A plastic cup filled with red wine, a red cushion and the Virgin Mary staring down in the background. A night swaying spent with the breeze at a rooftop concert in Lima’s Magdalena district, as a local folk band sings about the lead-man’s abuela as cool breeze blows in from the coast.
Another night was spent in Miraflores listening to Afro-Peruvian music and cajónes while sipping pisco, or in Barranco listening to traditional salsa music and trying to move like the locals.
Riding in a Lima taxi or dancing the night away at a Lacromar discoteca, you could completely miss the local talent that was born and raised here. And it goes beyond Novalima, Susana Baca and others who’ve helped get the Peruvian beat recognized internationally.
Lima’s radio stations play non-stop hits from the United States while integrating a few Latin American hits, and most restaurants, buses and shops play the same. Other times I get lucky and walk into a restaurant or bar that has one or two locals singing and playing guitar.
Most of the time, I have to seek it out, which I’ve done often. Barranco with its Bohemian feel is an obvious place to find local live music and DJs. I saw local favorite Kanaku y El Tigre at La Noche de Barranco with Alejandro y Maria Laura opening up the set. Kanaku y El Tigre is a great Lima band that can match any American indie band with their accordion and toy piano playing lead singer.
Cholas Bravas, with the rooftop view of Magdalena, is my favorite venue thus far. It’s essentially an oversized house with the rooms serving as a gallery in addition to a concert venue and the kitchen as a bar. Concerts on their rooftop terrace are a great way to spend a summer night, but the inside rooms are equally aesthetically pleasing with local art adorning the walls. The kitchen’s been converted into a bar and the homemade chifles rock. However, from the outside this place is difficult to spot unless the music has started, and when I went, we had to knock for awhile before the owners opened the door.
Since that night in Magdalena at Cholas Bravas, listening to perhaps my favorite Lima band, Alejandro y Maria Laura, I’ve seen the band two more times, most recently for free at the Casa de España on the edge of Jesus Maria and El Centro.
Alejandro y Maria Laura is one of the cutest bands I’ve seen, and it’s hard not to grin through their entire set. Their songs are cheery and frivolous, and several include Maria Laura playing the kazoo. I was lucky to download their fairly recently released album “Paracaidas” when it was free on SoundCloud, but I still couldn’t resist spending S/. 20 on the album.
I’m actually pretty obsessed with the band and have listened to their album 15 times according to iTunes. I’m pretty star-struck by their music, and plan to see them much more during my time in Lima. After seeing them at La Noche, I stood beside Alejandro for at least 10 minutes. I kept on trying to work up the courage to say “I like your music,” but the words wouldn’t come out. It doesn’t help that when I’m nervous, I forget how to speak Spanish.
Beyond the music that’s considered synonymous with Lima, emphasizing the cajón and Andean flute, Peru has a lot more to offer. Bands like Kanaku y El Tigre sing about their affection for Lima “with a smile from corner to corner,” and I’m beginning to see what they love about this place. I have no doubts that Lima has more great talent to offer. The two groups I\‘ve mentioned are only the first two of many favorites to come, I\‘m sure.
I always felt affection towards Lima, but now I’m starting to feel more at home. It helps that I now can understand most of the lyrics.
Kay Kemmet is an international student at Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Peru studying Spanish, Latin American history and journalism. She’s from Bismarck, North Dakota and studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.