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6. From The World of the Poor to the Beaches of Eisha Chicha, Cumbia, and the Search for a Popular Subject in Peru In 2006 a Peruvian television network scored a ratings hit with a miniseries based on the life and music of the singer Lorenzo Palacios Quispe, better known by the stage name that he adopted in the 1970s: Chacalón (Big Jackal). A pioneer in the cumbia-­ based style known as chicha, Chacalón fronted the band La Nueva Crema (The New Cream) from the late 1970s until his death in 1994. During chicha’s heyday in the 1980s, his ability to convoke massive audiences drawn from Lima’s Andean migrant community was legendary, a quality reflected in the slogan used to promote his performances: “Cuando canta Chacalón, bajan los cerros” (When Chacalón sings, the mountains come down). The son of migrant proletarians, a grade school dropout who had survived by working odd jobs in Lima’s massive informal marketplace, succeeding by dint of effort and faith, Chacalón incarnated the archetypal protagonist of chicha lyrics. Invariably a member of Peru’s marginalized Andean majority, fighting to get ahead within an opportunity structure that favored Lima’s white minority, this figure was drawn largely from life, a life familiar to both Chacalón and his audience. The singer’s story differed from theirs mainly by virtue of its denouement into popular acclaim. Despite his celebrity he remained closely identified with El Agustín, the rough neighborhood that had witnessed his birth, his success, and his death. When he died of heart failure and subsequent medical inattention, over twenty thousand fans reportedly attended his burial, beginning the transformation of Peru’s “faraón de la cumbia” (pharaoh of cumbia) into a near-­ mythic emblem of subaltern triumph. The success of the series Chacalón: El ángel del pueblo, whose plot interJoshua Tucker From The World of the Poor to the Beaches of Eisha 139 leaved the artist’s biography with tales of contemporary urban life, suggested the continuing resonance of his narrative. It also seemed to vindicate a musical style that had been shunned by Lima’s polite society, retaining an aura of seedy disrepute despite its popular success. And as a sign of renewed interest in local cumbia music, it was only one part of a much broader trend toward a serious recognition of the genre’s place in Peruvian society. A number of scholarly articles had already explored the relation between chicha and its descendant, tecno-­cumbia, which flourished between roughly 1998 and 2002 (Bailón 2004; Quispe Lázaro 2000, 2002; Romero 2002; Salcedo 2000). By 2007 Peru’s national library had hosted a cycle of conferences on hybrid popularculture entitled “Lo choloen el Perú” (roughly, “Indigenous and Mestizo Popular Culture in Peru”), in which the tecno-­ cumbia stars Agua Bella were invited speakers. The same year saw a revival of early Peruvian cumbia led by younger performers such as the rock band Bareto, rebranded as “psychedelic cumbia.” Joining stars of the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Los Destellos and Juaneco y su Combo, they brought the music to such centers of hipster cool as Lima’s Botero Bar.This revival even took on a transnational dimension, with New York’s Barbès Records releasing two cds devoted to early Amazonian cumbia, one a compilation entitled Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru (2007) and the other featuring the American band Chicha Libre (Sonido Amazónico!, 2008).1 Finally, 2007–8 also saw a boom in contemporary cumbia from Peru’s north coast, driven by bands like Grupo 5 and Los Caribeños, whose sound is heavily inflected by the sounds of salsa music. This latest style, attended by a self-­ conscious assertion of collective ownership, saturated the airwaves alongside admonitions to valorize “nuestra cumbia” (our cumbia) and was widely perceived to consolidate cumbia as a music of national scope and significance. Together these trends are testament to the variegated nature of Peruvian cumbia and to its deep-­rooted place within Peruvian life. And yet, with some notable exceptions (see Romero 2002, 2007), the existing literature on Peruvian cumbia is overwhelmingly devoted to the variant most commonly denoted as chicha, and in particular to its maximum exponents, Los Shapis del Perú.This focus derives in part from the group’s highly visible role during the chicha moment of the 1980s, when they became the style’s most recognizable public face. It also...

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