Rodolfo Muñoz Ramirez is a percussionist from Lima, Peru, and Christoph Müller is an Austrian musician most famous for his work with The Gotan Project.
They have been working together as Radiokijada to create an album of Afro-Peruvian music called Nuevos Sonidos Afro Peruanos (New Sounds From Black Peru) that focuses on racism and political justice.
The two musicians have known each other for 15 years and have worked together on projects in Paris. Their latest album has been in the making since 2000 and was recorded with musicians from all over the world.
“I’d fallen in love with Afro-Peruvian music from a compilation CD someone gave me,” Christoph told Socialist Worker. “I was interested in this culture and history, so we took it as a starting point. We travelled four or five times to Peru to record artists and rhythms.”
Afro-Peruvian music was developed by Africans who were brought to Peru as slaves – a fact that directly influences the way the music is created.
“The masters forbade the slaves to play music, which is why they used tea chests and donkey’s jawbones as instruments,” explained Christoph.
“The masters wanted to break their will, prevent them from communicating and force them to lose their identity. But instead they invented instruments out of ordinary objects.”
Slavery still leaves its mark today, he adds. “Black people in Peru are still subject to a lot of racism – they are an oppressed minority. They have been struggling for political recognition since the 1960s.
“The special thing about this music is that it is a mixture of Spanish, African and Andean culture. Lima was a place where all these cultures were forced together. You’ll hear a flamenco influence and all sorts in our music – it’s a symbol of how people can cooperate.”
Rodolfo agrees that music can be a powerful force for bringing people together. “I’ve known most of the musicians on this album for a long time – they’re old friends in Peru,” he told Socialist Worker.
“They are breaking down the barriers of racism by the music they make. This represents a new Peruvian culture which is a mix. It is important to distinguish Afro-Peruvian culture, but in the end it is Peruvian.”
Rodolfo also draws attention to the economic inequalities in Latin America, despite the land’s resources. “Peru is a rich country – it sits on a golden cow,” he says. “But all the wealth is in the hands of a very small group.
“There’s a lot of racial tension because of the history of colonialism, and also lots of social injustice. The ruling class all over Latin America owns the land and controls the economy – and they don’t want to give that up.”
But he welcomes the rise of radical left wing Latin American leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
“Because of Chavez and Morales, the US knows it can’t just trample on us any more. Ordinary people in Latin America are feeling stronger.”
For Christoph the Radiokijada project has a wider agenda of publicising the struggles that are going on in Latin America. “We hope the music will get people interested in the culture and history of Peru,” he says. “We also hope that the world will open up to Afro-Peruvian music.
“African people of course suffered terribly by being forced into slavery in Peru. But it’s important not to ignore the positive, creative things that came of this experience.
“It has been terrible for people, but at the same time something beautiful came of it. We want to emphasise both sides – the creativity and ingenuity of people in times of hardship is important.”
Rodolfo adds, “There is an important message in our music – to be aware of our history and to show a rich Peru to people all over the world.”
Nuevos Sonidos Afro Peruanos (New Sounds From Black Peru) by Radiokijada is out now on Wrasse Records. Go to » www.radiokijada.com