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Coastal Folklore 

Cancionero peruano (Peruvian song collection) 


It is important to remember that when Pizarro arrived at Tumbes (1532) in the area we are specifically dealing with, the COAST, it had only been a century, barely 70 years, since the Inca armies of the glorious reign of Pachacútec, with his generals Cápac Yupanqui and Inca Yupanqui, uncle and nephew respectively, had dominated the vast coastal area of nanascas, chinchas, Señorío de Cuismancu and Chuquismancu and the extensive Gran Chimú zone. In these 500 leagues of the coastline, the pre-Inca cultures worshiped the sea (Mamacocha) although then the cult of the Sun (Apu Inti) was established. Furthermore, Spain, which conquered us, had just emerged from eight centuries of Muslim domination.




The presence of African slaves in Peru began in the sixteenth century. In a short time, the Spanish colony saw the principal centers of production (mining and sugar cane centers) filled up with said manpower. Just as in other Latin American countries, the number of slaves that arrived since then is difficult to determine. One of the reasons is the illegal slave traffic practiced in all of Latin America.

The greatest concentration of slaves, as is well known, was on the coast, which is also where the principal urban centers have been formed. The mountain area, or "sierra," was practically reserved for the native inhabitants. The slaves made their presence there in the mining centers and in some haciendas.

(Pablo A. Maríñez: "Los esclavos africanos en las haciendas azucareras de Perú (Siglos XVIII)." Paper delivered by the author at the "Negritude et Amerique Latine" colloquium in Dakar-Senegal, 1974.)


An introduction to the Musical Folklore and Dances of the Peruvian Coast necessarily has to be an introduction to the Black presence and their decisive contribution to the complex structure of our Peruvianess, because the Black presence occurs from the same historical moment (1532) in which the two colossal cultures, European and Incan, collided. But its influence will manifest itself later on, when the invader and the subjected began to mix biologically and culturally in a mixture whose dialectical synthesis is called Peruvianess. And to that river of Peruvianess converges the Black tributary, becoming a flood which climbs over the Andes, overflowing the valleys, until exhausting itself and disappearing, or perhaps remaining in isolated coastal places (Piura, Lambayeque, Lima, Ica), from whose waters we flow and in whose transparencies we have observed everything that is reflected in the present work.


Whoever conducts research in order to reconstruct the chronology of said Africaness in his steps to Peruvianess, ought to retrace in time a path of more than four hundred years (in a long process of assimilation and rejection) and examine the early brotherhoods that were formed by the slaves in the seventeenth century in urban zones.

Brotherhoods of "negros de nación", that is, blacks born in Africa, also called "bozal" for speaking only in their native tongues, as opposed to the Africans that had already been Hispanized and Christianized, which were Black "ladinos." Brotherhoods of Congos, Lucumis, Minas, Angolas, Carabalis, Congos Mondongos, Mandingas, etc., disseminated through the suburbs of the newly formed cities, but remained under the jurisdiction of each Parish and under the regency of the Viceroy's government, having certain autonomy to meet in national councils and to function as societies of mutual help, where the Black workers (water carriers, candy makers, porters, carriers, artisans, and healers) labored to rescue their kings from slavery, while at the same time rebuilding their ancient ancestral traditions.

The brothers themselves built adobe walls for the local brotherhood, in an assigned lot, for a small sum, decorating interior walls with images of their main gods. The more numerous "nations" (such as the Congos Mondongos) could have three or more brotherhoods, and in all of them, the ultimate authority rested in the "Caporal" (leader) or "capataz mayor" (foreman), later having the position of the "twenty-fourth brother" (perhaps the origin of the term "veinticuatrino" as synonym for "boozer"), as well as other inferior tasks: spirit captain, etc. As a surviving tradition from the matriarchal African culture, a Queen was elected among the Congos. The queen had a main helper with the honorable and disputable charge of standard bearer; this female captain was followed by other helpers. The greatest activity of this feminine procession took place in all of the brotherhood's public parades, this being the Sunday of the "infraoctava de Corpus," and there, the Congo queens paraded under umbrellas, holding a scepter in their right hand and a walking stick in their left hand, meanwhile the captain would fly the brotherhood's flag leading the procession.

Out of these brotherhoods originated the cult of the venerated image of the Lord of the Miracles, painted in 1650 by a black slave of the Angolan caste, supposedly named Pedro Falcón, member of the brotherhood of Pachacamilla.

Much later, in Republican times close to the abolition of slavery (1855) and when all the brotherhoods were already under the advocation of Catholic saints (Saint Salvador of the Lucumi, Our Lady of the Kings for the Mandingas; Our Lady of the Rosary for the Congos Mondongos), and when there were very few of the original African-born, and the founders of Christian brotherhoods were predominantly the American-born Africans, don Manuel Atanasio Fuentes gives us detailed information of the last brotherhoods in his book Estadísticas de Lima (1858), the same information which he partially transcribes in his helpful work, Lima, apuntes históricos, (París, 1867). In it, Fuentes mentions that the "Black Creoles" (Blacks born in the Americas) elected a foreman with the intervention of the governmental authorities.

In rural areas, the antecedents of our coastal folklore must be sought in the so-called "casa de jarana" (party house) a type of wayside inn located in the center of a small town surrounded by sugar mills and cotton mills.

This place was the club where each weekend, "Zambos Cholos" and Blacks met to party.

The term "jarana," has different meanings in Latin America, but among Peruvians it refers to the happy and bustling party in which music and dance predominated. But such dancing music was based on the ancient "bare ground" dances or dances of "cajon," those same "zamacuecas" or "marineras" were called - by metonymy - "jarana," and today it is a synonym for "marinera" and also for party.

And so, the "casa de jarana" was the scene of the most famous duels of "zapateo" (a type of tap dancing); this was also the place where the most devoted local "decimistas" participated in literary duels against foreigners; there, the singers of "marineras" won fame. The "casa de jarana" was important to the point that "jaranistas" from Lima traveled specifically to those towns to compete against them, and to confirm the reputation of those singers, whose fame transcended the borders of all the "casas de jarana" surrounded by haciendas and the plots "de panllevar."

In the "casa de jarana" there was always respect and good comradeship, its safety being such that the women and the daughters of the natives would join in to take part in the song and dance.

The "casa de jarana" served "aguardiente de caña" (liquor) and food as well as organizing at times card and dice games.

One "casa de jarana" in the town of Aucallama, in the valley of Chancay, was a witness to the great deeds of singers and dancers such as the Vásquez, Boza, Muñoz, Aparicio, Casas... This house was the center stage for "matonadas" which starred braved "curaos" (the works of famous witches who filled their bodies with extraordinary abilities, making them immune to swords, guns, and blows, and giving them powers to transmute instantly in their body and soul through time and distance, or voluntary mutations ("pase") which converted them into domestic animals). Of this caliber were the legendary Martín Champa and "Buen pie," whose deeds, at the beginning of the twentieth century, would have provided us with abundant material for best selling novels or award-winning feature films.

Finally, and in the present century, we find an urban folkloric atmosphere in the "chinganas" (corner grocery stores) and "pulperías," (taverns) managed by the Chinese and Italians respectively.

"La chingana" was a modest grocery store placed in the middle of the block at whose door one found grills in which fish was fried. In the interior one could find a counter, small tables for eating, drinking, and music playing.

The same people "de armas tomar" who lived in the neighborhood in lots and alleys were the regulars at those "chinganas."

Some of these stores had back rooms, and there, fights would break out because of minor insults. "Las pulperías" were a meeting place for the Bohemians that serenaded in the streets between drinks waiting for midnight to go toward the friendly small streets and to begin the classical serenade, joining the small waltzes at the beginning and to end the dance with the "marinera" which lasted until the lights no longer shone. The "jarana" was of "santo, corcova y recorcova," at least...

Nicomedes Santa Cruz Gamarra Lima, June 4, 1975




This name is used as the designation of ten-line stanza recitals and to distinguish the guitar playing which accompanies this song. This means the socabón is the melody of our sung ten-line stanza and also the steady rhythmic accompaniment on the guitar.

mpaña en la guitarra.


Pregones de Lima antigua


Because of the proliferation of peddlers in colonial Lima, it can be said that ours was a "ciudad pregonera"..

Here is a list of the most notorious merchants who, with their varied merchandise, original hawking and picturesque attire, gave Lima one more particularity to boast about: the ice cream man, the tisanera, the fresquera, the buñuelera, the picantera, the chichera, the frutero, the melonera, the granadillera, the champucera, the lechera, the bizcochero, the pescadora, the panadero, the aguador, the tamalera, the bizcochuelera, the mantequero, the misturera, the fosforero, the arriero, the suertero, the mercachifle, the velero and the sereno.

Since the end of the XVIII century, the peddlers had the Lima neighborhood on the exact time with their chronometric appearances.


Pancho Fierro

Many critics of Pancho Fierro (Lima, 1803 - 1879), divide the activity of this brilliant artist between the watercolorist Fierro "of intuitive talent", and the Fierro painter of signs and posters "to earn a living". For this last activity he has even been called "a painter of broad brushes". Perhaps these gentlemen are unaware of the fact that, until the last century, the signs that advertised business stores were true works of art, worked in oil or tempera by true art professionals, who were never many. And it was no game to decorate the front of a bakery with the goddess Ceres fertilizing the fields; or to illustrate a bookstore with Pallas Athena, full of books and compasses; or to promote a blacksmith's shop with the allegorical figure of the god Vulcan? As for the posters, to fill the Bullring, the Coliseum of Roosters or the main Theater, in a time when there was no radio or television, depended a lot on the skill that the artist put in the poster, leaving the composition of the poster to his own criteria. This ignorance of the aspect that could be artisanal, becomes unbearable in the merely artistic when one tries to place Fierro's work in the "costumbrismo", "humorism" or "folklorism". And here there is no ignorance but deliberate pettiness or undeniable class position before what the revolutionary work of don Francisco Fierro still represents: biting criticism of a decadent, corrupt and slave-owning plutocracy, with traces of operetta aristocracy and Christianity that borders on the most hypocritical cucufatería. At the same time elements for the awareness of an Indian, black, zambo and cholo people who gave their lives for an "independence" to then continue in the same... or worse than before.


It is not the case to compare him with Goya and to get out of the way -as it has been done recently-; neither to stop in his mulatez or to get lost in his unknown genealogy (he could well be the natural son of the 37th Viceroy, Don Gabriel de Avilés y del Fierro, who already had two years ruling Peru when Don Pancho was born, whose only son the painter signed del Fierro). None of this has any real importance, it never did for him nor for the many friends who esteemed him in life and frequented his studio in "Polvos Azules" or wherever he remained.

The analysis of the message and denunciation of Panchofierrista, should stop in each of its main characters: inquisitorial priests, fatuous gentlemen, decrepit ladies, casquivanas tapadas, and enslaved people, happy people, strong people, stupid people, creative people, loving people, artist people, working people. This type of study is already being done in Moscow, in Paris and other latitudes. But in his own homeland, where in life he was imprisoned, plagiarized, uselessly imitated and long forgotten, Don Francisco Fierro, committed painter and transcendental man, is still waiting for his biographer? Or maybe we are the ones who are waiting for him, those of us who yearn for a revolutionary criticism that starts from such solid statements as those of the murdered Haitian writer Jacques Stephen Alexis, when he says:

"All human values arise from peoples in movement, geniuses and talents collect only the product of the collective creation of the masses called gregarious...".

Or even further, much further, as César Vallejo wanted and prophesied::

"To kill art by dint of liberating it. Let no one be an artist. Let the composer or the poet compose his music or write his poem in a natural way, as one eats, as one sleeps, as one suffers, as one enjoys? Let the act of moving be a literally natural act".


Black dances in Perú


So therefore, both the Arabs, who for two thousand years (from before the Christian era to the end of the 14th century) were the pioneers and unwavering agents of black slavery and Portuguese sailors in the fifteenth century, introduced an element of black culture into the Iberian Peninsula long before Columbus came near our continent.

These events are very significant because "western" culture brought by the Spanish and the Portuguese was already influenced by this element of black culture and especially so in anything related to singing, dance and musical instruments.



Landó or samba landó

The lundú was an African dance from Angola, brought to Peru by the same blacks who entered as slaves in the XVI century. In Lima, independently of the northern process, the same lundú, called landó and samba-landó, gave origin to the zamacueca, renamed Marinera by don Abelardo Gamarra.

Samba landó
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La Marinera


Just like our northern Tondero , the Marinera, a typical dance of Peruvian mixed races, with its birthplace in Lima and which today has regional versions of considerable value such as the marineras from Arequipa, Puno, Cuzco, Cajamarca, Huanuco, etc. has a tri-partite structure.

But if the Tondero is divided into glosa, canto and fuga; in the Lima marinera we should distinguish between the primera (first) de jarana, segunda (second) de jarana and tercera (third) de jarana.


Son de los diablos

Up until the twentieth century in the centre of Lima and the La Victoria district it was possible to see the picturesque Cuadrillas del Son de los Diablos, brightening up the streets during carnival. A Cuadrilla was made up of eight or ten devils, led by a Diablo Mayor. They wore smocks and red trousers, masks, tails and cord shoes; this costume was completed with a small cloak and masses of bells. The orchestra was made up of a guitar (or harp), box drum and donkey's jaw bone (carachacha or rattle). Some water colours by the mixed race artist Pancho Fierro (1803-1879) depict times before the Son, perhaps when its appearance coincided with Epiphany, Quasimodo or preceding the Procession in the Infraoctava of the Sunday of Habeas.

Son de los diablos
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Ingá (danza del muñeco)


Erotic festival dance from urban folklore. Its rhythm comes from the Festejo, its choreography is in a circle with a dancer in the centre who dances lulling a bundle of rags, a pillow or anything else which looks like a breast-feeding baby, holding it tightly and rocking it - this is where the onomatopoeic name "ingá" comes from, like the cry of a new-born baby or the dancer wiggles mischievously with the "little child". Then the dancer throws the rag doll to someone in the circle, swapping places, so who ever receives the "inga" goes into the centre of the circle. In this way the dancers take turns until everyone has danced with the doll.



Zaña (lundero afroperuano)


This song with irreverent words, set to music which has been preserved to our day, is the oldest expression of folklore which was passed into the afro-yunga mixed culture of the Peruvian coast. The ZAÑA was the protest of the black man, not against God but against the men who made a mockery of God's Law.



The Cumananas are quatrains of eight syllable verses. It is a popular musical expression which belongs to the lyrical-musical genre: sung poetry to be performed in counterpoint on a subject agreed on beforehand or a challenge of questions and answers with a range of subjects. Two singers take it in turns to improvise songs of four lines until one of them is proclaimed the winner.



El festejo

The Festejo is the typical dance-song of the mixed black races in Peruvian folklore. As a song, its words are always about festivals (perhaps this is why it is called Festejo (Festivity).

In the first half of 1949, some family groups which had inherited what survived of black-peruvian folklore (limeños, chancayanos and later cañetanos and chinchanos) were taken on, for the first time, as "afro-Peruvian" -also called "Negroid"- dance and music teachers - in the brand new "Folklore Academy". These people, improvised teachers forced by circumstances, had to make up a choreography to the "Festejo", which was still sung to the accompaniment of a guitar, box drum and donkey's jawbone or carraca (rattle) or carachacha, although the steps to the dance had been lost long before. They acted on the presumption that its roots were in the Congo and that it was for the whole group to enjoy within the general characteristics of African music and that it had a free-style choreography for male or female soloists with the other dancers joining in.

El festejo
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La Danza o Habanera

During the last century and the beginning of this one the cargo boats which docked in Callao and other ports along the Peruvian coast brought not only valuable and vital cargos in their holds but also airs and musical poems from other American latitudes. We learnt these straight from the rough voices of the hardened crews of these ships.


The DANZA, also known as the HABANERA was brought from the Greater Antilles by boats which arrived at our coast through the Strait of Magellan as the Panama Canal had still not been constructed. Originally a Cuban song which was accompanied by a guitar and flute its subject, usually lyric romanticism, sang about the troubles of love.



El cajón

In spite of the capricious confections that were popular in this time of the rebirth and height of His Majesty, the "Cajón" (wooden box instrument), whose enthusiasts have incorporated it into the Creole waltz and the "polka", we believe that the most appropriate dimensions for a good "cajón" should be approximately the following: un parallelepiped of 30 x 50 centimeters in front, by 25 centimeters in depth. Planed wood of ½ inch for the four sides of the frame, one plank of "triplay" of 5 millimeters in the front or face - where the hands were used for percussion - and a posterior wooden plank of 3/8 inch thick, planed towards the posterior surface or the back of the wooden box. This last side had an opening in the middle of it through which the sound would come out. If said opening were circular or semi-circular, it will have a diameter of 11 centimeters; if it is triangular, it will have 15 centimeters on each side. This assemblage of the wooden box's six sides will be nailed together. The finish consisted of one coat of varnish or natural "charol" or mahogany. The rebirth or better said the popularization of the "cajón" that currently is used in Lima has brought about sophistications as much in the way in which the sound is produced as in the application in rhythms and orchestrations that were previously unknown. Playing the "cajón" appears to be easy and there are even those that make a big show out of it, moving it around and causing the public to applaud. But a good "cajoneador" (a wooden box player) must carry on a sure beat, and will obtain from the instrument a variety of sounds that will range from the sharpest to the flattest notes.

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La cajita


The cajita is a small marching drum. Unlike the cajón -which is a stationary instrument and is played with bare hands-, the cajita is worn around the neck or waist, and is beaten in a complex way: with the right hand the player wields a small wooden mallet, with which he hits the right side of the cajita; while with the left hand he opens and closes the embisagrada lid, taking it from a knob on top. Both blows, sharp the one of the mallet and deep the one of the lid, are combined alternatively, flourishing the rhythm that marks the quijada, because cajita and quijada are infallible in the orchestra of the Son de los Diablos. 

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La quijada


"La quijada" is nothing but the lower jaw taken form the skeleton of a donkey, horse, or mule and converted into a musical instrument by the ingeniuosness and virtuosity of our people. It is simply called "quijada" (jawbone) and it was also known by the onomatopoeic names of "carraca" and "carachacha ." Commonly it is called donkey's jawbone, even if it is not always obtained from the bones of this one-hoofed beast. In order to play "la quijada," one grabs, with the left hand, the space that is free between the canines and the molars, that is the chin of the mandible. With the right hand, one holds a piece of the rib of a cow which will be rubbed across the loose teeth, alternating this action with rhythmic strikes of the fist on the region of the base of the thumb over the wider area of the jaw, being careful as a strike that is too hard could break it, rendering it unusable.

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El güiro

"El guiro" and "la carrasca" belong to the large and very ancient family of rubbing instruments, whose mechanics consist in rubbing a smooth piece of wood against one that is ridged on the surface. These rubbing and ridged instruments' origin could be as much African as pre-Colombian (American). Made out of the most diverse materials (human bones, bamboo stalks, hard wood, etc.), "la carrasca" acquires different names in several continents through the ages; it is "congoerá" to the Guarni Indians; "omichicahuaztli" to the Aztecs; "teponazlti" in Central America; "guacharaca" en Columbia; "charrasca" in Venezuela; and "reco-reco" in Brazil. While among the Kikongo Africans there is a ridged walking stick that they call "kuakuá" (F. Ortiz), and the capuchino Friar Merolla de Sorento in 1683, an instrument called "cassuto," a yard-long stick which is "hollow and with a very low tone, covered with a small flat piece of wood cut in ridges or serrations engraved at short distances" that the blacks in the Congo and Angola played, and it is a companion instrument to the serrated pumpkin called "kilando," which is also ridged.

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La Carrasca

This is a serrated or grooved musical instrument which has its origin in Pre-Columbian America as well as in Africa. It is made of a very wide range of materials (human bones, bamboo cane, hard woods, etc.), the carrasca is the precursor of two other instruments; the güiro and the guayo. 

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La guitarra


The Peruvian guitar is the same Spanish instrument, which comes to us with all the cultural elements that from the first moments is merged with the native culture.

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Las palmas

There are discrepancies among the organ experts about whether or not to accept as musical instruments the so called anatomical instruments, and the human body as the natural instrument (Bermudo, 1555), because "the first instrument that man has had available [to him] has been man himself, his own body, and not only in respect to the singing of music, but also as instrumental music" (Ortiz, 1925); we open this sample briefly considering elements of our "corporeal instrumentality" utilized as objects and means of making music: palms, tapping, howls and onomatopoeic "guapeos" appear in almost all of our tunes.

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Zapateo en Mayor

The music for the zapateo (foot stamping) is performed on only one guitar and its musical formula, using phrases of four bars (6/8), completes periods of two or four bars which are repeated with some alternatives.

The zapateo en modo mayor is a favourite with guitarists and is the one most requested by dancers because of its brightness and the variety of melodies.

The zapateo (in "mayor" or "menor") has a rhythm derived from or related to the Festejo. It is important to remember that this kind of playing has to be very rhythmic to achieve its aim because it is actually the stamping that calls the shots; entering into a "dialogue" with the guitar, syncopating its rhythm and making full use of periods of silence from the guitar.

zapateo en mayor
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Zapateo en Menor

The music for the zapateo in the "menor" mode, fits the same musical formula as the zapateo en mayor, but as there is less melodic variety in it phrases it is somewhat monotonous so dancers are not so keen on it, except for exceptional performances. We know, in fact, that at present professor Vicente Vásquez Díaz is the only Peruvian guitarist who knows some music for the zapateo en menor, wonderful playing with bass notes predominating.

zapateo en menor
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The agüenieve or agua´e nieve has been confused with Creole foot-stamping or the pasada, but there are important differences between each of these dances. To start with the music for the agüenieve is only in major mode and its musical formula binds periods of two phrases in amalgam bars which bring to mind the Andalusian music for the soleares (Anadalusian folk dances).

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Pasada de agüenieve

Like foot stamping, this is also a male dance, for a soloist in an improvised dialogue with one or more rivals. The only, but considerable, difference in its choreography lies in the technique used; while the foot stamping is with the toe, sole and heel of the foot, in the agüenieve all the "brushes" are carried out exclusively with the toes, sole and the sides of the sole of the foot; with anyone who puts down the heel, even accidentally, loosing the "brush".

Therefore, the figures of the aguenieve are based on brushes combined with tapping with the sole or the toes of the foot. There is a possibility that this was an earlier type of dance than foot-stamping as it seems that the brushing is not simply a whim but is due to the fact that it is impossible to tap or stamp with a bare foot whereas the sound of a bare foot brushing over the hard earth is much richer.

pasada de agüenieve
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El alcatraz


The alcatraz (like the ingá) is a erotic-festive dance which developed from the festejo. The differences between the alcatraz and the two other dances mentioned lie in its words (which talks about the choreography) and in its choreography. This consists of a man brandishing a lighted candle who does an amusing dance trying to burn a paper cone which his female partner is wearing on her back, while she uses skilful, rhythmic movements of her hips to avoid getting burnt. The band for the Alcatraz is made up of a guitar, box drum, güiro and clapping which provides a setting for the folk songs (antiphonal singing) which the soloist sings in a dialogue with the choir.

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Melopea en agüenieve


It was in 1958 when remembering the "toque del agüenieve" that was no longer used for anything because its dance had been lost, we decided to take it as a guitaristic background of the recited tenths and for that we lowered its cadence to the slow rhythm of our voice, resulting then in a beautiful melopea en agüenieve, whose incredible registers bring us close reminiscences of the Andalusian "toque por soleares" that the Spanish reciters use as a background of their romances.  

melopea en agüenieve
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Entrada de Marinera

When the remaining authentic marinera limeña singers get together, and if they sing in contrapunteo, it is a rule that the couple that in turn "puts" or "stops" a jara, marks in the introduction played on the guitar the basic tones as well as the musical accidentals through which the melodic line of the marinera that is to be sung next will pass.

entrada de marinera
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Llamada de resbalosa

The resbalosa is in fact a body added to the marinera, characterized by its livelier, more joyful rhythm and for being a foretaste of a final movement, called fugue.

llamada de resbalosa
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During the interminable nights the black slaves on the Peruvian coast spent crowded together in the slave quarters or during the harsh work in the sugar cane, rice and cotton plantations they wept over their miseries in a heart-felt and highly original lament which had the meaningful and poetic name of PANALIVIO.

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