CHICAGO — Coming straight from Seattle, her flight delayed by stormy weather after touring Montreal and Vancouver, Chicago was the fifth stop in Eva Ayllón’s USA-Canada Tour this year. New York, Houston and San Francisco followed suit.
“Every night we appear on stage is like magic,” Eva shares with an audience that fills the Old Town School of Folk Music’s theater in a hot evening, after a day of thunder and downpours. “We never know what’s going to happen, but tonight I feel we’re going to have a great time,” adds Eva after singing Panalivio, a popular Afro Peruvian rhythm that has already stung her restless audience.
“I have not been to Chicago in six years.” People contradict her: “More than that, more!” “It’s not my fault that they have not brought me,” she mischievously responds. With that provocative attitude and challenging tone she already has the public in her pocket. Well, not necessarily, because her really tight flowered-pattern dress, has none.
She continues with a substantial old-world collection of Peruvian waltzes. Rebeca. Yo perdí el corazón. I lost my heart. Nunca podrán. They never will. Baaaaandida that she sings with her portentous voice. Pasión de hinojos. Passion on knees. Alma de mi alma. Soul of my soul, when Eva says: “This song has two endings: A short one and a long one. What do you prefer? A group screams: “We are Peruvian, we are Peruvian!” “I know you are Peruvian, I already noticed, I know, I know! People laugh at her answer. Trying to disguise the interruption, Eva asks: “Put your hands together for Peru!”
It is so clear that Eva Ayllón connects with the public at the precise level in which they connect back to her, and that she is prepared for any kind of unforeseen typical Peruvian reactions. The stage is all hers; no doubt about that.
A change of pace comes with Mi Compadre Nicolás, followed by the introduction of guitarist Eddie Sánchez whom she presents as the most recent addition, seven years. “It’s very rare for an artist to work with the same team of musicians for so many years,” says Eva, referring to her other colleagues whom she has spent between 25 to 30 years together, as she points out. Sánchez masterfully plays “Cuando llora mi guitarra,” a well-known theme recognized by Peruvians and strangers in the auditorium.
Going from serious to playful, and always having the audience and their reactions in sight, she sings: “Nuestro amor murió, todo terminó, qué vamos a hacer, así es … el fútbol,” (“Our love died, everything ended, what are we going to do, that is how … soccer is,”) changing the lyrics —soccer instead of life— to the popular waltz.
Suddenly Eva disappears from the stage but comes right back, shorter in stature. She had changed her pink patent leather stilettoes to silver flats.
“I had knee surgery and the doctor begged me to take my heels off at half-show. It was a very expensive operation … that the doctor bought a car!” People celebrate the joke. “But now, now more comfortable, we’ll continue the show … until tomorrow!”
Fina Estampa and José Antonio follow, celebrating two of the most well known Peruvian songs. “Well, let’s see if you remember these melodies,” Eva challenges and continues singing Regresa (Come back,) Como una rosa roja (Like a Red Rose) and Propiedad Privada (Private Property,) which makes the audience enter in a trance. People sing along possessed by the memories of yesteryear, who knows if they are remembering the military dictatorship times and La Morena de Oro del Perú singer Lucha Reyes, who immortalized those songs.
All of a sudden Eva calls someone in the audience and puts one of her bracelets on her wrist as a present. That constant connection keeps people hooked, some of them with longing moist eyes.
There comes a change with Nuestro Secreto (Our Secret) and Huellas (Tracks,) both classic songs from Eva’s repertoire, but this time in a fusion with jazz. This is perhaps the only moment in the concert, that the traditional Peruvian music —to which immigrants are accustomed— dares to leave the conventional schemes.
Then Eva Ayllón introduces each of her comrades on stage by highlighting her son Carlos, in charge of the drums, whom she presents as a surprise in the show by singing a duet: “Cariño Bonito.” At some point during the song, Carlos stares at her very seriously and you can read his lips begging: “Go lower.” Imagine. How can you match Eva’s powerful voice?
Then Eva requests an applause for Zambo Cavero who wrote Contigo Perú. This waltz makes Peruvians shudder with emotion remembering the country they still carry in their soul. Taking advantage of this moment, Eva addresses a woman in the audience saying: “I want to thank you because you make your man sing with you even if he does not know the lyrics.” Then she calls the gringo boyfriend and places in his wrist another of her bracelets. “Many thanks to you for singing my Peruvian melodies,” she adds. With these gestures and words, there is no one who can’t stop adoring her.
The landó song Toro Mata breaks the intense moment and the revelry continues. Ay la pondé pondé, pondé, mañana comemos carne and le dije a papá, yo quiero ser como tú in Raíces del Festejo marks the pinnacle of the celebration of black Peruvian music.
“It does not matter where we live; we carry Peru in our hearts,” Eva says waving goodbye to a joyous audience. As expected, the encore is requested and Eva comes back with El Bello Durmiente (The Sleeping Beauty) of Chabuca Granda, telling everyone, Te Amo, I love you, Perú.