Afro-Peruvian slaves toiling in the silver mines and sugar plantations were barred access to drums, so they had to make do with what they had around them—wooden boxes called cajon and donkey jawbones. Centuries later, singer Eva Ayllon and music and dance ensemble Peru Negro will bring those Peruvian percussion instruments and more to the George Mason Center for the Arts tomorrow, performing separately and together. The 50-something Ayllon is a diva in her home country and has performed for arena-size crowds in Lima. She’s been dramatically crooning ballads and warbling rhythmic musica criolla since the late 1970s. Her mixture of slow- and fast-tempoed sounds, combined with her sultry dancing, has earned her the nickname “Peru’s Tina Turner.” Ayllon is more than just an Afro-Peruvian pop star though. She’s covered public domain traditionals and recited poetry that addresses issues of race and class.
Peru Negro formed in 1969 to demonstrate the country’s Afro-Peruvian folkloric traditions. But this ensemble of 30-some musicians and dancers does not do so in a quaint, tourist-friendly manner. The drummers sit on the wooden boxes and expertly pat out funky rhythms accompanied by congas, bass, male and female chanted vocals, and flamenco-sounding guitar, while the women dancers shake their bottoms and add dress-twirling flourishes. The group also includes male dancers who add their own sinuous Afro-Peruvian movements. Although they have released a number of albums, they’re best known for their cuts on the 1995 compilation The Soul of Black Peru that David Byrne released on his Luaka Bop label.
Eva Ayllon and Peru Negro perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the George Mason Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, Va. $23-$46 (students get a discount). (888) 945-2468. Pre-show discussion with members of Peru Negro at 7:15 p.m.