It so happens that in an early chapter of This Day's Madness, the novel I mentioned in my last post, Peru's unique chicha music plays an unexpected role. Chicha is of course also a drink (usually made from corn, often fermented) and the music is sometimes called "cumbia", a term used in Colombia. But the Peruvians prefer to call it "chicha".
While I had heard chicha when I traveled to Peru in the early 1990's, I didn't bring back any records. So I checked it out on YouTube - ah, the wonders of the digital age, it certainly makes our writer's job of researching a lot easier! And here is what I found:
Do you like it? Yes, a very lively beat, great to dance to. Though it really sounds better if you're actually there, for example, in a Lima club such as this one:
|Source of photo: here|
Two people are involved: Vicky, the main character, a tall, elegant woman working for the United Nations and Ben Khedara, a middle-aged UN project manager, an Algerian.
You have met Vicky before: she features in the short story Wildfire (published on Impakter, here; that episode is based on a true story - Vicky may be fictional, but she is a really strong, determined character).
|When the savanna grass burns at the end of the dry season, it causes wildfires that redden the whole sky, as here.|
Wildfire is in fact a prologue to the novel.
A couple of chapters down, Vicky has come to Peru flying in from Paris (that's where the UN agency she works for is headquartered). She's on a three-week evaluation mission to inspect Khedara's project and formulate a follow-up proposal.
From Lima and Cusco, they fly out to the distant, tropical region of Madre de Dios, on the border with Brazil:
|Puerto Maldonado, the Plaza de Armas with its characteristic clock tower: this is the center of town (photo source)|
But Puerto Maldonado, in spite of the clock tower, is a God-forsaken place on the river Madre de Dios:
|Puerto Maldonado on the river (photo source)|
|Tambopata river - now luxurious accomodations exist for tourists (see source of photo, Cayman Lodge) - but not when Vicky traveled to Peru in the early 1990s|
They went to the Sabor Tropical, reputed to be the plushiest restaurant in Puerto Maldonado, famous for its exotic decor. The walls were covered with
garish paintings à la Douanier Rousseau, depicting jungle animals in a naïve dream-like setting, plumed macaws chattering away on tree tops, crouching jaguars behind acrylic bright green ferns, and leering tapirs drinking the still water of an excessively blue lake.
The food was a letdown compared to the theatrical wall paintings. After a tough and stringy estofado de venado made from wild pig, Khadari, sensing Vicky's disappointment, suggested they go to a place nearby where they played chicha music. “Your experience of the jungle would not be complete without it,” he assured her. “It is the locals' greatest pleasure. They love it, they listen to chicha all the time. It's loud, fun and easy to dance to, wonderful beat."
"Ah, but I don't dance." Vicky was appalled at the idea of dancing with Khedara.
"No hay problema, you don't need to. Just listen to it, looking at the others dancing. Quite a fiesta - you can't miss it. I won't allow it."
When she saw his boyish grin, she felt she couldn't turn dowdy on him. She acquiesced and grabbed her shawl. They walked in the dark, humid night to a large, neon lit pavilion, led to it by the wild, explosive sound of an electric bass guitar.
At first glance, Vicky couldn't see where the music came from: she was confronted with a moving wall of dancing people. She resolutely walked around them, to the far side of the room, picking a table against the back wall, in a relatively shaded area. She crossed her legs and looked grimly around. The band played frenetically and the people, sweating heavily, moved about in a savage frenzy. Vicky felt she had no part in it.
She lit a cigarette and settled back in the hard wooden chair, thinking she rather enjoyed sitting on the side, looking on, ignored by everyone. She was determined to dance with no one, and least of all with Ben Khadari. What a strange man! He'd told her some days back, with a tearful voice, of the loss of his wife the year before, in a stupid car accident in Lima - but weren't such accidents always "stupid"?
OK, I stop here. For the moment, I leave to your imagination what happens next. How important is Khedara for Vicky? Hint: Vicky is a major character in the novel and Peru is just one of the many countries she visits every year on her project inspection tours (incidentally, that's a job I had for 20 years - I must have evaluated over 50 projects over that period...)
The rest of the story in my next post...