Elvia embodies the idea of and, as opposed to or. Richard Rohr (one of my favorite authors/thinkers/speakers/teachers) uses the phrase “the shining word ‘and’’:
“‘And’ allows us to be both-and...‘And’ keeps us from either-or...‘And’ keeps us from dualistic thinking...‘And’ keeps us inclusive and compassionate toward everything…’And’ allows us to critique both sides of things...‘And’ allows us to enjoy both sides of things…‘And’ is the way of mercy.”
Elvia is both a grandmother and an employee at a hospital, a wife and an explorer of her city, a Peruvian and a United States-ian (oh, how I wish English had the word “estadounidense”). She moves between worlds continually, and seems to feel no tension between them.
In 1965, as a 15 year-old girl, Elvia moved from Lima, Peru to New York City, New York. For this piece of music, I wanted to focus on that specific year and the sounds that were ubiquitous in Peru and the US. To that end, the piece begins with a genre called chicha (aka “cumbia amazónica” or “psychedelic cumbia”), which was created in Peru in the 1960s and 70s. If you aren’t familiar with this style, I would highly recommend the album “The Roots of Chicha”; it does a great job of introducing the listener to many heavy hitters in the chicha world. The other sound that I focused on was the prototypical Motown sound of 1965. This is introduced first at 1:22”, but is further developed later in the piece, becoming most obvious at 2:07”.
This tune opens up with very typical cumbia rhythms. I used a fairly large battery of percussion instruments to get this sound and that gradually transforms into one drum set playing the same cumbia-inspired rhythms alone. This sound was very typical of chicha music in the 60s and 70s. During that era, many bands used guitars, electric bass, and drums sets (instead of more traditional instrumentations) to play cumbia, huayno, criollo, and other forms of Peruvian folk music. The guitar and bass bring melodies that are reminiscent of the surf rock sounds of the US during the same era. I love that this genre brings together both traditional elements and respect for the region as well as the forward-looking, fun-loving sound of the beaches of the Americas. Being a guitarist, I had a blast writing the melodies that the guitars play on this song. The primary themes are built on (largely) major pentatonic scales and fast triplets. These are both very typical of chicha music, and also a lot of fun to play! One of the challenges of this piece was to write a melody that could transform and meld into a Motown-esque melody later on. These are the two themes I chose after a lot of trial and error:
Introducing Detroit soul elements into the piece is not intended to mimic or replicate that era’s sound but to transform it into something new, something that is both chicha and Motown. It develops its own character by using the “both/and” philosophy so eloquently articulated by Richard Rohr above. The guitars and bass change hint at a very popular tune from 1965 (which was at the top of the charts during the same year). Initially, this is done on top of the original cumbia percussion, albeit played on a drum set. The percussion later changes slightly to reflect 1960s pop tunes.
One of my favorite moments that reflects this idea of creating something new out of two templates happens at 1:48”, when the chicha theme immediately follows the soul theme. Another, and maybe the most complete synthesis of the thematic material, comes during the last 20 or 30 seconds, when the two previous styles seem to work together and create something both familiar and original.
Elvia spent a huge portion of her life moving regularly between Lima and New York. She still moves in and out of roles in her daily life and I love the parallel in the music here, as it weaves from one theme to the other, seemingly without strain. Of course, the strain, effort, and pain are all there, under the surface; Elvia just does it gracefully.