Musical Adventures in Peru with Prof. Joshua Tucker

November 11, 2014
Professor Joshua Tucker

Tucker, pictured above, apprenticed himself to the master luthier Marco Tucno Rocha

Last year, students and faculty familiar with the Music Department probably noticed somebody was missing. Assistant Professor of Music, Joshua Tucker, spent last year on sabbatical in the south Andes of Peru studying the indigenous culture and music of the Quechua speaking people.

He explored how music defines indigenous identity and how that definition is changing.  Recently, the indigenous style of music, Chimaycha, has become popular in Peru where indigenous culture is thought to be lacking.

In Ayecucha, Peru, Tucker apprenticed himself to the master luthier Marco Tucno Rocha who constructs chinlili guitars, the instrument central to Chimaycha. Luthiers acquire a wealth of information from interacting with musicians. Rocha understands how the modernization of Peruvian culture affects Chimaycha artists and innovates ways to build instruments that are better suited for transport.

Tucker learned the history of the genre using Rocha’s experience in the first organized Chimaycha group. Tucker also interviewed current artists, attended concerts, and worked closely with musicians.

In the last two decades, the indigenous peoples have begun migrating to cities. Although they still make music, it has changed into a blend of traditional Chimaycha and Cumbia, tropical dance music. Originally, Chimaycha songs portrayed scenes about courtship, love or poverty using metaphors from nature.

Historically, the performers were herders who would meet while herding and compose music together. Current indigenous music in cities focuses on social problems and partying. The music is still a forum for people to connect through common issues, but those issues have changed.

Tucker did not anticipate the influence ecology would have on his research. From Rocha, Tucker learned about different types of wood from around the world, and how Rocha uses climate to determine the best times to perform different stages in instrument construction.

Ecological factors have also become a talking point between NGOs and Peruvian communities who feel effects of climate change through fluctuating water supply, changing crop productivity and herding patterns. It has been suggested that indigenous music could be voice for ecological concerns.

Throughout the 14 years he has spent going to Peru, he has acquired dozens of godchildren. Following the Catholic tradition of godparents, the indigenous people changed the tradition from religious guidance to support in any life event. Indigenous musicians choose a day as their artistic anniversary. As the godparent for a female artist, Tucker took her shopping for an elaborate skirt based on a traditional style to wear in her anniversary performance. Tucker described the shop saying, “It was beautiful.” They spent hours shopping and it was more fun than he expected.