[Friday Playlist] Late '60s Peruvian Rock n' Roll

text by Adam Lehrer

Sometimes the circumstances in which music was made amplifies the effect of the music itself. Case in point: the rock n' roll coming out of Peru in the late '60s and through the early '70s. Rock n' roll hit Peru like a thunderbolt in 1957 with the country's youth finding themselves captivated by the music of Elvis Presley. Buddy Holly, and Bill Haley. Peru's indisputable first rock band, Los Millinarios de Jazz, formed that same year and birthed a movement.

It was in the late '60s however, psychedelia's peak years, that the rock bands of Peru found their most scorching  sounds. The Peruvian rock bands of that time still sound utterly fresh. This could be for a couple reasons. For one, rock music's interest in mysticism was at an all time high with psychedelic rock, but Peruvian bands by virtue of geography already had a more direct connection to mind expansion and spirituality. Traffic Sound, a Peruvian rock band that used a flute way better than Jethro Tull ever would, found a fan in Mick Jagger who invited the band to open for The Stones in 1969. Meanwhile, Black Sugar employed big band swing, salsa-inflected rhythm patterns, wah-wah heavy guitars, and a blissfully communal sound that created a political funk most in line with American bands like Sly & The Family Stone.

But also, rock music at its best is supposed to be anti-establishment, and the Peruvian bands had much to rage against. Juan Francisco Velasco Alvarao, a communist military general, took control of the country in 1968. Though his ideals were in many ways idealistic, as he hoped to restore the power to the working power, he also completely obliterated personal expression. At first, Peruvian rock bands could not be silenced. For testament to that notion, listen to Los Saicos. Los Saicos took elements of garage rock, psych, and surf and created an aggressively political rock assault that is often considered to be a forebear of punk rock, similar in sound to The Sonics. Eventually rock music would find itself smothered out of popular culture in Peru, but by the '80s a fertile underground of punk rock and later death metal bands would re-emerge, bringing attention back to the country.

Side note: I would like to thank the excellent Spanish record label Munster Records for introducing me to Los Saicos and as a result, Peruvian rock n' roll all together.