Peru’s “Criollismo” Portrayed Through Its Traditional Styles of Music

Peru, a nation recognized worldwide for its historic landmarks and famous cuisine. Many may not know but due to its long, rich history, the country is filled with unique culture, lifestyle, traditions, and especially music. Yet, outside the Peruvian borders, little is known about the country’s traditional musical genres nor has it been further explored. Ed Morales, author of the book The Latin Beat, writes:

“Peru’s Pacific Coast reflects a little known African influence, as well as indigenous roots, with genres like marinera resbalosa, marinera norteño, and the vals criollo, all danceable genres with lyrics composed in a way reflecting the influence of the Spanish tradition.”

Overall, the passage refers to the broad traditional musical genre known as “musica criolla” (Creole Music in English); Peru’s oldest and most popular musical genre which originates from the Pacific coast region.

Geographically, Peru consists of three large regions: la costa (the Pacific coast), la sierra (the Andes mountain range), and la selva (the Amazon jungle). Within each region, exist different mores thus different styles of traditional music. People from the Pacific Coast are often referred to as “criollos.”  By definition, the Spanish term “criollo (a)” refers towards individuals with cultural characteristics and traditions tied to a Latin American country but at the same time, originate from European backgrounds. A typical Peruvian criollo is often cheerful, sarcastic, flirtatious, and most of all, loves to attend jaranas (social gatherings or parties). Lima, the nation’s capital city, is considered to be the center of “criollismo” and is mainly responsible for giving birth to La Musica Criolla.

According to musicologist Jose Antonio Llorens Amico, the genre began to take place at the start of the twentieth century. Back then, the phonograph and radio transmission had not yet been introduced. As a result, only the local music was interpreted and heard during jaranas by the city’s popular social classes. Traditionally, social gatherings in Lima occurred throughout the different “callejones” (neighborhoods) of the capital city. In each callejon, neighbors would gather together, have a cookout, tell chistes y carcajadas (jokes and peals of laughter), and play popular local music using traditional Spanish instruments. One can say it was very similar to neighborhood barbecues in the United States.

Throughout time, strong African, Indigenous, and foreign influence have played important roles towards the development of Musica Criolla. What many don’t realize is that Peru, once known as the land of the Incas, has become a land of broad diversity causing such strong influences to portray within the genre. At the same time, it is essential for the genre to maintain its strong, established traditional Spanish roots from which the sounds originates. Think of it as the backbone of Musica Criolla.

The traditional instruments consist mainly of classical Spanish guitars, a Cajon drum, and a pair of Castanets. The traditional rhythms, melodies, and lyrics typically portray songs of despair, patriotism, and love; reflecting on Peruvian society. A perfect example would be the song “El Plebeyo” (the commoner) written by fellow pioneer composer, Felipe Pinglo Alva. The song tells the story of a commoner who falls in love with a girl from a high-class society. Through its lyrics, the composer is able portray as well as describe the commoner’s love for the girl. At the same time, the composer is also able to portray the commoner’s despair for not being able to win her approval due to social-class segregation. Unfortunately, social-class segregation has always occurred within Peruvian society and the song precisely reflects on it.

Throughout the genre’s trajectory, there have been many famous artists and trios whom have played important roles within the development of La Musica Criolla. Artists such as Lucha Reyes “La Morena del Perú,” Arturo “Zambo” Cavero, Lucila Campos, Oscar Aviles, and Jesus Vazquez have all filled the genre with important pieces of history. Famous trios would include Los Embajadores Criollos, Los Troveros Criollos, and Los Morochucos. Most importantly, let’s not forget famous composers such as Felipe Pinglo Alva, Augusto Polo Campos, and Chabuca Granda; all whom have given the genre a unique style and characteristic.

Today, many famous artists such as Eva Ayllon, Esther Davila aka Bartola, and even Gian Marco Zignagno (who’s music normally falls under the Spanish Pop-Rock genre) have managed to keep the Peruvian tradition alive due to their strong criollo roots. Just recently, back in 2013, Gian Marco Zignagno performed “La Flor De La Canela” (the cinnamon flower), a popular song written by famous artist/composer Chabuca Granda, at the Latin Grammy Awards held in Las Vegas. It was a proud moment for all Peruvians across the globe.


Morales, Ed. “The Beat Is in the Blood.” The Latin Beat: The Rhythms and Roots of Latin Music from Bossa Nova to Salsa and beyond. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2003. 29-30. Print.

Llorens Amico, Jose Antonio. “De La Guardia Vieja A La Generacion De Pinglo.” Musica Popular En Lima: Criollos Y Andinos. 1st ed. Lima, Peru: Instituto De Estudios Peruanos, 1983. 23-24. Print.


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