Friday, March 23, 2007

Lima's Musical Panorama

The penthouse recording studio of musician Manuel Miranda enjoys a panoramic view of this ancient and strangely compelling city. When he turns down the lights and turns up his bewitching brew of ancestral Andean melodies, jazzy rhythms and soaring synthesizers, he creates a mystical ambience that converts his 17th-story condo into an Inca temple.

Miranda, a guru-like figure who sports earrings and a beaded necklace, plays a battery of historic instruments over the recorded tracks from his upcoming album, "Brujos Voladores" (Flying Wizards). He rattles shells and blows on flutes made of wood, stone and pelican bone, evoking the mysteries of the cosmos, the primitive search for water, the origin of civilization.

In Lima, experimental artists like Miranda are concocting new ways of salvaging Peru's rich musical traditions by updating them with contemporary elements of jazz, rock, salsa, reggae and electronica. During a visit last fall, I was thrilled to discover these artistic efforts to revive Peruvian music, one of the most powerful yet underappreciated cultural traditions in the Western Hemisphere.

Though less well-known than the Argentine tango, the Mexican mariachi or the Cuban son, Peruvian musical traditions are no less rich. Ardent proponents are working to ensure the survival of the country's distinctive sound, worried it could be lost as youth turn to foreign pop fads.
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