AMADOR BALLUMBROSIO: Peru, Afro Peruvian Icon 1934-2009 L.A. Times article by patrick.mcdonnell

El Carmen, PERU

For visiting musicians and artists, a stop at the modest home of Amador Ballumbrosio, the godfather of Afro-Peruvian music, has long been a rite of passage.

But the massive earthquake that hit Peru on Aug. 15 opened up cracks in the walls and ceilings of the adobe dwelling on a residential street here, almost forcing the family to evacuate.

Despite the damage, the septuagenarian patriarch refuses to leave the comfortably cramped haven where he and his wife raised more than a dozen children, many of whom are musicians and dancers.

Ballumbrosio, confined to a wheelchair for several years, said he sensed the nearness of death as his house shook like a boat tossed about at sea.

“It felt like the end of the world,” recalls the storied folk violinist and past master of the tap dance known as the zapateo. “I prayed to the Almighty.”

The damage to Peru’s black heartland, which gained international notice with the 1990s world music breakthrough of the Afro-Peruvian sound, has been widespread.

A few blocks from Ballumbrosio’s adobe home stands the battered hulk of Our Lady of El Carmen Roman Catholic Church, a cultural landmark that suffered a toppled bell tower, cracked facade and extensive interior breakage.

It is one of many colonial-era churches badly damaged in the quake, which killed more than 500 people and left tens of thousands homeless. Also in ruins is a nearby national monument, the Hacienda San Jose, a former plantation house.

But repairing historic sites is a secondary task in quake-battered Peru.

“We must first attend to the desperate needs of our parishioners,” notes Father Lorenzo Bergantin, an Italian Comboni missionary who is the parish priest of rural El Carmen.

Left without inhabitable dwellings were perhaps half or more of the 10,000 residents of El Carmen, which bills itself as Peru’s “capital of folklore and black art.”

The township is widely known for its evocative music, gleeful festivals, talented soccer players and gracious inhabitants.

El Carmen and the broad coastal zone devastated by the quake boast a singular fusion of cultures: The bloodlines of African slaves, indigenous Andean peoples, European settlers and Chinese laborers are evident here. Intermarriage over time has produced a vivid variety of skin hues and hair textures.

“We’re all mixed,” says a former mayor, Elias Rebata, 56, one of a family of 21 children born in this agricultural community.

Amador Ballumbrosio

Many carmelitanos, as residents are known, left after the quake to join relatives in Lima, the relatively unscathed capital 120 miles to the north; others now sleep in encampments hastily put up in plazas and pitches of grass, a ubiquitous scene in the vast earthquake-ravaged zone.

Even houses that appear undamaged on the outside have deep interior fissures, and may be poised to collapse.

“People are making do as best they can,” says Juan Roberto Flores, 64, leading visitors through dirt streets featuring toppled adobe homes and lines of residents queuing for donated food.

He and his wife now sleep in a tent pitched in the palm-shaded central plaza.

If there is any consolation, it is that no one was killed in El Carmen. Many attribute the paucity of casualties to the town’s beloved patron and protector, the Virgin of El Carmen, whose image is hoisted about the town on the feast days of July 16 and Dec. 27. Children, who practice for weeks, dance the steps of the zapateo during the religious processions.

“The Virgin saved us from an even worse fate,” says Pilar Joya, a 31-year-old mother of four living in a tent. “She watches over us.”

Word of the destruction has spread to aficionados of the sound that burst onto the world music scene with the release of the 1995 compilation “Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru,” co-produced by David Byrne, the ex-Talking Heads frontman.

“The earthquake has been a tremendous blow for the Afro-Peruvian community,” says Susana Baca, a well-known black chanteuse from Lima who has toured the U.S. and Europe and is a dedicated preserver of the cultural legacy. “Friends have called me from Boston, Barcelona, Switzerland, Berlin. They all want to know: ‘What can we do?’ I tell them their help will be needed to rebuild.”

Reconstruction seems likely to take years.

Even amid the current hardships, carmelitanos harbor no doubts: Neither the shaking of the earth nor the vast destruction will smother the melancholy and joyful sounds of Afro-Peru.


Del Carmen, Chincha. BALLUMBROSIO



Ballumbrosio residency

classic portrait of Amador and his sons

Amador's home

City Hall of Del Carmen

Amador Ballumbrosio painting


12 Responses to “AMADOR BALLUMBROSIO: Peru, Afro Peruvian Icon 1934-2009 L.A. Times article by patrick.mcdonnell”

  1. […] To come together and pay tribute to one of the ‘Pilars’ of Afro Peruvian Folk music, ‘El Señor Amador Ballubrosio” from Chincha, Del Carmen. REMO Percussion Center open the doors to Listen Recovery and Mandinga “afro Peruvian tribute […]

  2. Mui bueno!

  3. amador ballumbrosio Says:

    el trabajo de amador ,tendra que seguir aportando a muchos jovenes
    sin miramiento ,puesto que la cultura afro andina tiene mas de 350 años y esta se mantiene ,gracias al mestizaje.

  4. Juan CDelgado Says:

    I really enjoy so much this web-side, make feel that I was in Peru. I shoul make my mazamorra morada to watch those videos

    thank you

  5. gracias por acordarse de nuestro padre.

    • Gracias Sylvia, no pude tener el honor de conocer a tu padre pero lo pude ver por unos minutos de espaldas en su casa en el Carmen. Tenemos un documental que habla sobre la cultura negra del Peru y otros paises latino americanos. Entrevistamos a una de tus Hermanas y a Roberto tambien. Me encantaria poder hacer algo mas extenso sobre la familia y Amador… se prodia?
      un Abrazo!!!
      Renzo Revelli
      Listen Recovery


  7. I’m a filmmaker who is very interested in world music and dance. I’m finishing up a documentary about Afro-Peruvian music and dance, and enjoyed very much reading this. I’d love to get in contact with the makers of the video at the top in which Amador does zapateo, plays the violin for hatajos de negritos, and is interviewed. If you know how to locate them, please let me know. In the meantime, if you’re interested in my documentary, go to its web site It’s called “A Zest for Life: Afro-Peruvian Rhythms, a Source of Latin Jazz.”

    • wow que chevere, your working with Profesor Lalo Izquierdo. Thats’ offical. Its sad that there is not enough support and help to show the riches of our culture…
      I don’t know in specifics who made the video of Amador, I do have his contact (Ballumbrosio Family in Del Carmen, Chincha ICA) I’ve worked with Roberto Ballumbrosio for part of a doc I helped produced

      Is a documentary that covers about 16 countries in which we research and share the studies and history of the Black People in Latin America, from Afro Peruvian to Afro Colombia to Brazilian Culture, etc.

      I will suggest to get the info from the people that uploaded the video you want of Amador. It should be on their Youtube channel page. Usually is an email or a web site.

      Thanks for sharing your documentary with me.
      Best Regards
      Renz De Madrugada

  8. I missed your response and here it is a year later. I finished my documentary, have shown it in several festivals, and am now waiting to hear back from distributors.

    In the meantime, do you review CDs? I have produced one of Afro-Peruvian music which includes a cool cajón demonstration by Lalo Izquiedo. (I also produced one of traditional flamenco by singer Antonio de la Malena, but you probably aren´t interested in flamenco.)

    One way or another, happy New Year!


  9. […] and websites Peruvian Dance Amador Ballumbrioso Interview with Amador Ballumbrioso Miguel Ballumbrioso on […]

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