Martin Morales has become well-known as the chef who brought Peruvian cuisine to London; the owner of four restaurants, he recently was named the Food & Drinks Innovator of the Year by British GQ. Before he was a chef, he worked as a DJ and a music executive, heading Disney’s Buena Vista Music Group in Europe, The Middle East and Africa and working for iTunes. And he’s still a producer and label owner. As his restaurants have showcased the breadth of Peruvian food, his label Tiger’s Milk Records has exposed the largely overlooked diversity of Peruvian music.
“People want to put us in a box and say we are just a bunch of pan pipe players,” Morales says, speaking with Billboard from the music room at his Andina restaurant, a party and event space whose walls are lined with shelves displaying vintage records. “We are a culture that is 10,000 years old, and the variances between all the different regions in Peru are massive. And guess what? We have electric guitars, and we have about 200 different types of harp that we’ve been using for the last 300 years.”
Previous Tiger’s Milk releases have included Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych From Peru’s Radical Decade and Peru Boom: Bass, Bleeps and Bumps from Peru’s Electronic Underground.
Later this month, Morales will simultaneously release a compilation of vintage tracks recorded by artists from 11 Andes regions, and a book of recipes and personal stories from his childhood in Peru and his more recent trips to the Andes, the native region of the maternal side of his family. They are both titled Andina. (On Oct. 11, Morales will perform a biographical one-man show and “cooking experience” in London that will include a three-course dinner accompanied by music).
Born in 1973, Morales has lived in London since he was a teenager, after his British father, an “adventurous accountant,” was threatened by Shining Path guerillas and returned to England. On trips to Peru to visit his mother in Lima, and his grandmother and aunts in the Andes, Morales amassed both a trove of traditional recipes and a huge record collection.
“Andina means lady from the Andes, or a dish, or a song” he says. “For me, the Andes region is one of the most fascinating regions in the world. It’s a world in its own right.” One whose culture has produced a range of musical styles: “You need to wiggle your hips to something, and you also need to cry. It’s a tough landscape; you need your own blues.”
For the album Andina: Huayno, Carnival and Cumbia, The Sound of the Peruvian Andes, Morales and his co-producers Duncan Ballantyne and Andres Tapia de Rio focused 1968-78, years in which Peruvian music was influenced by migration to the capital city.
“You’re going to Lima in the early seventies,” Morales explains. “It’s the beginning of salsa, and there’s cumbia, and maybe a bit of merengue and musica criolla are happening in Lima as well. There’s the cha cha cha and mambo influence that bubbled nicely through the last century. Salsa really exploded and reached Peru; Hector Lavoe is still a god in certain parts. Those migrants from the Andes running from persecution and poverty escalated in the late 1970s because of the Shining Path getting much stronger. And then music from the city migrated back to mountains from those who had gone to the city.” At the same time, he explains, the military government under left-wing general Juan Valasco (1968-75), encouraged folkloric music as a nationalist cultural expression.
The rise of television also influenced changes in the Peruvian sound.
“This is the time when television really started to take hold,” Morales recalls. “TV started being mainstream in Peru in the late sixties and brought with it music from other countries. We had our first color TV in ’78. My family never even had a TV until about 1967.”
Rock was fused with traditional rhythms like huayno, whose high-pitched vocals, Morales points out, mimic the sound of crying. “I didn’t want to pick a load of tracks that are just cutting edge,” he says. “I wanted to pick songs that either I remember from when I was a child or that have their roots in the land.”
In the liner notes, Morales describes the album as “a high-altitude tour that ranges from psychedelic, bombastic big bands to melancholic folk.” Most of the hard-to-find tracks were only released originally as 7-inch singles. Asked to pick one of his favorites, Morales chooses The Walkers de Huanaco’s groovy version of “Todos Vuelven,” written by Peruvian César Miró and later covered by Ruben Blades.
The song’s opening line is “everyone goes back to the land where they were born.”