The Cusco Project: A Symphonic Journey
by Marla Norman, Publisher
A small group of Peruvian musicians playing classical music doesn’t seem like such a novel concept. But in 1973, Western music, including symphonic classics by Bach, Beethoven, et al, were banned by the government in Peru. And yet, these musicians weren’t at all deterred by the harsh censorship. They formalized their group into a band they named Arcoiris de Cusco (The Cusco Rainbow).
In a marvelous synergy, Arcoiris used many traditional Andean instruments – charangos (tiny guitars), bombos (large sheepskin drums), chaccas (goat toenail shakers) and quenas (seven-hole flute) to play classical music. In particular the ancient zampoña (a pan flute that dates back over 4,500 years) was ingeniously adapted to produce semi-tones required for classical music. The group called the new instrument a perufono.
Arcoiris continued to adapt and perform their brand of classical music – a brightly lyrical blend of native Andean instruments with Bach, Beethoven, Rossini and Mozart. Their goal to provide new avenues of expression for traditional instruments, once thought to be primitive and archaic, have been fulfilled with the richly textured harmonies they continue to produce.
Recently, further help for Arcoiris’ musical pursuits has been provided by filmmaker, Kenneth O’Brien. At age six, O’Brien’s parents took him to an Arcoiris concert. It was an experience he never forgot. As an adult, O’Brien moved to the U.S., where he launched Filmiko, his own production company. But during a return trip to Peru in 2009, he once again encountered Arcoiris. He found the music to be even more haunting and exceptional.
Motivated by the unique cultural and musical expression of Arcoiris, O’Brien launched The Cusco Project to provide financial support and recognition for the group. He’s also begun work on a feature-length film to document the group’s distinct musical contributions.
For more information about the film, the music of Arcoiris and to contribute to the preservation of Andean culture contact The Cusco Project.