Biography
Stage 1960-1980

 

On October 29, 1960, there was a demonstration against Ecuador, due to border problems, and in front of approximately one hundred and twenty thousand people, I wrote some décimas that were consecrating for me. In décimas I also announce Gladys Zender, first as Miss Peru, and then as Miss Universe (1957). All this is a fortuitous thing, which contributes to the fact that I quickly became known. I always did a décima for everything. I sang to Alianza Lima, to Señor de los Milagros.  In 1960 I made "Talara, no digas yes" (Talara, don't say yes). And there I had the first political problem.

 

Period 1960 - 1968

Consolidation of his career. In addition to the activity with the Conjunto Cumanana, created at the end of 1958, Nicomedes has full presence in all media: live performances, research (lectures and writings), records, press, radio and television. 

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It seems that I was filling a tremendous void that existed in different sectors, and everything fell within the normal. The décima to the Señor de los Milagros seemed to be part of the 300-year-old procession; the décima against Ecuador seemed to be part of a civic program; the décima to Alianza Lima was a recognition of all the people who felt identified with what they believed was the most popular soccer team. But when I go to Piura, instead of saying "Piura, how beautiful you are", what I say is: "Talara, don't say yes / look the world face to face; / bear your nakedness / ... and don't say yes, Talara".

Because when I was looking for my destiny (1956), I was working in the oil industry and I saw the fence of the American zone and the workers told me that they knew, because they were born there, where there was oil and that the foremen played dumb, because in the Peruvian zone finding oil was more work, and they lived off the dividends from the Americans, from the royalties.... So it was nothing more than drink, going to the brothels in the area, and for the Americans to continue exploiting oil. But it pissed me off to see the fence in the North American zone, where everyone was living like kings, but you couldn't go in there if you didn't have the sign. Then, something hits me, and all this is easy to reach me, because I have suffered a lot as a worker, I have worked for 20 years and I have a load of proletarian identity and also a patriotism given to me by my mother. My mother was a patriotic woman, as was the old people, who had suffered so many frustrated revolutions, who had a love for the flag, for dignity, for the border and all these things, which are then lost. So I gave up to go on tour, which was going to bring me some very interesting cents, but I kept the décima as it was conceived, without modifications. When my book came out in 1960 I barely had time to put it in, and "Talara" was the last décima of my first book, published by Juan Mejía Baca in 1960.

Homage to Rosa E. Figueroa. 1961

 

 

Later on I began to venture into politics in 1961. I did not accept Belaúnde, who wanted to put me in his party and I joined another party, which I thought was a guerrilla party, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution. And it was half, but in each plazuela I make a political décima to that area. That's where "I am revolutionary" comes from, and a lot of other décima. This politicization gives a fatal result for my economy and my popularity, because the same people who applauded me see that I am singing and that I am on a stage with people who have already created anti-American problems and then I lose a large sector of the oligarchy. I remember that I have sung to people who were directly hired by the president of the Jockey Club, who was Claudio Fernández Concha; by the president of the polyester textile consortium, who was Santiago Gerbolini; by the president of the Latin American Coffee Growers Association, which is where I do "El Café". In short, the highest institutions. What I was doing was priceless. At that time a worker earned a thousand or two thousand soles a month, and I charged 30, 50 and even 100 thousand soles for a décima. It was something that drove me crazy with the amount of money I had, because I had a million soles in my pocket. I lived in a shack and what I did is that I left the country, because I saw that everything was politics and there was no attention to my décimas, which were about the traditional thing.

So I tell Sebastián Salazar Bondy: "I'm leaving, because I want this to happen and I'll come back". And Salazar Bondy tells me: "No; you have to participate". I tell him that the only way for me to participate would be in a guerrilla thing, in something like what is happening in Cuba, which is what we need. Salazar tells me: "I will take you to that party". When I realized, that was not what I wanted, but they had already launched in all the newspapers that I was in that party, although without having signed any paper, because I have never been affiliated to any political party; but I did not know how politics is managed.

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In the recording studio.

From there I go to Brazil (June, 1963), because I want the public to forget about me, and there the most extraordinary thing that has ever happened in my life happens, when the first thing I find on Mariscal Floriano Avenue, is a monument to the Brazilian nation, which has at the base, where the shaft begins, four sculptures, and above it is the homeland of Brazil. But on one side it has the bandeirante, the Portuguese colonist, the Tupi-Guarani Indian, the caboclo and the black man. When I see a black man in bronze, I have felt an emotion that until now seems to me that I saw him. That's when I say, this country is extraordinary. It was the time of Joao Goulart. There I meet Edison Carneiro; he tells me where I can get literature. I go to Bahia, where they want to put me in the Candomblé; I go to a 'terreiro' and they tell me that 'I have something', that I can help them a lot, that they could give me secrets that no one else had.  

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I finally arrive at the University of Bahia, when the 'First Congress on Food in Underdeveloped Countries' is being held, and the tribute is paid to Jorge Amado, who was the idol of the students. For the first time I see African delegates. That's where I get out of all this and I start living in a town called Feira de Santana and I start writing. The thing is that the Brazilian press gave a lot of space, page after page, to the problem of the Negro, when in Peru nothing like that was seen. That experience in Brazil changed my life

I returned to Peru (August 1963) with all that material, and I began to visit the universities, particularly the University of Engineering and the University of San Marcos.

Nicomedes and Ciro Alegría.

That whole student body was different from today's. They had a single consciousness, that of helping the worker, of challenging all penetration. They had a single conscience, that of helping the worker, of challenging all penetration, and there were no problems among them, or at least ideological problems did not obstruct progress. At the university I am constantly working with the student body. There I realize that the applause I receive is quantitatively inferior to the other, that there are not hundreds of thousands of soles, but that qualitatively that applause sounds different than the other applause of "La Pelona", of "Ritmos Negros"; it is a political applause; it is a militant applause; it is a strong applause.

The black movement changes; it is no longer Lumumba, as I was able to sing in 1960; now it is Stokely Carmichael; Luther King has been killed (04/04/1968), then Kennedy is killed (Bob, 04/06/1968; J.F.K, 22/11/1963); the whole left is on me. Hugo Neira realizes this and says that it is not Nicomedes' mistake. And indeed, I sing to Kennedy because he fights for the Negro, but Kennedy also sent mercenaries to Playa Girón (1961).

When Paco Moncloa and Salazar Bondy return from Cuba (February 1962) and tell me "You want to go to Cuba? We'll take you". And I tell them, "Yes, I want to go"; they answer me, "Who do you want to meet, Fidel? "No," I said, "Nicolás Guillén". And they tell me "black traitor". And I tell them "but Guillén has been fighting for 20 years for what Fidel has done". They don't understand anything. Because of my blackness I have been closer to Guillén than to Fidel, and because of my blackness I was closer to the Kennedy of Alabama than to the Kennedy of Playa Girón. But all this is serious, because you can't be like that either. Then, when Angela Davis arrives, I realize that I am lagging behind, that because I do not make mistakes I do not write, and because I have so many books I cannot even read, because my own books overwhelm me.

The disc Cumanana (special edition December 1964, public sale edition July 1965) is highly valued within my activity, because it is no longer journalism, it is no longer the décima, it is a research work, and I begin to work in television, precisely with the 'Cumanana Company', with all this world that begins to have importance derived from the independence of the African countries. There is a serious interest in finding the black presence in Peru, pressured by the African events and because they realize that there are blacks in Peru, and that I had been working on that for a long time. So, the black begins there first, so much so that when the book "Cumanana" (same name as the album and the ensemble) comes out, all the critics, like Juan José Vega, Hugo Neira... all these people say that it is the best book I have written.

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Nicomedes, Juan José Vega, Manuel Scorza, Belisario Bernales, Paco Bendezú, Pancho Izquierdo, Arturo Corcuera y Germán Belli

 

 

In 1967 I went to Cuba, and for the first time I read The Communist Manifesto; I saw all of Lenin's works, and there I acquired another dimension, a different vision of the world, at first very dogmatic. I think that everyone who doesn't do what Marx says is a bastard... it's shit... you had to have that in your pocket to consult it. But I also realize that I have been very unfair with the Peruvian intelligentsia. I used to say "They marginalize me because I am black, and they have done this and that to me". And it was not like that, because when I came back from Cuba I started to see all the books I have, which I had never read, and they are books that the authors themselves have dedicated to me: Romualdo, Javier Heraud.... So I have met a huge number of poets and intellectuals, whom I have confused with the public, because they applauded me in the neighborhoods, they gave me their books and everything and I kept them, and what I thought was: "How people love me". The thing is that I did not discriminate, I did not discern. I have made mistakes, which are the result of having gone without transition from 20 years as a worker, to literary and artistic work with the public. I don't realize who is who, and it's too late to take another step.

However, the trip I made to Cuba in 1967 did not allow me to find what I dreamed of looking for. I did not find it because I went to Cuba thinking that the same would happen to me as in Brazil, that I would find a series of activities that would nourish me in the cultural aspect and what I found was a tremendous political motivation, what I found was a reality of what for Latin America had only been a theory of the possibility of a new world of justice and equity. And Fidel himself (who possibly realized what was happening to all of us, he gathers around two thousand delegates, most of them from OLAS, another part from the Salón de Mayo, and those of us from the 'Protest Song Encounter'), in an all-night meeting on Isla de Pinos tells us: "Everything you have seen here, you want it for your countries, so go back to your countries as soon as possible and fight for it to become a reality". Then I had to go back on everything I had thought of, because I had already given up the newspaper Expreso, and a lot of other things, to stay in Cuba. That's when I realized that my presence in Cuba was not necessary, but that what was needed was for me to capture everything there was in Cuba to make it happen in my country.

Indeed, I return to Peru and begin to work very hard on poetry, which takes me to Cuzco for the first time. In the Plaza de Armas, before a university student body and the peasantry, I begin to declaim my poems and I realize that my efforts to approach the man of the Sierra with the same force and with the same love that I had approached before to the black man of the Coast, is bearing fruit, because Cuzco receives me as a son of the earth. I begin to work on a poetry that begins to identify with the Indian problem. That is when I wrote "Indio", "El desalojo", "Los Comuneros". In short, a whole production that tries to approach the Indian.

 

 

 

Period 1968 – 1975

Coup d'état of General Juan Velasco Alvarado (October 1968). First phase.
Commitment to the reforms of the Velasco regime.
Married in December 1968 (two children: 1969 and 1971).
Records, radio, television and press.

His participation in the Dakar Congress in 1974 stimulated the idea of creating an Institute of Afro-Peruvian Studies, according to a letter of February 1974 to Clóvis Moura:

 

“"Pablo Mariñez, my partner in the colloquium (Dakar, 1974) and I, are working to found an 'Institute of Afro-Peruvian Studies' in Lima, precisely to rationalize these efforts of men disconnected by lack of coordination. Apart from state entities, we want to make available to serious researchers, like you, the repositories on the presence of blacks in Peru that we can find in archives and monographs, theses and bibliography while receiving the work being done in America, Africa and Europe. We would like to write to you in detail and send you a project of statute because we wish you to be one of the founders of this Institute that we need so much and that everything that has been happening presses for it to become a beautiful reality". In a later letter of March of the same year, Nicomedes expresses what Dakar meant for this idea: "(...) and the opportunity that Dakar gave us by meeting personalities like you, who are seriously committed to shedding light on the Institute's work, seriously committed to clarifying the values of Negritude, as well as having a more concrete vision of what it means for Africa and Latin America, launched us - Pablo and me - to meet with those people (historians, sociologists, anthropologists, artists, critics, etc.) who in one way or another have dealt with the presence of black people in Peru. In general terms, the results have not been as happy as we would have wished: after an initial enthusiasm, there is resistance; I mean, there is enthusiasm when it is thought that everything is limited to dealing with the Negro from a historical and folkloric perspective; but when the socioeconomic approach is raised under that historicity or the sociological approach over that folklorism, then some shake their heads and say that the Institute can be 'dangerous' or that there is no data on the Peruvian Negro beyond the eighteenth century. It is true that we have not yet spoken with all the scholars and that it is not easy to found a serious institution in countries like ours (...) But we will not lose heart and we will not give up. ) But we will not lose heart and in the worst case, we will initially limit our project to a Journal of Afro-Peruvian Studies, which would motivate and encourage this type of work (almost unpublished in the country), catalyzing at all levels a knowledge of Blackness as a weapon of liberation against colonialist and neocolonialist alienation, which, at the same time, frees us from prejudices and allows us to know to what extent the black is present in our history, in our ethnicity, in our culture and in our labor force, exploited".

 

Ninguno de los dos proyectos, el del Instituto o el de la revista, llegaron a materializarse.  

Continuing with the story to Pablo Maríñez in 1982: "At this time I began to travel a lot, Senegal, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina... but I saw that the process in Peru was deteriorating rapidly, to the point that in 1974 not even the military themselves believed in their revolution. The National System of Social Mobilization, SINAMOS, turns out to be a disastrous entity; the university student body, which has been balkanized into a series of currents, also repudiates me; then a total decomposition takes place. This decomposition culminated with the dismissal of Velasco Alvarado".

For more information about the commitment to the Velasco regime View Archive/Interviews "Nicomedes Santa Cruz, Poeta, negro y político. 17/02/1973" 

 

 

 

Period 1975 – 1980

Coup d'état by General Juan Morales Bermúdez (August 1975). Second phase.
Records. Less presence in the media.

Since August 1975 he had not been working as a journalist ("I was fired for being a man of the first phase"), as he told Pablo Mariñez. Likewise, in a letter to Clóvis Moura in May 1976 he writes: "I am not surprised by your concern for my labor problem. I know it is sincere because it comes from the same Clóvis Moura who in October 1974, the day after the earthquake (...) was already writing to me worried, inquiring about the health of family and friends. Thank you a thousand times, dear Poet. But do not be anxious on this occasion, we still have other means of communication to reach the great majorities we serve (...) The reality is that now, with less work than before, I can organize my life better..." 

 

With more time available Nicomedes focuses on his book on 'La Décima en el Perú: 1534 - 1954' and that would finish in March/April 1979 (this book finally saw the light in July 1982 under the title 'La Décima en el Perú' and was presented by Nicomedes in his visit to Peru in 1983); likewise, at the end of the seventies, he has two other projects to start: 'Centenario de la Marinera: 1879 - 1979' and his long-awaited 'El Negro en el Perú'.   

 

PBut from 1979 onwards, radio was no longer broadcasting and the only thing left was television (which had an uncertain future with the arrival of private enterprise).

Vídeo. Panamericana TV. 1978 (Canal Youtube de MR SiCoDeLiCo)

"Now, when I have come to Mexico (1982), the phenomenon that has happened to me before happens to me again. That in Mexico there are a lot of people who have followed the trajectory of 'Muerte en el ring', translated into English in the United States; that my poetry was needed here in Mexico; that it is a poetry that has a lot of enlightening elements on Caribbean and Mesoamerican problems. So, to come out of this frustration, this discouragement of Lima in 1980, and to arrive in 1982 to a Mexico that wants to record you, that wants to do a lot of things, is what revitalizes you again and to say that all was not lost, that politics and history have their ups and downs, or these echoes that sometimes do not reach you".

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Taken from:

Entrevista de Pablo Maríñez realizada en 1982 publicada en "El Gallo Ilustrado". Domingo 22 de Marzo de 1992. México, D.F

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"Nicomedes Santa Cruz: Decimista, Poeta y Folklorista Afroperuano", edición peruana. Pablo Maríñez.

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Correspondencia.