Né: Jorge Alejandro Vargas Prado
Raíces: Cusco, Perú
Sounds like: The soundtrack to a very laid-back Disney movie set in the central Peruvian highlands
You should listen to Ishishcha because…You might just learn something about the aural landscape of Quechua, the main language of the Incan empire.
Na is Peruvian artist Ishishcha’s 6-track, avant-garde sound-off in his native Quechua. The listener rides a whimsical xylophone melody here and there, enough to warrant an indie pop classification if you squint. But at many points, the EP is best enjoyed as a noise album, a tinkling Quechua poetry primer whose lessons are left unexplained to the average listener. If you don’t speak Quechua (which we actually all do — the language infiltrated English via Spanish in words like “condor,” “puma,” and “quinine”), let the vocal interludes render you sublime.
Stop me if this sounds familiar, but Ishishcha’s Peru is in the midst of an unbelievably corrupt election cycle. One of its presidential campaign frontrunners is Keiko Fujimori, who is not just the daughter of ex-presidential war criminal Alberto Fujimori (who had to flee to Japan after a 10-year term amidst charges that he orchestrated the notorious Grupo Colina assassinations), but is also rumored to be involved in a campaign money laundering scheme.
Ishishcha wants you to feel your way through his art, and will take it to you in various media to ensure that happens. Read all 42 pages of his recent Spanish-language release La ultra iridiscencia de los dioses del Perú if you feel inclined. The text is meant to act as an ayahuasca ritual, honoring those who are no longer with us.
Ishishcha takes remembrance – and political consciousness – seriously in his work. He has performed while wearing a T-shirt that pays homage to the dozens of Peruvians who died in the 2009 Battle at Devil’s Curve, when police helicopters opened fire on a crowd of 5,000 who were protesting the government’s decision to allow companies to harvest subterranean oil lodes in the Amazon.
He envisions Na as a forum of resistance. On his Facebook page, Ishishcha said, “This album is a grand act of love against corrupt, authoritarian, and murderous governments.” Snippets of Spanish-language lessons drift by Na in some moments, their colonial teachings canned in comparison to the parts in which Quechua speakers or flutes have the aural floor.
Quechua is spoken by 4.5 million Peruvians and over 8 million people worldwide, but the language is not taught in school, undervalued by governments as indigenous languages are around the world. Ishishcha is hardly the only young musician who sees the power of creating music with the language for 2016 audiences. Check Bolivia’s Kaypi Rap crew to hear Quechua flow. Andean teen viral sensation Renata Flores is given to translating the lyrics from Alicia Keys’ “Falling” and MJ’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” into the language, the latter of whose 2015 video (set among the pyramids near Flores’ hometown of Ayacucho) has received over 1.4 million views on YouTube. The use of a mother tongue can inspire resistance to structures of oppression — a revolution in semiotics.
Ishishcha’s Na is available now on Superspace Records.