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Nell Snaidas, Artistic Director
Carlos Fittante, Choreographer, BALAM Dance Theater

Music, Dance, and Song of 18th century Peru and Bolivia from the Trujillo del Perú Codex, the Moxos Archives, and more



Led by Grammy-nominated Amer-Uruguayan soprano Nell Snaidas, this unique project explores popular songs and dances from late 18th-century Peru frozen in the amber of an unlikely source– a collection of watercolor paintings compiled by the local bishop to be sent to King Carlos IV with the intention of displaying the plants, animals, people and archeological monuments of this region in northern Peru.

The program includes songs with Indian and African influences, drinking songs, love songs and a snappy hymn to the Virgin Mary. Five singers and a band of guitars, Spanish double harp, violins, cello and a battery of South American percussion and winds provide the music. Balam Dance Theater dancers, in choreography created by Carlos Fittante, trained in flamenco, traditional, baroque and other styles will be featured in the dances. The melodies are memorable, the harmonies are catchy, and the rhythms are lively and syncopated.

The performance is accompanied by slide projections of the codex illustrations and supertitles of translations of the texts.


About Codex Trujillo del Peru

Now held in the Royal Library in Madrid, the source of these songs and dances is a nine-volume collection of watercolor paintings mostly of flora and fauna that was presented to King Charles IV of Spain in the late 1780s by then Bishop of Trujillo, Baltazar Jaime Martínez Compañón. The collection is the end result of a 32-month visita, or official journey that the bishop undertook through the grasslands, deserts, mountains, rainforests and coastal plains surrounding Trujillo in his efforts to get to know the people, the geography and the resources of these regions. Volume II of the collection is devoted to portraits of people of all social strata, and includes, near the end of the book, paintings of dancers in colorful costumes and instrumentalists playing European violins, guitars, harps, bandolas, and pipes and tabors, as well as a number of indigenous and African wind and percussion instruments. Adjacent to these vibrant images in the manuscript are the scores of twenty pieces of music written in a very elegant classical-era hand. Each piece has a title that gives the form and a description (e.g., Tonada El Diamante – Tonada of the diamond) along with information about whether it is to be sung, or danced, or both, and often the name of the town where it was collected. The subject matter of the vocal pieces varies greatly; there are love songs, a naughty sailors' song, a song of penitence in a near extinct native language, a song in the voice of an African slave decrying his condition, and a devotional song to the Virgin Mary. Just as the paintings depict local customs, these musical works are transcriptions of what was heard by the bishop's company in their travels and thus give a wonderful and rare snapshot of the traditions of late-18th century colonial music making.

The collection is best described as an early ethno-musicological gathering of local songs and dances. Certainly one could imagine, if the bishop were on his visit in the early-20th century instead of the late-18th, that he would have had a camera with him instead of an artist’s sketchbook and a cylinder or disk recorder with him to document the music, just as Bela Bartok did in his explorations of the Balkans, or John and Alan Lomax did on their journeys in the southern United States. So we have here an incredibly rare opportunity to hear, frozen in the amber of the 1780s, a moment in the development of a regional music as it makes its way from the raw ingredients of European, African and Indigenous styles, to the true melding or “creolization” that we now think of as Andean or Peruvian music.

The program also features three sets of Bolivian music from very high art to simple folk art. In the first half we hear three charming songs in the Canichana and Moxos Indian language from what was then the Bolivian Amazon.


Click here to view a video of the full program


About The Bishop’s Band

The Bishop's Band, is named for the Bishop of Trujillo del Perú, Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón who compiled, in the late-18th century, a fascinating collection containing watercolor depictions of life in the region and 20 popular songs and dances referred to as the Trujillo Codex. The group was gathered together in 2013 by Tom Zajac and Nell Snaidas to perform repertory from this collection as well as other 18th-century Latin American music. The ensemble is made up of some of the leading early music singers and instrumentalists from across the US and dedicates their performances to the legacy and memory of scholar and friend, Tom Zajac.

Nell Snaidas, Jennifer Ellis Kampani | sopranos
Daniela Tošić | alto
Jason McStoots | tenor
Paul Guttry | bass
Robert Mealy, Holly Piccoli | violins
Michael Unterman | cello
Pricilla Herreid, Nina Stern | recorders
Grant Herreid, Charlie Weaver, Paul Shipper | guitar/theorbo
Paula Fagerberg | Spanish Cross Strung Harp
Danny Mallon, Rex Benincasa | percussion
Carlos Fittante, Robin Gilbert Campos | dancers BALAM DANCE THEATER


For booking inquiries, please contact Rachel Givner, Director of Administrative Services, rgivner@gemsny.org, (212) 866–0468



GEMS Live! is a unique not-for-profit booking agency representing a roster of New York's world-class early music ensembles: The Bishop's Band, East of the River, House of Time, Parthenia, and Pomerium.