Celebrating Divinity in the High Andes 
& The Lima Highlands

    -- 1999 & 2001, both on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, with 24-page booklets in English/Spanish.

These ethnographic recordings are volumes 5 and 7 in the series Traditional Music of Peru, produced by the Smithsonian/Folkways label in conjunction with the Center for Andean Ethnomusicology. Both CDs include music connected with festivals, ceremonies, dances, and religious songs among other subjects. Each booklet has an introduction to festivals, dances, and instruments, plus notes on each song. Volume 5 also provides an additional 1-page commentary on music of the general area.

“Celebrating Divinity in the High Andes” consists of music from the Ancash region, where the population is largely made up of Quechua-speaking farmers. Religious songs include a funeral dirge, a song sung on Maundy Thursday, an instrumental piece played when people render homage to crosses carried to Mass by families, and a work song praising God which is performed during the wheat harvest (“even the hills themselves are overjoyed, O Lord”). Lyrics in Quechua and Spanish can be found at the Smithsonian Folkways website, an excellent help for those who want to do more in-depth study of the music.

Three types of instrumental bands commonly play in this region: 1) groups that play indigenous handmade instruments such as panpipes and quena; 2) mestizo groups that perform with instruments such as violin, Andean harp, guitar, accordion, clarinet, saxophone, muted trumpet and percussion; and 3) groups that use commercially made modern brass instruments. Each type of band plays for different dances which are described in the liner notes. About two-thirds of the CD tracks are instrumental dances, many of which represent historical events in the area going back to the time of the Incas. Very elaborate costumes can be seen in the photos.

“The Lima Highlands” CD contains ceremonial music connected with bullfights, livestock, a rodeo, building a house, and rituals connected with water. Among the dances, one portrays young shepherdesses approaching the infant Jesus to worship him on Christmas night; another dance portrays characters from outside the area who come to worship the infant Jesus, including a mulatto, a doctor, a cowboy, three bullfighters and a bull. Other dances portray an elderly Spanish man imploring God to pardon his sins, an old Black slave who comes before a cross to give great thanks for his freedom, Spanish landowners, warriors, and other characters.

The third category of songs included on this CD is “Music for Popular Theater.” These musical dramas represent historical events between the “Moors” and “Christians,” the Spanish Conquest, and women coming to worship the infant Jesus. Since so much of the music heard and described on these recordings has strong visual correlates (dance and drama), one wishes that a video was available. Fortunately, that is the case (see below).

The introductory essays in the booklets are helpful in setting the context for this music, and the notes on each song are quite informative. Kudos to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings for releasing this series with notes in English, as they were originally available on LP from Peru with Spanish notes. To make this release possible, SFR worked with the Center for Andean Ethnomusicology whose members made the original recordings.

The Center for Andean Ethnomusicology, associated with the Catholic University of Peru, was founded in 1985 and has extensive documentary materials available (including books and videos). Its most recent production is the CD-ROM “Music and Ritual in the Peruvian Andes” (2001). Anyone who is interested in Andean music should visit the Center’s impressive website at www.pucp.edu.pe/~cea.

    --reviewed by Paul Neeley

Published in Vol.1, No.3 of


Published by
Artists in Christian Testimony