When Peruvian singer Eva Ayllon was a young girl her family didn’t have a television so she solved that problem by watching her neighbor’s set through her window. What fascinated Ayllon most were the singers. Yet one problem persisted.
When: 8 p.m. July 13
Where: Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $48, $50
“I could see but not hear the television,” Ayllon recalls. “I did not know who those singers were yet their stage presence caught my attention and I imagined in my mind what they could be singing.”
Credit goes to Ayllon’s grandmother who realized her granddaughter had a special talent and nurtured her. At the age of 13, Ayllon made her professional debut more out of a need to help her family than a desire to be an artist.
“But at some point in my late teens, I became more conscious that I had a gift that had become my passion and my love,” she says.
That realization was the beginning of a nearly 40-year career in which Ayllon has introduced the world to the complex, sensual rhythms of Afro-Peruvian music.
Ayllon has been called “the Tina Turner of Peru” and the “Queen of the Lando,” a traditional Afro-Peruvian musical form. Ayllon’s music interprets her homeland’s indigenous musical heritage. She says it’s “an extension of the reality of Peruvian culture.”
“The music is nurtured by both a Spanish guitar and drums of African origin which are enriched by melodies that reflect the Creole mixtures of my city, Lima,” Ayllon, 61, explains. “Plus there’s a bit from the Andes, a bit of urban life and a bit from every other ethnic group that has made the coast of Peru so culturally rich.”
In the mid ‘70s, Ayllon was the lead singer in the trio Los Kipus, eventually leaving the group to pursue a solo career. She has recorded more than 20 albums, mostly in Latin America where she consistently sells out stadiums performing with artists such as Marc Anthony. Her first U.S.-produced album, 2004’s “Eva! Leyenda Peruana,” introduced her legendary voice to a new audience. At the time, she said, “I’m not going to stop what I’m doing until every American has heard these songs.”
Call-and-response, complex syncopation and polyrhythms combine with sweet, melancholic melodies to create a sound unique to Peru’s diverse ancestry. The music’s roots go back to African slaves who traveled over ocean and land to arrive in Peru in the 1500s. It would become a population that is one of South America’s most diverse.
Ayllon may be known for this traditional sound but she isn’t bound by any limitations. She spikes the music in new directions with the addition of a piano, a brass section or inspiration from other Afro-Latin styles. Her interests range widely from Cuban music, jazz, Motown and funk to Barbra Streisand, Bruno Mars and Puerto Rican hip-hop group Calle 13.
“I cannot be a stagnant artist,” Ayllon says, adding, “I like to experiment and improvise but without ever forgetting the roots that gave me my original life as an artist.”
Ayllon, who is working on a new album for release in 2018, performs at the Old Town School with her band, featuring Marco Campos (percussion), Mariano Liy (bass), Julia Pumarada (background vocals), Eddy Sanchez (guitar) and Carlos Yamasaki (percussion, vocals).
“The band is my family,” Ayllon says. “Some of them have been with me for more than 20 years, since they were teenagers.”
Ayllon, who now lives in New Jersey, is constantly traveling, which she admits makes it “seem like airports and airplanes are really my home. Sometimes my friends urge me to slow down. However, I feel if I did slow down I would be missing the world.”
After four decades, what continues to inspire Ayllon? It’s simple, she says.
“I still find inspiration among the hard working people who keep the world running and who despite their struggles continue to honestly pursue happiness. Also the younger generation who are rediscovering folklore traditions provide me with motivation to continue to be creative.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.