LITCHFIELD — When a production receives a Grammy nomination it makes those involved beam with pride. But for those involved in “The Warrior Women of Afro-Peruvian Music” the accolade went far beyond smiles, congratulatory words and a photo op.
“I am thrilled because I believe with music we can achieve greater objectives, like the recognition of cultures that are not very well-known,” said Litchfield’s Matt Geraghty, executive director and bassist for the work. “Projects like this are necessary to bring the world together and lift up those voices rarely heard.”
When “The Warrior Women of Afro-Peruvian Music” was released in July of 2019, plans were in motion to roll out a 10-part documentary film, serialized into monthly chapters, to accompany the album. The resulting film in its entirety was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in the category of Best Long Form Music Video.
Geraghty’s first reaction when he heard of the nomination was to call each artist to give them the news. “Never will I forget their words and emotional reactions. To have the votes of the musicians, producers and engineers from the Recording Academy is a great recognition and a testament of the quality of the recording, documentary and musicianship. It’s important because we are bringing to the forefront invisible women artists who many times have been marginalized in Peruvian society.”
Geraghty had lived in New York City for the past 12 years but decided to recently move to Litchfield to be closer to family, nature and his music. “It’s been a very fruitful and creative period. I’ve been composing a lot of new music for an upcoming album of my own original material.”
Geraghty is moved by the words of singer Charo Goyoneche who said, “It’s a double fight. Being a woman. Being black.” He added, “That is an impactful statement. ‘The Warrior Women of Afro-Peruvian Music’ gives these women a voice and puts them first. The nomination is recognition for these women and above all their music and culture.”
He explained, “‘The Warrior Women of Afro-Peruvian Music’ is the most recent project in our music series called ‘Just Play.’ I started ‘Just Play’ in 2013, a transformational journey of freedom and creativity for me and the musicians involved. I’ve traveled to coastal cities — New York, New Orleans, San Juan, Havana and Lima — to look for common connections in musical scenes with roots in the African Diaspora. We create spontaneous musical encounters and capture the stories of artists, now 285 musicians in total that have collaborated as part of ‘Just Play.’”
Geraghty, who studied at Fairfield University, is an accomplished musician and composer. He lived and performed in Europe for a year where he discovered the music of Andalusia and North Africa, such as Flamenco, Berber Folk Music and Gnawa. These musical styles greatly impacted him and influenced his love of music from other cultures.
He later settled in Chicago, where he studied with notable bassists such as Kelly Sill and Rob Amster. Geraghty “spent nights learning and playing jazz” in the legendary The Green Mill, Velvet Lounge and Andy’s Jazz Club and studying classical bass with Greg Sarchet of the Lyric Opera. During nine years in the Windy City, playing with Jon Irabagon, Maurice Brown, Sam Barsh, Neal Alger and others, he released his own original recordings with “Two For The Road” (2002), “Mozaic” (2004) and “Passport” (2006), the latter with Grammy winners such as Paul Wertico of the Pat Metheny Group, and harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.
In 2010, Geraghty released “Departures,” a selection of original compositions that blended jazz and world music featuring the Polish singer Anna Maria Jopek. Also joining the album was five-time Grammy-winning pianist, accordionist and jazz arranger, Gil Goldstein, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, Russian pianist Misha Tsiganov, Armenian oud player Ara Dinkjian, and Grammy-winning American drummer Mark Walker.
By 2012, Geraghty was performing nightly in Manhattan and also bringing his music to places like Japan, Colombia, Brazil and Portugal. He observed that there were very few projects for cross-cultural collaboration that challenged the status quo. This led to his current endeavors.
After living in New York City for 10 years, Geraghty got to know “all of these incredible international musicians” and saw a “cool” opportunity to experiment by creating new cross-cultural collaborations across the different musical cliques in the city. “Why couldn’t musicians from the Indian music scene work with artists from the West African Malian scene?”
With that idea in mind he created “21,” a project that brought together more than 43 artists from 20 countries, filming and producing new bands for 21 days straight. “We continued to bring this project to coastal cities in the Americas. This culminated in Trade Winds Cuba, an album and documentary featuring more than 100 emblematic artists from that island.”
Following the footprint of the African Diaspora, in 2018 Geraghty hopped on a plane to Lima to do research to determine whether Peru could be the next destination for the "Just Play series." “In my scouting, I discovered there was a thriving Afro-Peruvian Music scene with talented women — each one with their own story of fighting against racism and inequality. This is when we decided to focus on gender for this project, differentiating it from other works by making the woman the protagonist. These talented female artists are hidden treasures of Peru and we wanted to unite them and bring them to the forefront.”
He and his team decided there was a vital story to be told, so they began documenting women’s stories of their life experiences in music. “It was a humbling moment to learn of all the challenges they face as black artists in Peru even to this day.”
The women in "The Warrior Women of Afro-Peruvian Music" — vocalists, Araceli Poma, Rosa Guzmán, Goyoneche, Sofía Buitrón, Maricarmen Padilla, Milagros Guerrero, Victoria Villalobos, percussionists, Catalina Robles and Gisella Giurfa — aspire to a future free of racism and sexism in Peru. The singers are supported by guest appearances of harmonica virtuoso and innovator Levy and pianist and multi-Grammy-winning arranger Gil Goldstein. The film accompanying “The Warrior Women of Afro-Peruvian Music,” had individual chapters released over the course of months into early 2020, each chapter pegged to a different track from the album.
Said Geraghty, “These talented women are deserving of the spotlight. It came out more smoothly than we could have hoped for. It was close to two years of production. We wanted to maintain the authenticity of the rich traditions of the music, while respectfully adding new textures and sounds into the music. We had an incredible foundation of 10 Afro-Peruvian standards and rich vocals from the best female traditional singers in the country.”
Geraghty’s idea was to take the tracks recorded in Lima and develop them further by introducing other instrumentation from the world of jazz and world music. This might have been considered controversial, but Afro-Peruvian music lends itself well to incorporating sounds from outside Peru’s borders.
Said Geraghty, “At this point, I invited some of my friends into the project — Grammy Award musicians Howard Levy (harmonica) and Gil Goldstein (accordion)—to join the project among others to bring a more modern sound to the traditional pieces. This enriched the album greatly by melding traditional Peruvian elements with new instrumentation, rhythms and improvisations from jazz and world music. Shortly after the recording was released, the team released 10 chapters of the documentary under the same name that focused on the stories of the Warrior Women alongside our musical collaborations with them. In that way, every chapter of the documentary corresponded with a track on the album.”
The artist said the most important aspect of launching the documentary is that the world now would “hear directly from these ladies” about their individual struggles while discovering their tremendous artistry.
As for whom to include on the album, Geraghty contacted producer Javier Lazo, a renowned Peruvian musician, and the two decided what artists to include from the Afro-Peruvian Music scene. “We wanted to have good representation of the biggest names from the older generation of Afro-Peruvian female artists, like Rosa Guzmán and Charo Goyoneche, and the younger generation as well, represented by Gisella Guirfa and Araceli Poma.”
The end product delighted those involved. “I am thrilled because I believe with music we can achieve greater objectives, such as the recognition of cultures that are not very well-known,” said the nouveau Litchfield resident. “I think projects like this are necessary to bring the world together and lift up those voices rarely heard.”
Afro-Peruvian percussion like cajón, cajita (little box), ijada (donkey jaw bone) and checo (gourd) are included in the work. Also in the mix are electric and acoustic bass (Geraghty), Rhodes and Steinway pianos (Misha Tsiganov), and nylon-string and electric guitars (Coco Vega, Neal Alger, Ernesto Hermoza), and Angelique Kidjo drummer Yayo Serka.
The producer was Zé Luis (music/content producer, recording and mixing engineer) and Lazo, the musical director and producer. In Peru, “Just Play” is produced and coordinated by singer Araceli Poma. Album artwork and design is credited to Eva Sandor.
“The Warrior Women of Afro-Peruvian Music” is available on digital platforms, including iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and physical copies on CDBaby. Follow @justplayglobal on Facebook and Instagram. Visit www.justplay.world for more information.