My name is Francisco Pezo Alva. I’m 49 years old, and I was born in a tiny village near the Brazil border in the Peruvian Amazon. When I was 10 years old we moved here to Pucallapa.
At about 23 years old, I heard a man playing this kind of music at a wake. I heard the songs and said to myself, “I like these songs. I’m going to learn to play this music!” So I got my hands on a violin and taught myself to play.
My violin—I made it myself. It’s not hard. This is a rustic wood with a rustic finish. There isn’t a touch of professional craftsmanship to it. I bought my first violin from a friend, but it disappeared. I needed a violin, so I looked at pictures and did the best I could. You can see many parts of it aren’t properly finished. What I’d really like one day is to have a violin that’s professional, with better acoustic properties.
The old customs here in the Amazon are disappearing, especially with respect to the violin. But I’d like to maintain them. For that reason I’ve arranged certain pieces for my violin, pieces that come from prayers, from wakes, from conversations with older people. I adapted each one. It’s important to keep in mind that these are songs for specific moments. You don’t just play them any old time. You play each song at the right moment during a wake. That’s all.
A velorio (wake) happens when a person dies. The family puts that person in an open coffin, and then the rest of the family comes over, and friends, and people from the neighborhood. They mourn the person and light candles. When violin is used, the fiddler sits at the head of the coffin, to the right of the corpse. First come some very gentle instrumental songs. When it comes time to sing, we begin with “Alabado” (Hymn of Praise). Then come other songs. For example, “Cama de Campo” (Earthen Bed) is a song that’s very old and on the verge of disappearing. I only vaguely remembered it from when I was a kid. So I’ve added or replaced words. I’m pretty sure no one sings it the way I do. Really, all these songs here—I remembered them, the tunes, but not so much the lyrics. So I’ve made up a lot of the words so they follow the music. And it’s beautiful, because those songs reveal the good and the bad that we all can be . . . .
(Read more in the ALBUM liner notes)