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Jazz Caliente: Exploring The Contours Of Afro-Peruvian Jazz

Bex Wade
Gabriel Alegria's Afro-Peruvian Sextet

Peruvian music is a blend of Andean, West African and Spanish influences.  Add some American jazz to the mix, and you've got something unique.  You can hear it on Saturday Jazz Caliente, courtesy of innovative musicians like guitarist Richie Zellon and trumpeter Gabriel Alegria.

Learn more about aid for Peruvian flooding victims here: Direct Relief.  

Richie Zellon is a jazz guitarist from Lima, Peru.  He was one of the first to mix jazz with Peruvian percussion, and the first to call it "Afro-Peruvian jazz."  Zellon has taught guitar at university level in Florida, and  continues his ongoing research on the music of various Latin American cultures and their fusion with contemporary music.  His latest recording is an Afro-Peruvian jazz tribute to the Beatles.

The distinct flavor of Afro-Peruvian jazz comes from its percussion instruments.  The cajón is a wooden box that is struck with the hands like a drum.  The Peruvian cajón has been adopted by Latin jazz bands of all backgrounds, and it's appearing in modern flamenco as well.  The cajón evolved from the shipping crates and other boxes used by West African slaves in place of the drums that were taken away from them.

Then there's the cajita (little box), which is played with a stick on all of its surfaces, but also by opening and closing its hinged lid.  The original cajitas were church offering boxes.

The quijada de burro is an actual donkey's jaw, used as a rattle and with a stick rubbed against the teeth to make a "scratchy" sound.

You'll see and hear all of the above in this documentary (with English subtitles) about Gabriel Alegria's Afro-Peruvian Sextet.   

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.