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  • An Interview with Octavio Santa Cruz*
  • Marcus D. Jones and Mónica Carrillo

What is your profession?

Santa Cruz:

At the moment my work is mostly centered on teaching. I'm a professor at the Major National University of San Marcos, in the art department, which is part of the school of humanities. "Art school" implies the preparation of professionals in the history and criticism of art. That's my professional endeavor. As far as a research project goes, at the moment I'm finishing a job that I've called "Today's Decimistas," which is a collection with commentary of the decimas1 that were part of learned poetry at the beginning of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and begin to turn toward descriptions of the Afro-Peruvian community in their most popular forms in the nineteenth century. This move by the decimistas then prompts many people to believe that the Peruvian decima is exclusively a black thing, which was not the case at the beginning, because the decima comes from Spain. But today's decima has many followers, a group fostered in Lima, in the northern provinces, in the south. I have compiled that work to offer a continuation to the work that Nicomedes Santa Cruz wrote in 1982 that's called "The Decima in Peru." I have worked on this collection of decimas from that point to the present.

When I was young my main work was in graphic design. Design was something that in the 1960s was being introduced. At that time, I had significant activity in the country, with my guitar by my side waiting to be played with great fervor. In the past ten years, there has been more emphasis on research into guitars. My own work is called The Guitar in Peru. It's a research effort that turned into a book, ten notebooks of guitar tabs. And I'm setting aside a bit of time to record that music myself. I already have three recordings.


What are the names of the discs?

Santa Cruz:

They're always called The Guitar in Peru. One of the discs is called The Guitar in Peru: Black Guitar, Voice, in which the black guitar with song means decimas played and sung. The other one is called Black Guitar, Duo, which is music for two guitars, black music, which in actuality doesn't exist for two guitars. But with classical guitar as a departure point, I took traditional Afro-Peruvian songs and translated them to the classic guitar. It was a personal endeavor, obviously. But it's a way to spread the music and to have it heard in different spaces. [End Page 309]


How did you start playing the guitar?

Santa Cruz:

I started in the last year of high school. I was fifteen then. I wanted very much to hear and play guitar. I listened to the guitar in everyday music: the boleros, waltzes. I believe the waltz in our context created the best guitarists of Creole origin, Oscar Aviles and Rafael Amaranto. In popular music, the guitarist accompanies and adds small flourishes. I wanted to learn that, and I found a friend at school. He gave me the first lessons. This friend was a very good guitarist. He had locked himself up in his house when he was twelve to learn on his own, because friends in the neighborhood didn't want to teach him guitar. So he said, "I'm going to learn. I'm going to play and I'm going to be better than them."


What was your friend's name?

Santa Cruz:

Victor Reyes. When this boy who was twelve years old went out to the street to visit with the other boys, the others were shocked that he played so much. They would say, "It sounds like what you hear on discs. It sounds like Aviles. It sounds like Amaranto." Victor Reyes was fifteen, sixteen when he began to garner recognition. From there, he quickly made it to the radio, to the record shops, and he's one of today's guitarists. If I mention four, five guitarists whom I admire, I mention Victor Reyes...


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