LA GRAN REUNIÓN: A celebration on the alley
April 28, 2008. This morning the sun is bountiful and fresh. The bus window brings me back to the streets of La Victoria. Among the debris of the night before and the short-skirted ladies, I slip away from their sweet talk and the many dogs that expose me as the stranger I am. ‘Chiquitín’ passes by, absort in his old neighbourhood, which he hardly recognizes. A delegation from Barrios Altos, already soused thanks to a stop at the Garcés, remembers with wonder a house, a window… “Serenades? Those of my time”, exclaims ‘Fatiga’, and I, a mere party crasher, hear them go by and compose a different picture of Lima. In their living memories I can hear the music the ditches used to make; I can see children running, pursuing the times they feel they have left behind, hidden in some corner of the city.
In a corner of Renovación street, this Sunday of mourning will become a party. It’s been a year since the decease of Carlos Abán, my uncle ‘Cabeza de Piedra’, or, as he said, “‘Papeo’, because my son is ‘Papeíto’, nephew. Have you seen him on TV?” I remember him standing by the doorway at Giuffra, on Humboldt street, telling me his father, Eulogio, used a polka to teach him his ABCs. At the Abán’s his family will honor his memory cooking cat in peanut stew –exquisite meat– and I recall a friend from Callao, Quintana, saying, “Cat? That’s something you can have even in fricassé.” They are all here: ‘Lencho’ Pedraza, ‘Pila’ Curay and Walter Goyburu, from Callao, hovering by the doorway; only those from La Victoria are already inside, as if waiting for their friends. Today, some of them are a mere shadow of themselves. “Manuelito, how could he have left us…” Others have already begun to sing: “Why should other people be damaged…” Little by little, they gather, each contributing to defend their neighbourhood’s reputation.
I just watch, snoop around, observe everything from behind the wounded crystal of my memories, and the memories and voices of those hard-headed guests who won’t leave, because “There’s no partying in heaven, no one up there dances the marinera.” I listen to Carlos Abán singing a duet with his brother. I listen –just as my father listened to ‘Sudapisco’ by the doorway of La Aurora market, between laughter and pisco shots, to Don Abraham Valdelomar, serious and austere, asking his brother Manuel to give him the pitch, and to ‘Chino’ Calderón–, and as if the waves were bringing me back that warmth and friendship, I hear ‘Lencho’ who, clapping his bottle caps, calls out to me: “‘Colorao!’” Nobody sings out of tune in memories, least of all Manuel Quispe as he recalls his father singing “El olivo” at La Reja. And even less so my uncle David Farfán –whom I haven’t seen in such a long time– at the Huancavelica, the Bocanegra, the Unión, La Capilla, and on every Monserrate street, singing to his father: “Upon the stone of your sincerity I have erected the temple of my love…” And today Renovación street has become a temple where Papeíto, his family and all his friends remember Carlos Abán and, along with him, all the other friends who are gone; those who always knew the right note to harmonize with the voices we can listen to on this record, today.
Fernando Urquiaga and Willy Terry have listened to these voices with all their hearts, and have believed –and I with them– that it would be an act of greed not to share them with other music lovers. Many live today in a Lima that can sometimes seem to lack an identity of its own. This record reminds us that it isn’t so; that the multiple origins and cultural diversity of which this city can nowadays be a complex and unequal specimen are similar to the old neighbourhood distribution that gave the criollo song from Lima a particular flavor and style according to the singer or performer’s place of origin. Today all these styles are blended together, and only in certain performers, such as the ones here assembled, can we find the echo of what once were irreconcilable differences (let’s recall the quarrels between musicians from Bajo el Puente and Barrios Altos, and, even within the latter, the sensitive differences between a singer from La Huaquilla and one from Cinco Esquinas). This record shows us that these differences are not, and should not be, an obstacle to our union. Thus it brings together different voices, different colours and different neighbourhoods; thus Limeños –old and new– have the opportunity to gather around these traditions, this music, and get to know a bit more of this city we live in, which, with all its hardships, every day brings us many joys. For many, music can doubtless be the greatest joy this city brings, and this is why music lovers are grateful to Fernando and Willy: because this record allows us to heal this wounded crystal of time and, above all, lets us crash the criollo party, at least for a little while.