Meet the Self-Taught Artist Behind the Bold Look of Peru’s Psychedelic Cumbia Posters

After bringing us a 10-minute splash through the psychedelic sounds of the Peruvian Amazon with Poder Verde, Berlin-based Native Instruments is taking a deeper dive into Peru’s vibrant and wholly unique cumbia tradition as part of their Tropical Frequencies mini-doc series. We’re premiering the latest installment, entitled Monky. It goes beyond the twangy surf guitars and working-class lyrics that have defined chicha music over the years, and brings us a look into the genre’s poppy visual aesthetic.

Characterized by bright colors and bold contours, the so-called “Ficha Chicha” style emerged in the 1980s, parallel to the music’s dominance on Peruvian airwaves. As we learn in this episode, one of the essential figures behind this visual revolution was designer Pedro “Monky” Tolomeo Rojas, who found inspiration for his style in the colors of nature and traditional Peruvian textiles.

Much like the musicians and fans who made chicha the definitive sound of Lima’s working-class barrios, Monky was born in the rural mountains of Jauja before migrating to the capital in search of opportunity. After opening up his own workshop in 1982, Monky dedicated his lifelong love of painting to the creation of a “proletarian advertising” aesthetic that became synonymous with the concert posters of iconic bands like Los Shapis or Tongo y su Grupo Imaginación.

“Monky” brings us into the humble artisan’s workshop where he talks about his own origins and the inspiration behind an aesthetic that all but defined Lima’s visual landscape for a generation. Along the way we’re reminded that popular music and design are often two inextricable expressions of one common experience. At least, until laser-printed billboards came along.