This wonderful collection of traditional and original Bolivian folk songs was made by singer, songwriter, and activist Luzmila Carpio as part of a UNICEF program in the early '90s. A native of Bolivia's Northern Potosi region, Carpio sings primarily in the Quechua language, which serves, in different variations, multiple indigenous populations across the Andean region. In certain areas, particularly in the rural arid climes where Carpio grew up, singing and performing are part of the fabric of daily life, with certain songs being sung during planting, harvesting, and other daily tasks. These were the songs she learned in her formative years, and as the Quechua language began to die out Carpio became a sort of cultural emissary for the music and heritage of not only the Quechuas, but of all indigenous people in the Americas. In the 1980s Carpio became active with UNICEF, especially in areas of literacy, and in 1991 she was commissioned to record a set of songs honoring the Quechua language and customs that was then distributed to libraries and learning centers throughout Bolivia. The project was called Yuyay Jap'ina, which translates to "reclaim our knowledge." In addition to achieving its educational objective, Carpio's recordings serve as a vibrant artistic statement in a thrilling ancient language familiar to few outside of the Andes. Accompanying herself on the small ten-string charango with a handful of other musicians behind her, she delivers the songs in an unusually high, trilling voice that becomes almost flute-like at times. On the electrifying rain prayer "Ch'uwa Yaku Kawsaypuni," her complex rhythms and melodies blend with the delicate sounds of birdsong and distant thunder. The strange and joyful "Warmikuna Yupay-Chasqapuni Kasunchik" encourages women to stand up for themselves, while the equally buoyant "Pachamamata T'Ikanchasun" praises the Pacha Mama, or mother earth. A deep connection with nature is inherent in Quechuan culture and an almost rhapsodic, spiritual element can be felt in this strange, earthy music. Carpio's voice is infinitely expressive and frequently dazzling as she swoops and soars, displaying the kind of range and command few singers ever achieve, let alone in folk music. That these unique recordings were given a new life outside of Bolivia can be credited to French label Almost Musique, which now introduces the marvelous Yuyay Jap'ina Tapes to the rest of the world.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger