Introducing Afro-Peruvian music to the masses via global beats: An Interview with Novalima

By 05 September, 2010

Novalima have created a name for themselves as a forward-thinking group known for mixing traditional Afro-Peruvian music with electronica and other global sounds. We met up with the band to ask them a few questions about their music and the culture of Afro-Peruvian music in Peru.

What was the seed for starting Novalima?

Novalima started when 4 musicians that had played together in a lot of bands in Lima, decided to move abroad and keep on doing music. With the possibility to record and produce music using computers and the internet to share files each of us decided to build a home studio and start experimenting. Influenced by the music we listened in the cities we were living (Barcelona, Hong Kong, London & Lima) we started mixing music from different parts of the world with electronic beats and sounds. As part of this experimenting we included in the beginning some Afro-Peruvian percussion and chants and loved the result. This was the beginning of the Novalima sound.

I feel like your music has changed a lot since you started quite a few years ago now. How do you feel the band’s sound has changed?

Yes, our music has changed a lot. On our first album we were mixing styles from different parts of the world, like cuban son, salsa, samba, reggae, Afro-Peruvian percussion and Indian Tablas with electronica. We loved how the Afro-Peruvian percussion mixed in with electronica and other styles, so without planning it we kept on experimenting that way. When we noticed we had like 15 tracks with a very Afro-Peruvian influence we decided to name the album Afro. After this album was released worldwide by Mr Bongo (UK) we decided to make a live show and invited the Afro-Peruvian musicians that had recorded on it to form a 9 piece band. Since then we´ve played all around the world and this live interaction of the band made our next album Coba Coba (released worldwide by Cumbancha (USA)) to have a more organic sound.

There is obviously a strong Afro-Peruvian element to your music, especially in the choice of songs. This is an area of Peruvian culture that does not get mentioned a great deal. Did you all grow up surrounded by Afro-Peruvian culture or was it something that you became aware of later?

Peru is very diverse culturally especially because it has 3 very different regions with their own languages and traditions. The Amazon jungle, the high sierra and the coast. Novalima is a band from the coast of Peru and the coastal culture is a wide mix of European, Asian and African traditions as well as Andean of course. Therefore anybody from the coast is exposed to all these traditions since they are present in our food, our songs, books, paintings, etc.. It is fair to say that the strongest musical influence in the coast is African and Spanish.

Is it fair to say that Afro-Peruvian culture and music is now growing in terms of interest worldwide? What would you say are the catalysts for this?

As we’ve been touring around the world we are able to see more and more people interested in knowing more about the Afro-Peruvian music, stories and traditions. However we feel now it is much more known than some years ago. This could be due to artists like Susana Baca, Eva Ayllon, Perú Negro and Novalima promoting the different interpretations of this musical heritage to crowds of different ages and backgrounds around the globe.

Has this growth in interest also occurred in Peru? I know artists such as Susana Baca and Eva Ayllon are currently able to play in decent venues worldwide. Have they also become big stars in Peru?

Eva Ayllon is very famous in Peru for more than a couple of decades already. You can see her weekly on TV promoting her shows and is considered a star here. However Susana Baca is more known among the musicians and people with more international music background. Her style is a fusion of Afro-Peruvian music (more chilled, with jazz touches) and is certainly more recognized abroad than at home.

I read that you have recorded with Zambo Cavero. Is this true? If so, how did this come about?

It is partially true. Although we did meet and were going to collaborate (he was going to do the vocals on Ruperta), we had to cancel the session due to illness and unfortunately he passed away before we could reschedule a session. Nevertheless, his voice is present in “ay bembe” from our album Afro thanks to sampling technology!

Have you recorded with any other Afro-Peruvian stars? Is there anyone in particular you are hoping to record with in the future?

Most of the musicians we record with are very well known in the Afro-Peruvian scene, some more than others….actually for our next album we are currently recording with some real old school legends such as singers Pepe Vasquez and Rosa Guzman, guitarists Roberto Arguedas (from Susana Baca´s initial band), Felix Casaverde (from Chabuca Granda’s band), plus great musicians from the new school such as Cesar Ballumbrosio and Oru, among others. We would love to get Oscar Avilés and Lucila Campos in for a session – we are working on that!

Is the fact that the band are now able to record together, with a variety of Peruvian musicians and singers, allowed the group to gain a deeper connection with Peru? The way the music has developed would certainly reflect this.

Yes, the new album we are currently working on will reflect this deeper connection with Peru because we are recording with old legends from Afro-Peruvian music. We are learning a lot from these musicians and singers about the history of the music as well as old chants or songs that have never been recorded or are hardly known. We are also composing new tracks that encompass all these influences and try to push our music further into new directions.

You’ve recently been touring in Europe. How many are there in the touring band? Did everyone manage to get work visas okay?

We are eight musicians live, the core production team on beats, keys, bass and guitar, plus three percussionists on cajon, conga, bongo, quijada, timbales, and a vocalist. Yes we all got visas fortunately!

What’s the experience like of transforming these studio-based creations into live entities? Considering that this is dance music is there a certain satisfaction at playing these songs live and seeing the people dance?

Every time we are working on a new song for the live set we establish the structure first by using the beats, bass line, keys and harmonics. Once the structure is defined by us four, we add the percussion, main voice, and finally backing vocals. The variation of structure mainly depends on getting the most from the song in the live show, for example, changing the endings or even moments in between the song, which are not in the album, enable us to interact with the crowd, either by making them sing or using it for a solo, etc. In some of the tracks we have plenty of percussion going on at the same time, for example, quijada, cajita, cajones, congas, bongos, timbales, cowbells, when this happens and we have no more hands available in the live ensemble we sample the sounds so the percussion is still there, same happens with the winds, most of which we sample in the live set. Regarding the live repertoire, our goal is to be a musical journey experience for the audience introducing them to the traditional Afro-Peruvian music, without being SO traditional. For instance merging from a 3/4 rhythm to a global 4/4 beat, then going back to a lando 6/8 with dubby twists, moving then to soka or salsa, going to a festejo with a bit of house, mixing into funk, and so on….. There´s a wide specter of musical genres within the roots of Novalima´s music, the key is that the fusion between the global beats and Afro-Peruvian sound and rhythms we’ve achieved and developed through time and also through the live band, have earned a proper identity and particular sound which encourages the crowd to enjoy our music right from the beginning of the show until the end of it, from a timid tap dance to enthusiastic singing, dancing and jumping by the end of the show. For some, the same effect as the entire album…. with a different feel. Actually we’ve thought about recording a live album, but that idea’s still in the queue for now!

How does it compare playing at European festivals to concerts in Peru?

Well Europe is Novalima´s 2nd home, without having to name or point out countries because every place and festival we have had the chance to play in so far, the crowd has been the best, they follow our Afro-Peruvian rhythms as if they knew them already! The response has been very surprising and gratifying. This is our third year touring Europe and the crowd has been growing bigger and wider every year in every festival. The chance of listening to other bands is also very important and stimulating for us. In Peru, the crowd is very enthusiastic too, although there are not many big places or festivals we can play at. Every time we’ve had the chance to be part of a big festival, we have participated. For example, two or three years ago we were invited to Lima´s anniversary and had the chance to perform in Lima´s main square in front of nearly 40,000 people, and you could say this was sort of a debut the band because Novalima, at that time, was still a low profile band which was not getting airtime on local radio (still!), nor promoted so much locally. The fact that the crowd already knew some of the old classic Afro-Peruvian tunes we play, with our twist of course, had the most surprising effect on the people who joined us through the whole concert, just as it happens now in festivals in Europe. This year too, we had the chance to be part of a show which combined, music, Peruvian horses (Caballos de Paso) and modern dance, the interaction between musicians, dancers and artists, more than 40 all together was an amazing experience. The attendance was 5,000 and the response was very gratifying too.

Okay, I think that’s about it. To finish off, could you just tell us what you have planned for the near future? Are you working on a new record?

Yes, we are currently working on our fourth record and though our roots will always get us in deeper connection with Peru we are also exploring new sounds and rhythms. We are spending most of our time in the studio, recording, editing, creating, planning to have it launched by April 2011 although time is already tight! In terms of what to expect for our upcoming album, we could say Novalima´s approach to music has always been experimentation, without limits boundaries or rules, just to make music naturally for your ear´s delight and of course, share it with the rest whole world! We are confident the next album will be a new step in Novalima’s evolution in sound and rhythms. On the other hand we keep busy updating and playing our DJ Sets as “Coba Soundsystem” which is our a.k.a. when we DJ and do remixes for other bands or artists.

More info:
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