This excellent compilation introduces a previously unknown sound from Peru with a history that echoes many other pop styles. Huaynos and huaylas are traditional song forms brought from the country by migrants coming to work in the big city of Lima and adapted to the present-day sounds and instruments there. And presto, a new hybrid sound emerges that plays to homesick urban masses who can't go home again because living in the city has changed them and the music becomes a badge of positive identity. It could be the Mississippi Delta blues to Chicago story, Algerians in Oran or immigrants in Paris creating rai, Jamaicans playing ska and reggae in Kingston, or jump blues and Pachucho boogie with Mexican-Americans in post-World War II Los Angeles. Huaynos & Huaylas is weird in that the tracks are drawn from mid-'60s to early-'80s Peruvian singles, but the main outside influence seems to be marching bands and maybe big bands when you'd figure more soul and rock. The excellent liner notes (everything they should be, very informative on social, historical, and musical context) maintain this was the real popular music of Peru, the sound everyday people listened and danced to rather than the whole Andean pan pipes school.
It's a weird sound, a high-pitched blend of harps, strings, horns, and voices that many people may find hard to take but it falls together in a kind of jumbled, jaunty hodgepodge that can just as quickly become enchanting. The selections focus on the main singers, Picaflor de los Andes (male, five songs) and Flor Pucariña (female, five songs). The latter is excellent, swooping and soaring lightly like she's riding the musical air currents, while Picaflor is more commanding and dominates the arrangements. But they, and the other singers, usually sound like they've just inhaled helium (maybe it's a side effect of recording in high-altitude Lima) so there's lots of giddy whooping in the midst of the all the trebly strings and clarinets and plucked harp as a bass foundation. The wild, woolly edge to the music comes out with the Orquesta Sensación del Mantaro -- it's loopy and ragged and must be arranged but it sure doesn't sound like it. Orquesta los Tarumas de Tarma shows a fondness for saxes hitting a near-reggae skank, but then "Rompe Macarios" breaks off into a solo violin and harp section before the loopy brass band whoops blend back in. "Dos Claveles" by La Princesita de Yungay sounds almost Asian with trilling guitars and flutes over thumping, throbbing drums, but no horns. Los Bordones del Peru unleash accordion on what sounds like a Peruvian version of conjunto/norteño/Tex-Mex and La Pallasquinita's two tracks are more string-driven things sans the loopy horn component. So there's a healthy variety but make no mistake, whether people find Huaynos & Huaylas appealing rests far more on their reaction to the basic sound than individual artists or performances. It's definitely an oddball one, not something that will leave many people with a neutral stance, but it's lighthearted and energetic, and this compilation does a fine job of presenting it.