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Peruvian magic in Ayllon's stylings

August 11, 2003|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

Peruvian singer Eva Ayllon has been performing for more than 30 years in her native country, where she is considered the prime exponent of musica criolla, a vibrant array of folkloric styles. But it's only been in the last several years that she has toured extensively with her own band outside her country.

Appearing Friday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, the engaging singer graciously trumpeted her dual nominations in this year's Latin Grammys.

"Oh, I can be really obnoxious with this business about the nominations," she jokingly told her adoring, near-capacity audience in Spanish. 'But I'm not going to stop what I'm doing until every American has heard these songs."

That's certainly a worthy goal, since Peru's pop is among the most beautiful but least appreciated in the Americas. Judging from the overwhelmingly Peruvian crowd at the Ford, Ayllon still faces the challenge of winning converts from her fellow Latin Americans first.

Most people in the U.S. associate Peru with the mournful, flute-dominated music of the Andes, popularized by Paul Simon with "El Condor Pasa."

Ayllon, however, focuses on the elegant and lively genres of the coastal plains, of Lima in particular. Her songbook includes the ultra-romantic vals criollo, poetic torch songs set to a tasty waltz tempo and adorned by shimmering Spanish guitar riffs. Her other specialty is the danceable music of black Peru, featuring a panoply of infectious, pelvic-thrusting rhythms such as dando, festejo and alcatraz. On Friday, Ayllon's crack sextet (plus two chorus singers) put the percussion up front, with three dazzling drummers in short-sleeved shirts and ties sitting on the distinctive cajon, or box, an instrument that mimics the hollow sound of workers smacking fruit-packing crates.

The other half of the band was stripped to basics of keyboard, bass and guitar. That yielded a somewhat sharp and shallow live sound, compared to Ayllon's richly layered recordings textured with acoustic piano, sax, flute and even accordion and marimba.

But when she sang, the backup didn't matter. At 47, Ayllon still has all her robust range and smoky nuance. With her dramatic, a cappella rendition of "Bello Durmiente" (Sleeping Beauty), a tribute to her homeland, the singer hushed the festive, sing-along crowd, creating an almost prayer-like stillness in the balmy night.

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