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Eva Ayllon: Afro-Peruvian Queen

Eva Ayllon is sometimes called Peru's Tina Turner. Her 30-year career has taken her in many musical directions, but she remains best known for her renditions of Afro-Peruvian music. That's a style that emerged in 1950s Lima, hand in hand with the notion of "black pride."

Afro-Peruvian music has complex, sensual rhythms. Its instrumentation is spare, originally just nylon-string guitar, bass and a wooden box called cajon. When it started getting outside attention in the mid-'90s, it felt new. The music's lean architecture and introspective mood differentiated it from the likes of salsa and merengue. But to experience the full-on gravitas of Afro Peru, you need to hear the husky voice of Allyon.

Enslaved Africans had to make two long passages to reach Peru, first across the Atlantic, and then over the landmass of South America. The people of the so-called Black Pacific were so far removed from their African origins that the creators of Afro-Peruvian music couldn't rely much on cultural memory. So they created instruments, rhythms and a compelling musical aesthetic that was largely a product of their imaginations. The pride of Afro-Peruvian music is the lando, an elegant dance with intertwined rhythms and a seductive undertow. Ayllon mastered the form early on and soon became known as "the queen of the lando."

On Kimba Fa, which means "joyous energy," Ayllon takes all sorts of liberties with Afro-Peruvian music, adding in piano and sometimes a brass section, as well as jazz harmony and ideas from other Afro-Latin styles. Ayllon is big enough to get away with just about anything. In "Huye de Mi," she even indulges her affection for the folksy Creole music that was the dominant sound of Lima a century ago.

The 17 tracks on Kimba Fa span the musical styles Ayllon has performed over her three-decade career. She experiments here and there, including on a pop track with Andean flute samples, blaring keyboards and Ayllon rapping — fun, but not her best work. When you hear this Lima native tearing into a salsa vocal, on the other hand, it's clear that she's far more than just a Peruvian treasure. Eva Ayllon is one of the great figures of today's Latin music.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Banning Eyre