El Ritmo Sabroso: A Guide to Afro Peruvian Instruments

All this talk about Afro Peruvian music and dance but I have yet to hit ya’ll with the

Cajons in the Ballumbrosio house

instruments that make the music unique – And I would definitely be triflin’ in my blogging if I didn’t let ya’ll know about the instruments that are used to make Peruvian cultural goodness. So here’s a quick guide to all the elements of Afro Peruvian music that make you feel el ritmo sabroso.

Cajón: We gotta start out with the cajón – my personal favorite and most iconic of the Afro Peruvian instruments. The cajón is a box made out of wood that is usually about 18 inches tall with a hole in the back. To play the instrument, you sit on top of the cajón and hit the face of the box with your hands like a drum. It is said that the cajón is the product of enslaved Africans trying to recreate the drum in the New World. Many believed that the first cajóns were make of of the packing crates used at shipping docks as Africans were the principal dock workers.

Cajita: Literally meaning, “little box” the cajita is a small wooden box that is played by opening and closing the top as well as hitting the sides and top with a stick . The cajita
resembles many of the offering boxes used in churches.

Quijada de Burro: Thats right. The jawbone of the donkey is also a principal instrument used to make Afro Peruvian music. This instrument is also believed to come from the days

novalima 12
Man with the quijada de burro and another with the cajita

of slavery when the enslaved had to be resourceful and use whatever was available to them at the time in order to make music. Since donkey’s a pretty common labor animal in Peru, it makes perfect sense that its bones were re-purposed for other things.

In order to use the jawbone as an instrument, you must of course first clean the bones of the dead donkey. Once that is done, you’re pretty much good to go! Just hit the side of your hand or fist on the jaw. And let me tell ya’ll something, it takes a lot of force and it really kind of hurts.  You can also play it by taking a stick and running it along the teeth. My friend who I visited, said to this day sometimes her host family will say, “Come on lets go out to the field and look for quijadas de burros.

Gourds: Large gourds are also commonly used to make various musical instruments like
the checo and different kinds of shekeres.

Violin: Although not a percussive instrument, this string instrument is instrumental (see what I did there) in bringing Afro Peruvian to life. The violin, along with other string instruments, were originally introduced by the Spanish but quickly became apart of the Andean music tradition, and after it became and Andean tradition, it also started to become incorporated into Afro Peruvian music. Typical Latin American melting pot stuff right there.

My friends host sister with a shekere

Now that you got some of the basics down, now its time to put them ears to practice. Here is a list of great Afro Peruvian artists and albums you can check out!

Artists: Eva Allyon, Susana Banca, Lucilia Campos, Nicomedes Santa Cruz, and Pepe Vasquez

Albums: Afro Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru, Black Music of Peru Vols. 1 & 2, Eva Alloyn and Peru Negro: 40 Years of Afro Peruvian Classics, Zamba Malato.

Some of the albums are Grammy nominated and others are either available on iTunes or uploaded to YouTube. Let me know what you think if ya’ll get around to listening!



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