Here’s Where You Can Find the Best Of Peruvian Music

Nat Geo Expeditions expert and ethnomusicologist, Holly Wissler, shares a guide to chasing the best local beats. | By Hannah Lott-Schwartz  
A shamam plays a traditional flute alongside Amazonian Peru's Boiling River. Photo by Sofĺa Ruzo.
A shamam plays a traditional flute alongside Amazonian Peru's Boiling River. Photo by Sofĺa Ruzo.

While living among the Q’eros, an indigenous Andean group in southeast Peru, Holly Wissler was immersed in their native music. Now based in Cusco, the ethnomusicologist and Nat Geo Expeditions expert outlines where to find the best local beats.

Hidden Workshop

Inside a storefront signposted simply “Luthier,” expertly made Andean instruments lie scattered around their maker. Sabino Huamán, a third-generation stringed instrument craftsman, will demonstrate how to play each charango, bandurria, guitar, and quena flute. Ask to see his workshop upstairs, says Wissler—and even if you don’t purchase anything, make sure to tip Huamán for his time (Calle Tandapata 370).

Dinner and a Show

What originated as leftist, anti-dictatorship music in the 1960s and 1970s has morphed into Andean folk, supported by guitar, charango, flutes, and drums. “People love it,” says Wissler of the haunting melodies, which are best enjoyed over dinner at any number of restaurants in Cusco, including the new Ayasqa, which overlooks Plaza de Armas and serves Peruvian comfort food (Harinas Portal 19, 2nd floor, Plaza de Armas).

Electric Inca

Follow up the show with drinks and dancing at this local staple for Andean rock. Ukukus has live shows daily, while Sundays are headlined by Amaru Puma Kuntur, a band named for the three cosmic figures of the Inca Empire (snake, puma, and condor). Here, folk music goes electric, with hand pipes and quena flutes getting the rock-and-roll treatment while singers alternate between Quechua and Spanish (Calle Plateros 316).

Andes Anthems

Traditional Andean music isn’t something you stumble across—it has to be sought out. Wissler suggests contacting Santos Machacca Apaza, a Q’ero, to sit in on an offering to apus (mountain gods) and Pachamama (Mother Earth) at his family’s home, 20 minutes from Cusco. Request music up front so that his mother is around to sing as his father plays the pinkuyllu, a large flute commonly made of cane, after leading the ceremony.

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