The Dream Of A Chichero Sailor

The Dream Of A Chichero Sailor

 Born in the sierra of Lima, Zárate began his close relationship with music in the 70s, when he recorded a handful of songs for Discos Horóscopo with his cumbia group "The Dynamics", sharing stage with important bands such as Los Ecos and Grupo Celeste. Only his duties as a sailor distanced him from music for eight years.

At the beginning of 1984, Zárate, motivated after having attended a concert of Grupo Alegría in Ate Vitarte, decided to retake his old Andean tropical music project andrecorded two songs for Discos Horóscopo. Originally, his new band was named "Pintura fresca” and it included former members of "Los Dinámicos". This project included the incorporation of a female voice that would break schemes in the chicha scene, openly sexist and composed mostly by male presences.

At a time when female dancers were not yet seen on stages, women were usually found performing administrative roles or attending businesses inside and outside the concert premises. Few participated in musical productions; one of them, the great Noemi Felicita Huarcaya, singer of the Peruvian central highlands, had collaborated with Los Shapis in 1983, but there was still no record of a "frontwoman" leading the image of a chicha band. It is here that Zarate, who had already tried his luck with a female vocalist in "Los Dinámicos", became interested in adding the jovial voice of a young girl brimming with charisma and grace. Zárate begins scouting in his close environment and goes into the homes of his friends, until he meets Milagros Soto, the daughter of Jaime Soto, former member of "Los Dinámicos". At that time, the young girl from Barrios Altos, who would adopt the stage name of Princesita Mily, was 17 years old, had never sung live and liked rock and pop artists like Cindy Lauper (perhaps one of her earliest influences as asinger). Nevertheless, Zarate relies on his intuition and convinces her to sign for Pintura Roja before discovering that her voice reached very high ranges and denoted freshness and courage.

In 1984, Pintura Roja is called by Discos Horóscopo to record an LP before the end of the year. The group begins to capture the attention of the public, otherwise, curious about the voice of a woman that they initially confuse with the voice of a child, or perhaps attracted to their lyrics that reflected the dramas and common situations experienced daily by migrants and their first generations in Perú’s capital: the abandonment of parents and sentimental counterparts, the incipient poverty and the uncertain present in which they lived. The woman as a fighter, capable of facing alone adversity and triumphant over sexism, appears in some songs, giving it greater relevance the fact that a woman with the power that her voice gave her, sang to them from the top of the stage.

In 1985, Pintura Roja gained popularity on the radio and acquired a one-hour program on Radio Inca called "Pinceladas Musicales". That year, readers of the newspaper El Popular choose it as the favorite band of the year. It is for the second production that Zárate decided to seek support for Mily, who at that time danced and sang for up to six hours in each presentation. Zárate signs Sara Barreto, a 14-year-old huayno singer known as "Natachita", and gives her a new artistic name: La Muñequita Sally.

The group starts touring constantly, by plane and bus, only resting on Tuesdays. They find success in Huarochirí, the land of Zárate, and in places like Tagore, Así es mi tierra, etc. They receive trophies, medals and diplomas, and survive in its first years to the bloodiest time of the twentieth century in Peru. While the country was torn apart in an armed struggle, the music of Pintura Roja, and especially the presence of Princesita Mily, help Peruvians cope with the pain caused by the economic and social misery that afflicted them.

In the middle of the internal war, Pintura Roja frequented the interior of the country, taking its music and cathartic message to all the regions of Peru. Many times the group would end up playing, without previous knowledge, for communities run by maoist terrorist group Shining Path, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), or local drug traffickers. More than once they were branded as terrorists for wearing red clothing that simulates a painting spilled on a white polo shirt. In the following years, Jhonny Orosco in the second guitar and Toño Centella as vocalist, would join the band among many other artists that would change the Peruvian cumbia scene forever.


Red Brushstrokes

Of all the productions of Pintura Roja, Pinceladas Musicales, undoubtedly, contains the most successful and immemorial themes in the band’s career. Ask any Peruvian if they remember Pintura Roja and then ask them to name one of theirs songs at random. They will say: El teléfono! Petiso! The LP was recorded in 1986 by Pascual Saldarriaga in Estudios Hafe. It is the first time that the voices of Mily and Sally appear together. Of the ten songs, one is instrumental (Pinceladas Musicales) and the rest mixes the tropical Andean sound with social and love themed lyrics, always in a testimony discourse. The album is dedicated to "all those children who are always so alone on the street". Petiso narrates the drama of these abandoned children who usually wandered in the center of Lima (98,000 children, according to official figures of the time). The song is inspired by the case of a "petiso" who died electrocuted in the Plaza San Martín. The theme was presented in Trampolín a la fama, a popular television program directed by Augusto Ferrando. Zarate identifies as “petiso” in his childhood.

Sola​ and Oh Virgin Mary​ tells the story of single migrant mothers who must face a future in the capital by herself, without a father for her child. And yet, she must fight for both of their futures even if that means doing it all alone. El Chinito 2 is an original composition by Zárate and is the second part of the cover of an old guaracha that appears in the "Yo soy la cumbia" LP. Who participates in the contrapunteo with the Princess Mily is Jaime Soto, her father. The only song that comes out of the cumbia style is Ayúdame tú, a ballad in the voice of Muñequita Sally. The song was composed by Zárate and Jose Luis Cisneros, the band’s keyboardist.

 El teléfono is perhaps the best known song of Pintura Roja. Composed by Zárate, it tells the story of a young man who seeks to communicate with his platonic love, whom he calls and calls by phone without luck. It is inspired by real events that happened to Princesita Mily.

The musicians that make up the band in this production are: Fernando Salas (bass),Armando Huamaní (tumbas), Nestor "Nico" (timbas), Aurelio Guevara (second guitar), Jaime Soto (huiro), Jose Luis Cisneros (keyboardist) .

 Following the line of the rescue and revalorization project of the most essentialchicha records, this album was remastered at Studio 440 Mastering by Fernando Álvarez, who has worked with artists such as Paco de Lucia and Diego "El Cigala", as well as to have received a Latin Grammy for the mastering of the album "Chocolate" by Antonio Núñez.



At the beginning of the nineties, one by one the members of Pintura Roja left the band in order to carry out solo projects. After 10 years and having participated in other acts as Grupo Halley, Milagros Soto moved away from music to devote herself to personal projects, but she can still be heard at Pintura Roja’s anniversary concerts. Muñequita Sally, already considered the queen of Andean folk, died in May 2007, in a card accident while she was returning from a presentation. Jhonny Orozco left for Argentina and founded the Nectar Group, reaching international fame with songs such as El Arbolito and Pecadora. Fifteen days after the death of Muñequita Sally, Orosco found the same destiny as her on a Buenos Aires highway. The musician Ricardo 'Papita' Hinostroza, a former member of Pintura Roja and a studio musician for artists such as Chacalón, also died in the accident.

Today Zárate remembers with affection the 35 years of career with Pintura Roja, still active in the chicha scene. He has 195 songs licensed in the Peruvian Association of Authors and Composers (APDAYC) and will continue to go for more. Recently, a cumbia version of the song "Amárrame" by the Chilean Mon Laferte was released in the voice of the band’s new singer Pili Catalán. Their legacy has had an influence on newer bands, while artists such as Dina Paucar, Corazón Serrano and other artists continue to pay tribute to them. Pintura Roja, as long as they continue to stomp on stage, they will honor their title of University of Chicha, an icon of the genre’s golden era in Peru.


Manuel Jesus Orbegozo.