- An Interview with Roberto Arguedas*
What is your profession?
I'm a musician. I'm a guitarist. I'm the director of the Theater of the Millennium group. I'm fifty-eight years old, and I have been a musician for forty of those.
Can you tell us a bit more about Theater of the Millennium?
Some Afro-descendants got together to make a theater based on the search for our reflections and searching for where we were coming from. We did a production called Karibu. In Swahili, it means "welcome" in all meanings of the word. That was the first production. It's been ten years that we did that, but they invited me so I could teach them to sing. I ended up staying with the group. Now I'm the director and also the association's president. I think I'm the president not because I'm the chosen one, but because I'm the oldest.
Subsequently, we've done other productions. One is called Chavelilla, which also talks about how we blacks aren't submissive. It's just that history hides it and we're not visible. But we try to say that that's not the case, that what they've said is a lie. Others of our productions are about the alienated black, or the problems that we have amongst ourselves.
Could you go over each production and tell us the subject of each one? For instance, Karibu was the first, and when it came out it was like a great revolution because the subject of dance in the musical aesthetic sensibility was much preferred over the African subject. The production also had an element of the Afro-Peruvian making a connection to Africa.
The thing about Karibu was to reflect about ourselves. That's how it started, and we started creating an irony about what was happening at the peña nightclubs here in Peru.
Peñas are like clubs where Afro-descendants go and dance. [End Page 331]
They dance to all types of music. Karibu starts off like a dream. It starts with an irony regarding the issue that among blacks themselves, there's also a problem among the black person who studied more, the young man who is more revolutionary, and the other one who is more fun. They have an argument, and within it something happens that's like a dream in which they go as far as Africa. In that dream, they paint themselves as we imagined it, because we don't actually know. We draw on what we start to call our ancestral memory, even in music. I did the music, but as I told you, I don't know Africa. But there's something in me that works, and I began to produce the music that I saw very deep inside me. Anyway, the thing is that we did this production thinking about that. But it seems like the production is never going to end for me. We always have something new to add to it and continue. With every day that life continues, I keep learning more, knowing more about what we are as Afro-descendants. It's rich.
We don't have as much information as other countries, like the United States where blacks have a bit more information. Here, we don't have it. People don't even know of Africa as a continent, nor do they know that there are distinct countries. To call someone "black" is like an insult. That's what informed our thoughts, and that's why we made Karibu. Later we did Night of Blacks.
Are there no books or articles at the libraries about Afro-descendants here in Peru, or about Africa?
There aren't. Here, they've always tried to hide things. The black man is around, but they don't say what things he did or what are the contributions we have made to this country. And that's what everything I say is about, that we have to make ourselves more visible, talk about our problems, and...