Peru Negro’s shift to lead disappointing

Peru Negro should reconsider billing itself as a black Peruvian dance and music ensemble.

Peru Negro should reconsider billing itself as a black Peruvian dance and music ensemble.

As seen on Friday night at Proctors, this once rather quaint, upbeat group has transformed itself into a vehicle for its lead female singer Monica Duenas.

Both music and dance took a backseat to her loud calls, screeches, her coquettish hip swiveling and endless pleas for the audience to clap and sing along.

This was quite a disappointment.

The change for the worst could be due to the company’s desire to promote its soon-to-be released third album. The group’s 2004 CD, “Jolgorio,” was nominated for a Grammy.

So it looks like the group, led by Rony Campos, is shifting priorities, perhaps in hopes of actually winning the coveted music award.

That’s too bad because Peru Negro possesses something truly unique. Their songs and dances spring from the hardships of slavery in the Americas.

But unlike the Afro-based songs and dances of North and Central America and other parts of South America, the rhythms of Peru Negro have only emerged to the larger world in the last few decades.

Their music is something practiced by few, so they have an obligation to preserve it in the most pristine way possible.

Obviously, turning the song and dance into a clamorous rock concert is not being true to their heritage.

Even though the music and dance was a frame for Duenas, the essentials of Peru Negro were in tact. The instruments were cajon, (originally fruit cartons) as well as tithing boxes from church and the donkey jaw bones that were hit, scraped and shaken.

These were the percussive instruments that created the riot of rhythms. They added guitar and Latin American melodies to compose their singular sound.

Like the music, the dances were clearly a hybrid of both cultures — imagine a samba or merengue danced with the torso bend low and the shoulders flying backward while the head bobs back and forth.

Peru Negro established its roots right at the start of the show with thunder of the percussion and straight up African dancing. But then Duenas came on and took over.

She was aiming to create a carnival atmosphere, which made sense as most of the songs and dances were reserved for celebrations.

But she, along with singer Marco Campos, overpowered the dancers and the musicians, detracting from them by marching, hopping and singing bawdily among them.

Since the company’s last appearance in the area in 2006, the dances have also been simplified, probably to accommodate the songs. The Zapateo, or tap dance, was simply the walk-around, something tappers do to take a break from the more complex rhythms.

However, this dance was one of the few with which Duenas and Campos didn’t interfere. So it was among the most powerful of numbers.

The dancers and musicians were capable of much more. It’s too bad Peru Negro has gone from tastefully delightful to tastelessly deficient.

Categories: Life and Arts

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