“Yo no como camote con mani. Yo no como camote con mani…”*
I repeat the odd phrase in my head over and over again as Miguel Ballumbrosio walks around the room of the Ballumbrosio house in Chincha, Peru. The room is small and has hard, concrete floors, perfect for dancing the zapateo, something I would learn first hand later that night. The walls are covered with countless pictures of family at dances and celebrations. Ranging from black and white portraits to vibrant candid shots of women in pink dresses and men playing instruments and singing, the pictures tell the story of the Ballumbrosio Family. A family famous for their music, their dancing and their pride for the Afro-Peruvian culture.
The twenty-six of us are crammed in this room learning how to play the Afro-Peruvian percussion instrument, the cajon. Miguel plays the rhythm on his cajon and has us repeat it back to him.
“Yo no como camote con mani.”
Before long we are playing together with concentration and excitement. As the bombastic cacophony of 23 drums fills the room, I am taken back to my years in high school; my years in marching band. Though I haven’t played percussion in years the rhythms and the sounds wash over me and make me smile.
Later that evening, we gather in that same cramped room excitedly awaiting a performance of Afro-Peruvian song and dance by the Ballumbrosio family. As we wait for the show to begin, I am excited, but not completely prepared for what is to come. As a young boy begins to play the violin and a group of men begin to dance the zapateo, I am completely amazed by their enthusiasm and passion for the music of their heritage. For the next thirty minutes we see dances, and hear songs like I’ve never experienced before. We see women dancing in bright colored clothes and bare feet, their movements smooth and confident. We hear men chanting and singing songs together with the accompaniment of cajones and congas. The power and the passion for music I see is inspiring, and makes me think of my time in high school, when I was in show choir.
Isn’t music such an amazing tool. It has the power to communicate; to make people feel, and to connect people from vastly different walks of life. Music has the power to make you remember happy memories as well as sad. Music gives you the power to express yourself in so many different ways. My experiences in Chincha have only strengthened my love for music. They have driven my desire to experience new kinds of music and witness the power it can have in new ways. Isn’t it amazing how powerful music can be and how connected you can feel through music, even when you are thousands of miles away from home?
(*I don’t eat sweet potatoes with peanuts.)