Eva Ayllon performing on Saturday, October 19 at UCLA's Royce Hall. (Facebook/EVA AYLLON OFICIAL)
African slaves were brought to the new world mainly thru Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean and then were spread throughout the continent, reaching all of its corners. One can feel the influence of this culture specifically in the music of Latin America and in the case of Peru, it is one of its most important exports.
The Afro-Peruvian artist, singer, dancer and all around entertainer Eva Ayllon graced the stage of Royce Hall on Saturday night to an intimate crowd of mostly ex-pats that came to pay homage to the queen of Lando, the Afro-Peruvian branch of “musica criolla” (creole music), which is similar to the American blues. Lando is derived from a dance called “londu” from Angola, and it arrived in the Americas via Brazil during the slave trade. She also is the premier exponent of the Peruvian “vals” (waltz) or “vals criollo” and other Afro-Peruvian styles.
Her back up band which consisted mostly of Peruvian musicians who regularly tour with Ms. Ayllon included: Marcos Campos, a member of the famous folklore group “Peru Negro” (congas, cajon & Afro-Peruvian percussion), Moises Lama (piano), Mariano Liy (bass), Eddie Sanchez (guitar), Abel Paez (trumpet), Jesus “Gigio” Parodi (peruvian cajon & percussion), Eric Kurimski (guitar), Nadia Calmet (dancer), local sax master Justo Amario from Colombia, two UCLA students on the brass sections, a fantastic female backup singer Yula Pumarada, Gino Gamboa a local Peruvian musician on castanets/vocals and her son Carlos Alberto Yamasaki on drums and Afro-Cuban bata drums.
One cannot talk about Afro-Peruvian music without talking about the “cajon” (box drum), which has its origins in the ports of Peru and possibly the city Matanzas, Cuba. This wooden box shape drum took center stage in all of the songs, with a few exceptions interpreted by the very sensual, campy and at times very funny Ayllon.
The first song of the night was Afro-percussion driven “Enamorada de mi Pais” (in love with my country). Wearing a tight fitting silver sequence dress, the curvaceous Ms. Ayllon thanked the audience for their presence and then went off to sing with a powerful voice and gyrating hips, giving a hint to the audience of what we were about to experience in the two one-hour sets.
The song “Negro Tiene Que Ser” (it has to be a black man) rocked the house with not just its infections percussion rhythm, but by the introduction of the wonderful dancer Nadia Calmet – in one of her many appearances dancing a “zamacueca” an ancient colonial dance wearing a blue dress paying homage to the “orisha” (Yoruba deity) Yemaya.
Other songs included “Saca La Mano” (take your hand out) a “festejo,” “Hay Dias Como Hoy” (there are days like this) a “bolero” and “Del Cimarron al eco del Tambor” (from the run away slave to the ecco of the drum), which finished the first half of the show.
The iconic songs “La Caras Lindas de mi Gente Negra” (the black faces of my beautiful black people) brought back our diva in and orange dress dancing up a storm to this classic song of “salsa” music repertoire. That was followed by the second national anthem of Peru “La Flor de La Canela” (flower of the cinnamon), where she was joined by master sax player Justo Amario on the alto sax.
Songs that shined on the second half of the program include “Toro Mata” (the bull kills) made famous by the late Celia Cruz, “Fina Stampa” (looks & essence) and “Le Dije a Papa” (I told daddy), which featured Ayllon on “la cajita,” which is literally a small box with a lid and stick to strike it and her son Carlos on drums and percussion.
There is a common history of slavery in the Americas, but certain countries have given us more of its musical percussion influence such as Peru. The traditions and instruments that were brought from mother Africa with those invented during colonization were fused with those of the Spanish giving us some of today’s most important Latin American rhythm and artists.
Maria Angelica Ayllon Urbina, known to the entire world as Eva Ayllon, represents Peru’s contribution like no other.