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In the Face of Erasure, Peru’s Quechua Hip-Hop Fights Back

Tukuy Llaqtakuna Hatarisunchik. This means “let all our villages rise” in Quechua, the language of the Inca empire and the most widely spoken Indigenous language in the Americas. The phrase is also the title of a song by Liberato Kani, a Peruvian Quechua rapper synthesizing Andean, Amazonian, and Afro-Peruvian music with hip-hop. Liberato created the song “Tukuy Llaqtakuna Hatarisunchik” as an homage to the families that lost loved ones during the 2022 “Toma de Lima” riots in Peru. The song also recognizes the many communities that rose up to protest against deep-rooted ethnic discrimination against indigenous populations in the country.

“In November of last year, I was about to release my song ‘PURIMUSPAY’ and two other singles when I found out that more than 10 people had died due to the social conflict in the country. I halted the release of my singles and created the song ‘Tukuy Llaqtakuna Hatarisunchik,’” recalls Liberato Kani.  

This decision is an illustration of what guides his music — but also his name. “Liberato Kani” means “lover of freedom,” and his music stands in solidarity with his people. While living with his grandma in Apurimac, a region in southern-central Peru, he learned the native tongue of Southern Quechua and developed a deep passion for keeping his language and culture alive. To understand the significance of the Quechua hip-hop Liberato is creating, one must start with the dark history of oppression the Andean people have endured in Peru.

Like hip-hop, Andean music and the Quechua language itself have a political history. For years, the Andean people of Peru have faced discrimination for speaking their native language, with some of the most violent oppression happening in the ‘80s and ‘90s. During this time, many Indigenous groups were tortured and accused of being part of the Shining Path Guerilla Group, a rebel group that was in conflict with the government, simply for speaking Quechua. Between the ‘90s and 2000s, thousands of Quechua-speaking Indigenous women underwent forced sterilization in Peru under the government of Alberto Fujimori. As time has progressed, the sentiments toward Indigenous people in Peru have improved. However, to this day, many who speak Quechua or who speak Spanish with a Quechua accent still grapple with racism and discrimination.

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Renata Flores, named “Peru’s Queen of Quechua Rap” by The New York Times, knows the discrimination Quechua speakers face firsthand. “When I was a very young girl, I felt a desire to learn to speak Quechua, as my parents weren’t teaching me the language,” she says. The artist notes how her parents, like many others in the Andes region, don’t speak to their children in their mother tongue to prevent discrimination. “The Quechua language is looked at as a language for the lower class, the poor. Many people, especially the older generation, hold that mentality,” Flores explains. 

“From a young age, I felt that my parents would hide their Quechua from me so that I wouldn’t hear them,” she shares. “Native Quechua-speakers, the Aymara people, and other groups who speak Amazonian languages have a history of being discriminated against, and we still see it today.” 

But Flores still embraces her native heritage, weaving Quechua into a tapestry of cross-genre music that includes elements of trap, pop, and Andean genres. Her musical journey began in a diverse landscape, where she sang rock, reggae, and Huayno — a traditional music and dance of the Andean region. She also remembers dancing the traditional Pum pin Fajardino de Ayacucho. Growing up, her great-aunts played a big part in influencing her connection to music as they were singers in a popular group from Ayacucho called Las Bellas De Huamanga. Much like her own aunts, there are many Andean women who have left their mark on Peru’s history. 

In her 2021 album Isqun — “nine” in Quechua and interpreted as “the reflection of the soul” in the Andean worldview — Flores reflects on the women who have fought for social justice for her people.

“With the fusion of genres and sounds that I use in this album, I wanted to reflect the stories of these historical Andean women onto the Andean women of our generation. I was trying to portray what we women used to be like and what we are now. These women’s stories are not talked about enough, and each song in the album is named after one of them,” she says. 

Flores and Liberato Kani are only two of a generation of young Andean artists who are working to empower their people and their language through the music they create. In addition to Quechua hip-hop and Inca trap, there are Q-pop, Pop Andino, Rock Andino, Huayno Blues, and more genres that fuse the native Quechua language and Andean sounds with modern music. 

The Quechua language is looked at as a language for the lower class, the poor. Many people, especially the older generation, hold that mentality.

Another artist in this space is Kayfex, a Peruvian artist from the city of Huamanga in Ayacucho who fuses Andean Quechua sounds with electronic, trap, and pop music. Influenced by Huayno, Toriles, and other Andean genres, his goal is to value the Peruvian people’s instruments, melodies, and culture and take them to new heights with his music. In his album ATIPANAKUY, which means “competition,” Kayfex draws inspiration from the traditional Ayacuchan ‘Fiesta de Danzantes de Tijeras’ (party of the scissor dancers).

“My violinist for this album, el Cheqche De Sondondo, taught me everything about the traditional Atipanakuy festival,” Kayfex says. “The Atipanakuy festival has a specific order, and my album follows that same order as well. He adds, “In the context of my album, it is not a competition against other artists, but rather against myself. It is a conceptualization of my perseverance and my desire to improve.”

Fiesta de Danzantes de Tijeras isn’t the only beautiful tradition kept alive by the Andean community. There is the pre-Incan commandment of reciprocity, Ayni, which means “today for you, tomorrow for me,” and prioritizes giving over receiving. “Ayni means working together in community and helping one another out. Not only in tragic moments but in happy moments as well,” Flores explains.

Peruvian artists like Kayfex, Renata Flores, and Liberato Kani — and indigenous artists in other Andean countries like Ecuador — are practicing ayni through the Quechua music they create, adapting their traditions to the modern day so as to not only keep it alive but give it new life. In their hands, the past finds its melody, and the future, its harmony.

Source : Remezcla