Arturo “Zambo” Cavero (1940-2009)

October 9th, 2009

One of Peru’s greats, the embodiment of Peruvianism and the creole culture of Peru’s coastal regions, passed away today as a result of poor general health. The loss of this one man that became a symbol of Peruvian identity will be felt deeply across Peru and especially on the coast, but also across Latin American and the world. His inimitable voice captivated his listeners in a way that few other artists have ever been able to do, somehow making every word his sang sound unmistakeably and unequivocally PERUANO.

Arturo Cavero Velázques was born in the city of Lima in 1940, quite a different city from the one that exists today. It was an old city, a traditional city, a city of the creoles – the descendants of the Spanish and ex-slaves.

“I was born in the Avenida Abancay, on the 11th block, in a quinta, in a little alley that is very well known as the La Banerita Blanca, from which many figures of sport and musica criolla have originated. As well as being the heart of Lima it was also the very edge of Lima, right there was the end of the city. My father was from Huaral and my mother from Cañete. Then, a few blocks down, lived Felipe Pinglo (one of Peru’s greatest song writers)”, the Zambo would tell in every interview he gave.

Afro-Peruvians are considered, as goes the stereotype, to be blessed at either music, sport or food. Arturo “el Zambo” had been gifted with two things, a stunning voice and feel for delivering lyrics, and it seems a great love of food, particularly comida criolla.

But to suggest this is the only thing his was capable of would be very wrong. As well spending time at the Felipe Pinglo music centre, he later graduated as a teacher with a specialisation in Educational Administration and completed further studies in Learning Disabilities at the San Marcos University. He has more qualifications from the Federico Villarreal University after completing his thesis entitled “Folklore and Education”. He recently published a book on the subject.

His achievements as one of the greatest singers of musica criolla however, will be how is he best remembered.

El Zambo Cavero’s unique voice brought to life the works of composer Augusto Polo Campos, Peruvian lyrics about Peru with an unmistakable Peruvian style. As an Afro-Peruvian, he solidified the blend of musica criolla with musica negra, as had been happening in all aspects of the coastal culture, with his constant use of the most Afro-Peruvian of instruments, the cajón.

Dearly loved by all Peruvians he became the embodiment of the nation, and his fame and popularity spread to all corners of Latin America. On the 3rd of June 1987 he was awarded and recognised, along with other Peruvian artists who had brought so much joy to so many people, by the Organisation of American States in Washington D.C.

Peruvians aren’t great at taking care of their health, and you only need to have a quick taste of some of the country’s most popular dishes to understand why. Ageing Arturo Cavero was no different, and at 68 years old, morbidly obese and suffering from diabetes, he was admitted to hospital recently suffering from various complications.

The media announced his condition was grave, and the nation began to worry, but also knew what the outcome was going to be. President Alan García, as many a Peruvian wished they could, rushed to the hospital to visit El Zambo just when doctors were beginning to announce there was not much they could do.

Lord of the Miracles, take care of Cavero, you are waiting, but you know that down on earth, the entire Peruvian nation is on their feet, hoping he won’t leave us. Let’s pray for Arturo Cavero Velázquez, if he goes, let he keep singing to us ‘Contigo Perú‘ (one of his most popular songs) from the heavens”, said one attendee at the recent Lord of the Miracles religious procession in Lima.

Dear friend of El Zambo, Augusto Polo Campos, told Peru’s El Comercio newspaper that he could only hope he pulls through. “We’ve come from the hospital and can tell you about the health of our brother. The doctor said Arturo is alive if only for his people, using all his strength to live and has not left us, it’s a miracle”, he said yesterday.

But today at midday, the great promoter of la canción criolla left this world, leaving behind an incredible musical legacy and a hole in the hearts of many a Peruvian.

Arturo Cavero Velázquez – 1940 to 2009

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