Latin Music With an Aztec Beat : Concert: The group Huayucaltia, which performs tonight in San Juan Capistrano, takes its name from ancient word meaning unity and brotherhood.


For the ancient Aztecs, huayucaltia meant unity and brotherhood. But it also defines the musical mission of a five-member group performing tonight at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library.

Huayucaltia, (pronounced why-yoo-call-TEE-ah), a band of musicians from Peru, Colombia, Mexico and the United States, performs original compositions based on Latin American rhythms passed down through the ages.

“But we’re not a folk group,” said leader Ciro Hurtado, a Peruvian also known for his solo jazz guitar performances and recordings. “We use the traditional instruments because they provide a unique sound. But so does a synthesizer, so we use that too.”

“This is a group that bridges old and new,” said library director Jose Aponte, who coordinates the ongoing multicultural performing and visual arts series. “They’re almost the opposite of the group we hosted last month (Ayllu Sankayo), which follows the folk tradition as closely as possible. Huayucaltia incorporates the old rhythms and instruments into new sounds.”


According to Hurtado, most North Americans equate the whole of Latin music with sounds that are primarily Brazilian. “But samba and bossa nova don’t define (all) Latin music. There’s more,” he said. Hurtado’s compositions include rhythms from the opposite coast that have a strong African influence. “I call them Afro-Peruvian or Afro-Colombian,” he said. “The Spaniards who colonized those countries brought with them groups of African slaves (who) established their own culture, which survives in this music,” Hurtado said.

Huayucaltia’s hybrid sound also has a strong Andean influence, which is more haunting and melancholic than the more upbeat coastal rhythms. “We trespass on a lot of boundaries,” said percussionist Hernan Pinilla. “We try to present a Latin totality, while letting the particulars show through.”

Huayucaltia’s second album, “Horizontes/Horizons,” was released in 1989, and a third album is due this fall. Hurtado says it will include shorter compositions to make the group’s music more accessible to radio airplay.

“We’d like to put more of the Latin sound into the mainstream. Performers including the Gipsy Kings, Peter Gabriel, Sting, David Byrne and Paul Simon have all recorded Latin-influenced compositions. It helps when major names pave the way. I think people are ready for us,” Hurtado said.


Huayucaltia performs tonight at 7:30 and 9:30 in the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library courtyard, 31495 El Camino Real. Admission: free ($2 donation suggested). Bring folding chair or blanket. Refreshments and sale of Guatemalan crafts to benefit Arte Y Cultura, a local Latin American arts group. Information: (714) 493-1752.