Chicha: A music. A culture. A visual language

Emerging from the poorer neighbourhoods of Peru, Chicha music has developed its own culture which includes a unique visual language, as demonstrated on the cover of this month’s issue

Chicha is a term that first appeared in Peru in the late 70s to describe the fusion of Colombian Cumbia music and rock with more traditional Peruvian styles such as Huayno. Originally, this new musical genre was referred to as ‘Peruvian Cumbia’ but the 1965 song La Chichera by La Aurora Andina, who at the time were big stars of the Peruvian Folklore scene, included phrases such as ‘let that chicha loose’, ‘give me that chicha sound’ and ‘play me some of that chicha’; and thus the term ‘chicha’ came to be associated with the style. However it wasn’t until the end of the 70s that the term was used in a broader sense, thus defining not just the music, but the entire culture that surrounded it.

There is nothing that represents Chicha culture better than the visually arresting screenprinted posters that advertise the concerts and festivals of this uniquely Peruvian movement. Loud, fluorescent and ubiquitous, they have become an integral and defining part of Peru’s urban identity.

In the late 70s, the Chicha scene exploded in the popular neighbourhoods of Lima. Its rise in popularity was so abrupt that there were not enough venues to meet demand and car parks became improvised concert halls. This surge of activity and commercialisation led to extreme competition between bands who fought for the attention of audiences. Their chief weapon was the poster, whose signature style of hand-drawn type and day-glo colours soon evolved into a visual language in its own right.

In some instances, the typography used to represent particular bands was so stylised that it functioned as a form of branding and was often adopted as a logo for the band. As the popularity of the movement grew, the posters were not only used as a means to promote the bands themselves, but also the music producers, venues and even the designers and print shops who produced them. This rapid growth led to a large printing and publicity industry and there are now a number of families running their own printing businesses for Chicha posters.

Most Chicha posters conform to a common structure: in the upper left corner are the date and time of the gig, followed by the venue and below this the band or bands that will be playing. This structure is essential in order for the posters to be easily and quickly interpreted in public spaces. People are not able to stop and observe them carefully, they are always seen in passing and so only the most essential information is presented.

The poster featured on the cover of this issue of cr was designed and produced by the Urcuhuaranga brothers in their printshop, Publicidad Viusa, just outside Lima. The brothers claim that their father invented the intricate technique that is now commonly used to produce Chicha posters all over the city. The posters are designed by hand, actual size, on plain white paper. The only design tools used are a pencil and ruler. Each typographic element is then cut out to be used as a stencil and fixed directly to the screen. As the poster is being printed, these stencils quickly become destroyed, making long runs of each design impossible.

There is a suggestion that the fluorescent colours that are typical of Chicha posters were influenced by those used in handicrafts from the central Andes. However, a more mundane explanation is more likely – in the early 80s, fluoresecent inks were widely available and cheap, offering a lot of bang for your buck. Over time the colours have varied slightly with the introduction of new fluorescent hues such as blue and purple and in some cases even matt colours.

This popular style, long looked down upon by Peru’s upper and middle classes has, in recent years, begun to achieve legitimacy as Peruvians look to celebrate their own indigenous culture. Mainstream designers and art directors who once dismissed Chicha as an underground culture have now begun to recognise its importance as a national aesthetic and even, as with designer Ena Andrade, incorporate the Chicha style in their work. Ultimately though, Chicha posters have a simple and vital role that they share with the more professionally produced ads that compete for attention on Lima’s streets: to stand out in a world of visual competition.

Take a look behind the scenes of the Chicha poster-making process, which was used to create the cover for CR’s January 2010 issue, and listen to Eliot Urcuhuaranga talking about the Chicha heritage and his family’s poster-making process.

Jules Bay, who wrote our ‘Chicha feature’, also curated an exhibition detailed for subscribers in the accompanying piece.

Jules Bay is a curator based in Lima, Peru. Interviews: Santiago Alfaro and Ena Andrade. Additional editing and translation: Maxim Holland and Susie Quillinan. With thanks to Tristan Manco.



What's the story?

The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
We invited writers to respond to our cover image
this month: read their stories inside.
PLUS: Tom Gauld, Oliver Jeffers, Giphy & S-Town

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