Commentary, Food Culture, Traditional Food

Songs, One on Top of Another, as the Saints Go Home.

Band Playing in the Plaza this Morning (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)

Three brass bands play loudly and simultaneously different songs in Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas, from a tinku to the Condor Pasa and Virgenes del Sol (the Virgens of the Sun), all the while an announcer tries to cut through the sound to announce the children from kindergartens throughout the city who are going to be dancing shortly.

At least two different things are going on at the same time. The municipality’s organization EMUFEC has set of a reviewing stand and risers along the street for an audience that is yet to arrive to watch the children dance.

A Different Band in the Plaza (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)
A Different Band in the Plaza (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)

In the meantime dance troupes of tinkus, qapaq qollas, qoyacha and others have arrived, bands blaring, from San Sebastian to receive their saint who is just now leaving the Cathedral. They will accompany him through the city and all the way down the Avenida de la Cultura to the Church of San Sebastian on its very old Plaza. 

The bearers carry the Saint’s platform with their feet bare. They look light and tender, especially against the paving stones and asphalt. I can only imagine the blisters and sores that must open as they go leaving them hurting. Besides the weight of the saint and its pressure on their shoulders, this is the sacrifice they make for its honor.

San Sebastian Going Home (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)
San Sebastian Going Home (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)

As other saints come out of the Cathedral, their bands and accompanying people also arrive to take them on a procession to their home parish. The bands add to the complex sound of many different groups, melodies, drum beats, and ways.

Not only are there brass bands, now flutes enter the picre too, playing sings in distinctive pentatonics.

This is how I think of Andean feasts, just like today, a feast of sound like all the different ingredients of the chiriuchu. Instead of being laid out on a plate, they are laid out vertically across the space of the plaza and shift slightly as you move among them.  Now it is a military march, sounding like the Marine Band in Washington DC and now flutes, then a fox incaico. Never do the others disappear, they just fade into the background of complex sounds, dissonant at times and with shifting rhythms. One moves to prominence and then another one.

Capac Negro Dancers Honoring the Saint (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)
Capac Negro Dancers Honoring the Saint (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)

They are like all the dishes brought by a community’s members and laid on cloths superposed on top of each other to make a very long strip, the plaza.

The announcer has gone quiet for awhile in the face of all the sound from the Saints and their followers, each devout, emotional, and filled with power and energy whether in a major or minor key. The plans of EMUFEC, the municipal festival enterprise, who is in charge of organizing Cusco’s festivities fails to bring order and organization in the face of the innate cacophony of the fifteen saints, their parishes, and their followers who each arrive in a different time and way, musics sounding. 

It was the same during the main feast of Corpus Christi, nine days ago. While the open air mass took place on the Cathedral’s atrium and on its steps to one side of the main plaza, the followers of the saints came in musics blazing, since each saint had multiple bands. They came to accompany the saints on their procession around the plaza in the company of the Sacred Host. 

Capac Colla and His Llama with the Saint (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)
Capac Colla and His Llama with the Saint (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)

Multiplicity of saints, followers, fraternities, and bands. A sheen of sound that pulls and overwhelms yet challenges the Western ear that looks for a single harmony, rhythm, or melody.  There is an organizing schemed, that of the fiesta, of different groups coming together, but it is not he scheme of Western music nor society with its expectations of a single authority and single organizing power.

Flutes now blare from the loudspeakers as children begin performing, showing off their learning of Cuzco’s formal, codified culture, on the stages of the plaza, while the bands, saints, and their dancers and followers slowly dance and march off stage. Unity and singularity take over from Andean plurality in sound and image for a while.

The Religious Procession in Cacophony (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)
The Religious Procession in Cacophony (Arnold Fernandez Coraza)
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