Paterson Guitarist Starts Peruvian Cultural Project

Rufino Ortiz (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

A 40-year tri-state area resident, Rufino Ortiz, one of the most prominent – if not the best – Peruvian guitarist in the United States, is adding a new facet to his artistic life. He is embarking on a mission to protect Peruvian artists and promote the country’s culture.

“We have a large number of prominent Peruvian musicians in New York, New Jersey, Miami, in many parts of the United States, who most people do not know exist,” said Rufino. “We need to support them when they go through a difficult situation, when they face illness, because we are unprotected. Also, we need to teach our music to the new generations and show Peruvian culture at the highest level.”

With that intention, the musician has founded the Casa de la Preservación de Arte y Cultura del Perú en Estados Unidos (House for the Preservation of Peruvian Art and Culture in the United States, or CAPAC.)

Last week, on the occasion of Creole Music Day (or Día de la Canción Criolla) – a festivity created in Peru in 1944 and celebrated in New Jersey since the late ’70s – Rufino toured New York and New Jersey with other Peruvian musicians to showcase the quality of their country’s music and to promote CAPAC.

He was joined by his “brothers in arms,” including Félix Fernando Quevedo, a guitarist living in Paterson who also wants his compatriot artists to unite.

“CAPAC is important because we are a group of artists lacking the leadership of an institution similar to those formed by journalists, writers or national collectives in New Jersey, for example, to give us a clear path to follow, to let us know what our rights are, what our duties are. All this is what we will be doing as musicians to disseminate our Peruvian music,” said Quevedo, last Tuesday in Kearny, New Jersey.

The institution is bringing different generations together, including Liliana Pérez, who has been singing in the United States for 17 years. Rufino accompanied the woman on guitar at the Feria del Pacífico de Lima (Pacific Fair in Lima) in her youth, back in 1975. “He is an extraordinary musician, a beacon for new generations, and now he is adding his concern for his fellow musicians to his artistic skill. We musicians need to come together. We need to do things for Peruvian artists, for our country’s music,” said Pérez.

Rufino has played what is known as creole, or criolla, music – which has deep roots in Afro-Peruvian music and is often intertwined with polka, marinera limeña and Peruvian waltz – with notable vocalists such as Cecilia Barraza, Eva Ayllón, Lucila Campos, La Limeñita y Ascoy, Eloísa Angulo, Chabuca Granda and others.

The musician’s most outstanding trait is his mastery of the instrument. Quevedo explains that “as as a guitarist, he is superb. Musically speaking, his toolbox includes special chords, guitar extensions, using sevenths, ninths, elevenths, and that makes him unstoppable.”

What many do not know is that Rufino is the founder of the first Peruvian peña criolla in New Jersey. In a Peruvian peña, a group of compatriots get together in an intimate environment to sing their country’s music, peppered with anecdotes or dirty jokes, which became popular in the 1970s as a synonym of a Peruvian “jarana” or party.

Rufino recounted that he founded the peña 30 or 35 years ago, after he was invited to Mi Perú Restaurant on Monroe Street in Passaic, owned by former soccer player Borgoño – nicknamed “Bigote” (“Moustache”) – who took him to the venue’s attic. There, he asked Rufino if he could do something with that space. A light bulb went off in the guitarist’s head, and he said: “We could make this a peña.” “What is a peña?” asked Borgoño. Rufino explained in detail.

“A week later – I was already living in Astoria, Queens – he comes over and says to me: ‘It’s ready,’” said Rufino. “I couldn’t believe it. He had installed carpet, painted the place, repaired everything that needed fixing… It was a success. People went in on a Friday and, when Saturday came, they didn’t want to leave.”

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