Martín Morales Mixes the Food and Music of His Native Peru

Martin Morales

Ever since he was a child, Peruvian chef and restaurateur Martín Morales has been constantly on the move. Whether it was 18-hour bus drives through the steep, winding, narrow roads of the Andes to visit his grandmother “Mamita Naty” in the hilltop town of Santiago de Chuco, or traveling across Europe as a young DJ and music executive, Morales has never stopped wandering, taking in the sights, sounds, and flavors of the world and incorporating them into his work. But, as he recounts over a Skype interview from a sunny café in the Elephant and Castle crossing in London, England, his fondest and most inspiring memories happened during long drives to Santiago de Chuco, when the driver would stop at the picanterías—small, family-owned restaurants serving local fare—to give travelers a respite from the long journey. “That stayed with me forever, really,” he says. “Then reaching the town of Santiago, the smell of the different breads, the different sounds of the music, the different types of people, the different countrysides…it was stunning.”

Those memories of sound and taste, carried across a lifetime, provided the backbone for Morales’s new endeavor, ANDINA: The Sound of the Peruvian Andes 1968-1978, on Tiger’s Milk Records. It’s a compilation of 16 tracks representing the happier side of indigenous music—the danceable and carnivalesque spirit of Andean culture. The album features hard-to-find songs like “La Chichera,” performed by Los Demonios Del Mantaro, a pivotal group in the Andean tropical sound; “Perla Andina” by the “grand ole dame” of Peruvian music, Alicia Maguiña; and the big band and funk-influenced “Caymeñita” by Lucho Neves y Su Orquesta, among others. These tracks represent, as Morales tells it, not only his experience as a person of Andean descent, but a different view of the culture of the mountains—a nuanced albeit non-completist, tale of migration, celebration, pride, and longing for the homeland.

Along with its companion cookbook ANDINA: The Heart of Peruvian Food, Morales aims to dispel stereotypical notions of Peruvian music, culture, and cuisine by showing the vast world of ingredients, sounds and instruments from the region. We spoke with Martín Morales about how Andean culture is being reclaimed by Peruvians today and how the different genres presented in ANDINA have evolved into their present-day incarnations.            

Even though you were born in the capital of Peru, Lima, your connection to the Andes runs extremely deep. Your grandmother is native to the Andes, and through visits to her hometown—the village of Santiago de Chuco—with your mother, you not only got a taste of the food, the ingredients and the smells that make up the fabric of Andean culture, but you also developed a taste for the sounds of the region. Was that taste and reverence for the Andes reciprocated in Lima?

My contemporaries in Lima in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when I lived there, almost rejected Andean culture. They underappreciated it. It was seen as uncool. It was seen, in a racist way, as a lesser culture. But in fact, because my heritage came from it, I was very connected. People in Lima loved to hear cumbia, salsa, the music coming out of New York or Los Angeles—whether it was Toto or ABBA before that, or Rolling Stones, or the Beatles, or Rubén Blades—that’s what life in Lima was all about. I loved everything that was going on in Lima, but I could also understand what huayno—the Andean blues—was about and why it existed. I could understand the different formats, the yaraví, the carnaval, and other rhythms as well.

Alicia Maguiña Mario Cavagnaro

Alicia Maguiña and Mario Cavagnaro

ANDINA: The Sound of the Peruvian Andes is probably one of the most upbeat Andean compilations I’ve heard, providing a huge contrast to the general stereotype of Andean and Peruvian indigenous music—the somber panpipes and flutes. How did you go about finding these songs and artists?

In the last 20 years, I’ve been going back to Peru to see my mother, to see my family in Lima and in the Andes, and I’ve been hearing different songs. I’ve also been going to record shops, record fairs, markets, digging up old tracks that have maybe only been released on vinyl, maybe on 7”, and just collecting things I liked from different genres like huayno, carrabal, cumbia, chicha. I’ve also been going back a lot to investigate ingredients and dishes [for his restaurants Andina, Ceviche Soho, and Ceviche Old St. in the U.K.ed.]. I’m just curious. So, this music is the music I listen to while cooking dishes for my family and friends. I just wanted to make an uptempo compilation of music that is not within the stereotype of what Andean music is about. We’ve been stereotyped as a country that just plays panpipes and middle-of-the-road music that’s really, really boring—music for elevators—and that’s complete nonsense. [This compilation] is outside of that. It’s funky, it’s danceable. I’ve been helped a lot by Andrés Tapia, who is a premier musicologist, music compiler and collector in Lima, and Duncan Ballantyne [co-founder at Tiger’s Milk Records] who is my partner, who’s also a massive Peruvian music fan. The three of us really have put these tracks together.

ANDINA also aims to represent a particular period of time, between 1968 and 1978, when Peruvian music began transforming itself into what we can hear today. It shows a lot of influences intervening tradition, like big band, funk, and even rock.

There was a lot of influence coming in from the U.S. and the U.K., but also from Latin America. Whether it was Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, or salsa from New York, all of that was influencing migrants coming from the mountains. One example is cumbia. It’s said that it originated in Colombia, but it was embraced by Lima’s tropical musicians in the late ’60s and Peru has made it its own. At the same time, musicians who played harp or played some kind of wind instruments, they migrated from the mountains for economic reasons, or to flee from terrorism. [They played music] for a living, so they had to form groups. They had to bring their influences. They had to bring their skills. They united in Lima or on the outskirts, in the shanty towns, in the suburbs, with those tropical musicians and their tropical sounds. Those two different rhythms united to create something that was much more unique, much more interesting than the standard cumbia that a Limeño might have made or the usual, standard huayno they might have made. That happened throughout that period. That’s just an example of migration coming together—people in different tight spaces with not very many resources, maybe no electricity, no TV, maybe not even any radio to influence them. So, what do they do? They hang out together—the coastal guy and the Andean guy. They make friends, one brings a bottle of pisco, which is from the Coast, one brings a bottle of chicha. They share drinks, create new music and create new songs.


Manolo Avalos

So, in the end, ANDINA, the compilation and its accompanying book, ANDINA: The Heart of Peruvian Food not only tell a story about the culture of the Andes, but they also end up tracing a story of Andean migration and its effects on, not only Andean culture, but Peruvian culture in general.

There are, in Peru, and particularly in the Andes, women that have not been given the credit that they deserve—women chefs and singers in particular. ANDINA represents those [women], whether it’s the book, whether it’s the music. Andina means a lady from the Andes, it also means a song from the Andes or a dish from the Andes. There’s a little bit of the Andes in every Peruvian woman, even if they’re from the Coast, like Alicia Maguiña or La Peruanita. Anybody who sings and is influenced by the Andes has a little bit of them in that way, even if they sing in Spanish, not in Quechua, which is the main Andean language. The stories are about authenticity and tradition, but they’re also about how tradition evolves and moves forward. That’s what I do with my dishes. In the mountains, in terms of food, that’s what people do: they carry a tradition and respect it. In music that happens as well. Sometimes it’s pure traditional music and sometimes it evolves.

Take, for example, ‘Todos Vuelven’ by Los Walkers de Huánaco. It’s a song composed by César Miró, a Peruvian composer. It was made famous by Rubén Blades in a beautiful interpretation. But here, it’s interpreted by an Andean cumbia guru. I think that’s beautiful. [‘Todos Vuelven’] talks about leaving your land. Andeans are always moving because of hardship or because of economic reasons, so they want to return back to the land. It’s a yearning for the homeland. My book is also a yearning for my homeland.

Amaya Garcia


  1. Amaya Garcia
    Posted November 9, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Always a pleasure to highlight amazing South American cultures. Thanks for reading @RudyCarrera!

  2. Posted November 7, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    One of the wonderful things about Bandcamp is the fact that people producing music from what Americans and Western Europeans consider to be far-away places are getting well-deserved exposure. Bravo for the article, Amaya.

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