Latido Negro: Perú’s African Beat
Directed by Rafael Santa Cruz
Gala Teatro Hispano
June 7 – July 1, 2007
July 1st, Sandra and I went to the Gala Theatre on 14th Street to see the last performance of this show, which was kind of a capsule history of Afro-Peruvian music and dance. We had excellent seats, right in the front row. The music and dance components were framed by a somewhat clumsy, near vaudevillian narrative, which Sandra hated and I liked. It did take a while for the music to start, and I know that Sandra was expecting a kind of non-stop music and dance performance.
The dances were distinctive. There was the alcatraz, a kind of erotic pantomime in which the dancers had tissues attached to their lower backs, which their partners tried to ignite with candles; and Son de los Diablos, a street masquerade dating back to the thirteenth century, appropriated by Afro-Peruvians after the abolition of slavery. Most exciting was a sequence of tap dances with origins in the seventeenth century, three hundred years before the Nicholas brothers and Bill Robinson (not to mention Fred and Ginger) showed up, and a couple of hundred years before tap dancing emerged in North America, supposedly in the 1830s.
Rafael Santa Cruz is a charismatic performer and a member prominent in Afro-Peruvian culture. (If you view the video, he’s the man with the broom in the first scene.) In this show, he also plays Pancho Fierro (1809-1879), an artist and archivist of Afro-Peruvian culture.
A Latido Negro video may be found at youtube:
About two and a half minutes into this video, there is a spectacular performance involving the cajón (box), which is the national instrument of Perú and came into being in the nineteenth century after the Spanish prohibition of skins and drums among slaves. It was one of the highlights of the show.
Latido Negro made me think of the relation of Latin American music to the music of North America, and made me wonder about the hidden layers of contingent music under the surfaces with which we are most familiar.
For example, take Carmen Miranda, a performer remembered for her crazy tutti-frutti hats and her caricature of the red hot Latina mamacita in many motion pictures. One has only to listen to Carmen Miranda (1930-1945) on Harlequin Records to get to the next level in this case. She was a fabulously gifted musician. Samba was about a decade old when she started her recording career, and one wonders about what else was going on in Brazil in the teens and twenties and during the fifteen years represented on this recording. I will also recommend the documentary film Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business (1995), directed by Helena Solberg, for an excellent portrait of Carmen Miranda, and of her times in relation to the Americas.
Jelly Roll Morton said, “Now in one of my earliest tunes, "New Orleans Blues", you can notice the Spanish tinge. In fact, if you can't manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz.”
Obviously, the history of jazz is rich in infusions of Latino music. In the 1940s, bebop made a huge connection with Afro-Cuban music: Charlie Parker and others played in Machito's orchestra, Chano Pozo played with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton made many forays into Afro-Cuban jazz and featured the Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida in his orchestra. One could go on and on with this, from beatnik bongos to the samba/bossa nova, Getz/Gilberto phase and beyond.
One of my all-time favorite recordings is Cubop City by Machito & his Orchestra, with solos by Howard McGhee and Brew Moore, which I first heard as a two-sided 78 rpm record, when my friend David Dooley borrowed it from his Stan Kenton fanatic cousin Brian Williams, in Swansea, long ago. When it was issued on the Original Mambo Kings compilation in 1993, Cubop City was credited to Howard McGhee & His Afro-Cuboppers, but it was Machito’s band. However, I digress.
And I am not entirely sure of what it is from which I do so. I guess the revelations of Latido negro have made me wonder about the musical innovations of Latin America and the Caribbean of which I am ignorant. There is no really original thought here, more like older thoughts brought home by the power of a live performance.