José María Arguedas says: ‘When Mother Earth finds you, you are no longer the same’.

Here, Bird calls Arguedas amauta—Quechua for ‘teacher’—and, in this way, shows that he looks up to him, perhaps even that he is a student of Arguedas. With the quote attributed to Arguedas, he signals a familiarity with what Arguedas stands for and sets himself up as a follower of these ideals. However, in a personal communication, Bird (2018) revealed that these were not in fact Arguedas’ words at all, but rather his own, and that he was expressing something that he had heard many people from the Andes say. The song and video represent a celebration of life in the Andes, which is ‘where [Bird] was able to find [him]self’. We can infer, then, that the journey that he mentions was a literal one through the Andes, as shown in the video, as well as a figurative one in search of his roots. Thus, Bird, through his travels and his music, is searching for belonging. Bird’s uses this Andean fusion, which he calls nu huayno, as a way of negotiating the complicated relationship between being from ‘here’ but feeling like you are also from ‘there’. Bird’s Andean fusion can be seen in the context of earlier Andean musical hybrids such as chicha and rock-fusion which Andean migrants and their descendants in Lima have used to negotiate their identities and culturally ‘relocate’ themselves (Stokes 1994: 3).

In the video, we accompany Bird on his travels throughout the Andes, walking through small villages, witnessing celebrations, and greeting people along the way. The video celebrates the Andes, its people, music, and natural beauty, and squarely places Tayta Bird in the middle of this. Much of the video shows Tayta Bird dancing huayno in a poncho in the Andes (See Figure 2), and, in other shots, playing charango, showing that he is ‘at home’ there. This is much like Arguedas, who felt like the Andes was where he belonged. In addition to shots of the Andean countryside, the video includes many Andean signifiers, including Machu Picchu, Andean harp, the Uros islands in Lake Titicaca, Qoyllur Rit’i masks, Scissor dancers, and the monument commemorating the battle of Ayacucho. During the sample of Arguedas, three young boys are shown holding hands and dancing in the Andes, much as Bird did earlier in the video. This could be seen to represent Tayta Bird’s desire to share Andean music and culture with the next generation. After the sample, Arguedas’ photo is shown in pieces—mirroring the fragmentation of the sample—followed by a Peruvian flag, putting Arguedas in the national context. Many listeners on Soundcloud and YouTube commented on the power of the song to transport them to the Andes. I view that it is for this reason along with the inclusion of the sample of Arguedas that the song was included on the ‘Mana Wanaq’ compilation, even as the lyrics are primarily in Spanish.

Figure 2 

Tayta Bird in the video for ‘Wifala (feat José María Arguedas)’. Reproduced with permission from Edwin Carrasco.


In this article, I have argued that these contemporary fusion bands establish themselves as heirs to Arguedas in order to legitimize their musical projects, negotiate their identities, search for belonging, and celebrate cultural diversity in Peru. Unlike academics, these musicians are not trying to establish whether or not Arguedas was ‘right’, and often dialogue with ideas about Arguedas—his notion of mestizaje as celebratory multiculturalism, his idea of an inclusive nation as one of todas las sangres, his own search for belonging as a mestizo who lived in Lima but identified with the Andes—rather than with Arguedas’ texts themselves. Crónica de Mendigos and Tayta Bird do give Arguedas a ‘voice’ in their songs through including excerpts of his texts and a sample of him singing; however, his words and texts are fragmented and distorted through electronic manipulation and therefore not easily understood by the listener. Thus, Arguedas is instead used as a signifier that these bands cite to show their cultural capital. These bands’ celebration of cultural diversity is also part of their own search for belonging as young cosmopolitans with roots in other places in Peru. These bands culturally relocate themselves through talking about mestizaje, legitimizing themselves as mestizos in a country of mestizos, as Albania Sánchez did when she expressed, ‘I have a little bit of everything, and you do, too’. They also use fusion music and the Quechua language to explore their roots and what it means to be Peruvian.

Both bands remediate and ‘recycle’ Andean genres and instruments through the mixture with global musics such as shoegazing and chillwave and contemporary means of production and diffusion. Both Crónica de Mendigos and Tayta Bird refer to the past. Crónica de Mendigos, through the title ‘Harawi’, allude to a pre-Hispanic Andean musical tradition, and other aspects of their music suggest a desire to commune with ‘lo ancestral’. Tayta Bird uses the lo-fi aesthetics typical of chillwave to refer back to an earlier time and feeling of nostalgia as a way of celebrating his connections to the Andes. However, in spite of their references to the past and to the Andes, they are not stuck in the past, but rather establish themselves as young cosmopolitan musicians who ‘belong’ both in the Andes—to which they establish ancestral ties and feel ‘at home’—and in Lima or any other global city.