Cusco has many proud cultural traditions and treasures, many we all know about, like Machu Picchu and the Inka´s, but there are many we don’t know about and are just as important to the Peruvian people.
All year round there are fiestas, celebrated traditions and participated by the people in the cities and the provinces, the province of Cusco is famous for its fiestas and a part of these are the music and the dance, the city has a calendar of events very carefully planned and activities are carried out all through the year.
First let’s talk about dance, through movement and coordination the dance tells a story of from each province. The different communities of Cusco express their identity and culture through these dances and most have a story that normally comes from before the Spanish invasion, most local people recognize each dance and what region it belongs.
Some examples of the dances you will see around the Cusco region and considered to be treasures by the people are Chukchu, a comical dance where the dancers are workers who go to the jungle and come back with Malaria and treated by other dancers playing doctors.
Kapac Chunchu, a dance of native warriors from the jungle who have sworn to protect the Virgin as she is carried around the town during the fiesta. Masks and brightly colored jewels are worn during the dance.
A typical dance from Puno that is often seen in Cusco is Capac Qolla, a dance about merchants from Lake Titicaca who bring their wares to the Cusco region, the costumes feature masks, square adorned hats and normally a llama fetus on their backs.
Kapac Negro, this dance represents black slaves from the colonial era who were bought from Africa to work in the North of Peru, now free they sing and dance to celebrate, the costumes feature a black sad face mask, hats and a chain around their waist to represent their slavery.
On Corpus Chiristi in Cusco, Dansaq is performed, this dance is performed in front of the Virgin Carmen or the Virgin Rosario, the dancers use costumes of a circular skirt, bells and sandals.
Lastly Cachampa is a dance about warriors, it is said to show the energy of the warriors as he prepares to go to battle, the costumes are a long robe of different colors with colorful decorations and lots of details. The idea it is said to show the enemy their superiority by the way they are dressed.
The largest festivals take part in June, in which month Cusco celebrates its anniversary, during this month many competitions are organized in the Plaza de Armas of Cusco, large crowds gather and the people are happy when the dances are performed well. The people of Cusco live for these performances and the celebrations are important part of city life.
Dancing is not the only important cultural treasure, music is also a major part of the Cusco tradition, the music complements the dancing. Andean music and the Andean communities it comes from have powerful music traditions, the Inca Empire and civilization created music for mostly spiritual purposes and reached the people through dance and song. There were also dances and song to effect the weather, to bring rain or to repel frost and hail.
Music today is mixture of many different genres. The first being Folklore which originates in the Andes, mostly panpipe and guitars, sung in Spanish or Quechua, the language of the Inca. This music you will hear in any part of Cusco, enjoyed by young and old alike.
Huayno music is another genre of Folklore, this music is traditional in weddings or parties in the Andes, features dancing with a lot of hopping and stomping. Criolla music comes from the African slaves and is mainly listened to in Lima and on the coast of Peru, this music features Spanish guitars and percussion instruments. Also listened to by the people in Cusco is Chicha, which is very popular, it is a mixture of rock, cumbia (pop) and huayno, with soulful lyrics about the poverty and heartbreak. Today the young people list the Reggaton which is a fusion of pop and reggae, this is popular in the clubs of Cusco.
Music in Cusco includes many different types of musical instruments, wind instruments including the Zamponia, the Zamponia has two separate rows of pipes (you might know this as panpipes) ties together by string, these are the most famous of the instruments and are a tradition in Cusco, today are made from bamboo pipes.
The Quena or flute is the oldest known wind instrument in Cusco, this instrument was traditionally made from clay and featuring six finger holes.
Of the percussion instrument the Bombo is the most popular, a large wooden drum, made from hollow wood and animal skin they come in many different sizes and feature in most folkloric bands.
School and Universities participate in Cusco traditions by encouraging the students to dance in the many festivals and fiestas during the year, this helps to keep these traditions alive. Go to the main plaza in Cusco on any Sunday and you will find some school or organization doing one of the many different dances of the region. Dance and Music are a large part of Cusco treasures something not to be missed when traveling to the high Andean town of Cusco.