A New Music Era Is Coming

A New Music Era Is Coming

The year was 1974. Until then, only Los Destellos had recorded a non-instrumental cumbia song, Elsa, in 1970. Víctor Casahuamán Bendezú, a musician, creator and the composer behind Grupo Celeste understood that in order to continue the legacy of Peruvian bands from the sixties like Los Demonios de Corocuchay, Los Yungas and Los Demonios del Mantaro, it was necessary to address in his lyrics a special and urgent topic: the feeling of displacement from the homeland and the vicissitudes of the migrant sector. The experiences of those who traveled from the provinces to the capital in search of opportunities they could not find in their towns of origin, the process of settling and adapting in a foreign city, the challenges derived from this change of environment, the recognition of a different culture and the creation of a space they understood as their own were the stories that had to be told in the songs. This is why Grupo Celeste was the backbone of cumbia in Peru: it established a common story that thousands of migrants would identify with. From this idea and impetus was born En el campo, the band’s first single.

Víctor Casahuamán was born in Parinacochas, Ayacucho, less than thirty years earlier. He himself was a migrant. He had traveled to Lima and grown up in Callao. Although his first approach to music had been through ballads, new wave and rock, Andean music, of course, ran, and vigorously, through his veins. He was the perfect example of that migrant child who found himself in a new space and had to build from the ground up the continuation of his story. Determination and close memory would be the driving force to achieve it. He became a musician, producer, arranger, composer and director. And, as if that were not enough, an entrepreneur who, based on self-management, founded his own record labels a few years later so that he would not have to depend on anyone but himself to record his own compositions.

En el campo was recorded at DIFA, a small record label located in Lima that was run by Fernando Arias, composer and musical director of Los Sanders de Ñaña. It was a 45 RPM with the participation of Lerner Muñoz Reyes, Iván Añorga, Carlos Álvarez, Gustavo García, Alfonso Escalante 'El Chacal', and Casahuamán himself. "The influence and presence of Andean music in Chacal's singing was very clear", explains Peruvian musician and researcher Rodrigo Tantaleán. Although most of the band’s followers have a more vivid memory of Lorenzo Palacios Quispe "Chacalón" as the leader and singer of Grupo Celeste, there was a time when his brother sang the band's cumbia songs. Chacal was Lorenzo's half-brother on his mother's side. Olimpia Quispe, known as "La Huaypita", was a singer of traditional folk music and had taught her two sons, who had inherited her taste for music, to sing. After accompanying her for years to her concerts in coliseums, her children naturally incorporated elements of Andean music into their singing and continued to develop a connection with their origins that would not be limited to individual nostalgia, but would later be shared with thousands of listeners who were moved and overwhelmed as they recognized themselves in the messages of their songs.


Chacal’s recurrent absences from the band's rehearsals had become unbearable. For that reason, one day, Víctor Casahuamán went to look for him at his house in the Bondy passage, in the district of El Agustino, in Lima. Like those situations that even the most skeptical would end up attributing to fate, the one who opened the door to him was none other than Lorenzo Palacios "Chacalón". "My brother is not here", he told Casahuamán and that single phrase was enough for him to hear his voice timbre and ask: "Do you sing?". Chacalón replied that no, he only knew how to play the conga. But his lack of singing experience didn't matter. Casahuamán knew that intonation and pitch could be learned. Plus, Lorenzo Palacios had a natural charisma. "If you don't know how to sing, I'll teach you", the band’s director told him. The following months would reveal that Chacal's older brother had a more melancholic and nostalgic expression that was much more reminiscent of Andean music. And that was exactly what Casahuamán was looking for for the band’s second track, Viento, a tribute to the nostalgia of the homeland. Viento, vuelve a ser como ayer para sentir el comienzo de mi vida, el comienzo de mi historia (Wind, be like yesterday for me to feel the beginning of my life, the beginning of my story).

In 1975, a year after the success of En el campo, Viento broke all sales records for 45 RPM in Peru. More than one million copies were sold. Estrangement turned into song. According to Rodrigo Tantaleán, migrants identified with the allusion to and longing for life in the countryside. It was predictable. Grupo Celeste could no longer exist only in the recording studios. People needed to see them, to sing with them from the heart, shouting, hugging the person next to them, known or unknown, but united by history, goose bumps and warm beer. The foundation of DISCOPE, their own record label, came with massive live performances. The birth of the label meant the possibility of controlling the distribution and promotion of the material, as well as the organization of concerts so that the band would have a solid urban presence. They started in El Agustino, but quickly moved up north and slid south, conquering all the conurbation around Lima.

Thus, sports arenas, parking lots, street markets and the streets themselves were filled with celebration, and not only of the music, but of that identity that many, unjustly, believe to be static and corresponding to a single place and time, but that in reality does not cease to transform itself among the different geographies, seas of people, complexities. Like that wind that will never again be like yesterday's, and that will rather be its impulse for all new beginnings. Here, or there.

A few months later, in July of the same year, the band’s first LP, El fabuloso, was released on the DISCOPE label. Chacalón recorded several of the songs on the album, while Lener Muñoz Reyes incorporated guitar effects never before used in Peruvian tropical music. Almost fifty years later, Discos Fantástico, under the direction of Jalo Núñez Del Prado, has rescued the original master tapes of this emblematic album of Grupo Celeste and of the history of Peruvian cumbia.


Ailen Pérez B.