Death, Taxi Driver Knowledge, and Huaynos

Chimu Pots Representing Decapitated Heads (Museo del Larco, Cusco)


“They’re widows,” the woman standing behind the till explained. I had spotted the two viudas, Rosita and Ricardina, dancing slowly to the huaynos playing on the speakers. This was one of those tiny stores that seem to sell everything.  On this Saturday, I stopped in to ask the way to the one discoteca in Ollantaytambo—one of longest continuously occupied settlements in Peru. The town lies on the banks of thw Orubamba River, which runs through the Sacred Valley. Agricultural terraces (“andenes”)—from the age of the Incas—slice through the steep sides of the Andes. Inca stone houses, temples, and look out posts dot the mountainsides. An hour-long train ride would bring you to Macchu Pichu.

Rosita swayed with her liter bottle of Pilsen beer; Ricardina grabbed my hands in her rough hands, teaching me how to step and slowly spin around to this popular folk music. A shrill voice sang of how dead mothers, traitorous lovers to saccharine cascades of the harp.

“Somos campesinas,” the women repeated. “We’re peasants.” Ricardina told me she was 30 and had three children, and that Rosita was 35 and had five children. They each looked at least ten years older than they said. Rosita handed me their glass and poured me a cup of their beer.

Before leaving, I asked the shop owner if she sold huayno CDs. She began leafing through a stack of her own burned CD-Rs. “Here, this is another copy of who we’re listening to.” She handed over a CD marker-scrawled “Alicia Delgado” to me. I asked her the cost. “Whatever you feel like,” she answered. I handed her two sol coins.

A couple days later on a drive between Cusco and Pisaq, our taxi driver was playing huayno from a USB stick connected to his car stereo. The USB stick dangled where a rosary or pine-tree-shaped air freshener might hang. I told him that I had bought an MP3-CD of Alicia Delgado. “She dead now,” he intoned, “She was murdered in her home. Someone tortured her first.” He said this was never solved, but guessed it probably had to do with money since she was rich.

In Lima, a few days later, after stopping in at the used LP market, Galeria Quilca, I mentioned Alicia to another taxi driver, a friend of a friend. “Yeah, she was murdered by her girlfriend,” he said in California-accented English. “Abencia Meza also sings folkloric music. She was a better singer and made Alicia famous too, but then Alicia cheated on her with her harpist.”

“Abencia is out of jail now and has a new girlfriend. In Lima, you know, you can get someone to kill for you. There are places, neighborhoods to go to. You can get someone to kill for $50,” my driver told me. “That’s why I’m friends with everyone,” he smiled. “It’s much better that way.”

Alicia Delgado-Regresa Madre


Alicia Delgado-En Una Noche de Luna


1 Comment

  1. another powerful post Alexandra! gracias. it’s especially poignant & heavy right now, as huaynos have (oddly enough) been soundtracking my current Morocco trip…

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