Connecticut is home to a large and growing community of Peruvian immigrants, the state’s second largest Latino/a group after Puerto Ricans. Approximately 3000 Peruvians live in the Greater Hartford area, with close to 30,000 throughout Southern New England. The community has always been very active in practicing and promoting its culture. The first Peruvian Club in Hartford was formed in 1966, and a long-running Peruvian music show has broadcasted on Trinity College radio station since 1978 (now there are four Peruvian radio programs). The Peruvian Consulate has now established an office in Hartford with a staff of three.
Several Peruvian restaurants across the state serve a variety of regional cuisines, and two Peruvian newspapers publish in Connecticut. Peruvian community members work in both service industry and white-collar jobs. A prominent organization that began as a Hartford association of professionals from the Ancash region has developed into the Association of Peruvian American Professionals, APAPRO recently received a grant to produce a series of cultural events, including the highly successful Taste of Peru, and CCHAP was pleased to assist in that effort.
A notable activity of the Peruvian community in Hartford takes place annually in October. The Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles (HESMIPERU), a religious fraternity organized locally in 1968, holds a solemn procession through the streets of its revered statue of the Lord of Miracles and Our Lady of Sorrows born by members of the Brotherhood. The group, which includes a women’s auxiliary and office holders, organizes social as well as religious events in the community. CCHAP and WNPR created an audio slideshow of the event in 2008.
CCHAP has been documenting Peruvian traditional arts activities including folk music, dance, and community festivals such as the Lord of Miracles Procession. We began in 1993 by working with a remarkable Peruvian craftsman, Romulo Chanduvi, whose woodcarving became part of CCHAP’s first exhibit, Living Legends: Connecticut Master Traditional Artists. Since then we have involved the folk dance group Danzas Peruanas in the Southern New England Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program (link), to learn new dances from master teacher Gloria Martenson. In October 2005 CCHAP recommended the Hartford-based group Negrura Peruana to be featured in the Homegrown: Music of America series sponsored by the American Folklife Center. We traveled to Washington DC where Negrura Peruana performed at the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center Milennium Stage.
Profiles of Peruvian artists in Connecticut
Romulo Chanduvi began learning the art of woodcarving and fine furniture-making from the age of twelve, growing up in Lima, Peru. He absorbed the techniques and styles of carving passed down in his family’s shop for generations, and served apprenticeships in private workshops in Argentina and Switzerland. Romulo began his career teaching furniture-making under the auspices of the AID Program of the United Nations, helping soldiers to acquire a trade after their military service. He continued to receive advanced training from master woodworkers, learning to work with tropical woods while practicing his artistic skills in Panama. Since 1993, when he received his green card as an “artist of exceptional merit,” Romulo Chanduvi has lived and worked in the Hartford area where he continues to create original woodcarvings as well as replicated museum-quality furniture for many organizations and private collectors. His Charles Street workshop walls are covered with carefully-arranged tools, vises, drills, and hundreds of chisels that Romulo has modified for use in hand-carving intricate details as well as to transform logs of exotic woods into extraordinary pieces of furniture. Each piece is built with authentic joining techniques of the appropriate period, and is finished with all-natural stains, resins, bee waxes, shellacs, and varnishes. Romulo has been featured in several important exhibitions, including the Institute for Community Research touring exhibit Living Legends: Connecticut Master Traditional Artists, and the Wadsworth Atheneum’s installation of Faith and Fortune: Five Centuries of European Masterworks. Romulo’s son Jonathan carries on the family tradition in restoration, establishing a successful studio in New York.
Negrura Peruana performs the music and dance of Peru’s African and criollo population, originally living in the coastal area around Chincha south of the capital and later transplanted to the urban center of Lima. Enslaved Africans brought to Peru to work plantations eventually intermarried with Spanish settlers and native Indians, blending families, traditions, and music. African rhythms forbidden on drums could be played surreptitiously on packing boxes, giving rise to the signature instrument in the music of black Peru, the cajón. This music, a form of resistance to social and racial domination, always existed among those of African descent (currently numbering about two million, or one-twelfth the population), but did not become well known or popular in Peru until the 1990s.
The music played by Negrura Peruana uses a small number of percussion instruments, including the cajón, the quijada de burro—the jaw of a mule, the campana—a cowbell, the cajita—a little box played by flipping its lid, conga drums, and bongos. Recently the group has added a guitar player. Songs often take a call and response form, with texts featuring storytelling, satire, and social commentary. The song Toro Mata, one of the most popular in the repertoire (recorded also by Celia Cruz), compares a black man to a bull trapped in a bullfight. Negrura Peruana features four dancers in addition to the seven musicians. Dances representative of Afro-Peruvian culture include the festejo, a dance of celebration and sometimes competition between men; the landó, with a slower tempo possibly derived from a matrimonial dance with Angolan roots; the zamacueca as a more Spanish-influenced version of landó; and the alcatraz, which tells a humorous story with two dancers trying to light a piece of cloth on their back ends – or avoid being lit. Growing up in Lima, members of the group heard and played these styles all their lives, with music as a central part of community celebrations, gatherings, and informal competitions. Although they are not professionally trained musicians, their performances show a deep love for the music and a spontaneous but highly skilled mastery of the complex rhythms, accents, and phrasings especially when accompanying the dancers.
Members of Negrura Peruana immigrated from Lima to the Hartford area of Connecticut in the late 1980s and early 1990s, seeking work. The first performance by Gustavo Chavez and Carlos Navarro took place in 2002 at Central Connecticut State University, when they were invited to demonstrate Afro-Peruvian music during the performance of a local Andean-Peruvian group. Since then the full group has appeared at a number of high-profile venues, such as the recent concert by Afro-Peruvian music icon Eva Ayllón (nominated for a Grammy in 2002), and also at local events such as Hartford’s Latino Expo. Negrura Peruana is a popular band for festivals, special activities, and house parties throughout the growing Peruvian community in Connecticut. They have participated in workshops in New York City with African-Peruvian musicians including some from the internationally known group Perú Negro, under the auspices of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. In accordance with their mission to bring a greater awareness of the music of black Peru to audiences, Negrura Peruana continues to give workshops in Hartford and educational presentations at Central Connecticut State University, including the opening of the new Africana Center and the Peru Club for students. The group was selected for the performing artists roster of the Connecticut Office of the Arts.
Danzas Peruanas was founded in 2002 by a group of Peruvians in the Greater Hartford area wholoved to dance, as a way to preserve and present Peru’s rich multicultural heritage of ethnic and folkloric music to audiences in Connecticut. The group started out by performing mostly for Peruvian community events, but has broadened its repertoire and now performs for many organizations and activities throughout the state, such as the Bushnell Park Cultural Awareness Day, the taste of Latin America festival in West Haven, and the Latino Expo in Hartford. In 2003 Danzas Peruanas was selected to participate in the Southern New England Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program under which they worked with master Peruvian dance teacher Gloria Martenson from Boston to learn new dances. The group also collected authentic costumes for the new dances, and has begun to collaborate with other musical groups, such as Amark and Negrura Peruana, to enhance its performances.
Founder Cattya Cubas:
I am proud to be Peruvian as well as very proud to share my culture and folklore with the great community in the Hartford area. Starting this group was a great rewarding experience because it has allowed us the opportunity to share our traditions, lifestyle, and culture through art. One of the objectives of the group has been to encourage young Peruvians to continue Peruvian cultural traditions for future generations here in America. I had danced before in Trujillo, Perú since I was 8 years old, in different events such as Peruvian dance studios and elementary school through university. I believe that traditional dances and folk music has always been part of my life and I am looking forward to meeting new people as our group performs more widely in Connecticut.