Playing Peruvian music links him to homeland

On a sunny morning in Santa Monica, Jorge Choy, an upper school maintenance worker, strolls along the boardwalk crowded with people, looking for a spot to play his quéna, a flute-like instrument. Amid T-shirt hawking and street vendors’ cat calls, Choy recognizes familiar background music and follows it to a Peruvian band playing the same folkloric music he planned to play that day.

Within seconds, Choy jumps in with his quéna, carrying the tune along with the other musicians. Choy, who spends his day doing handiwork around campus and transporting athletes to and from practices and games, moved here from Peru 22 years ago but speaks minimal English.

While he doesn’t play at the beach often, this Peruvian culture is part of what Choy loves about his music.

“Si veo un grupo Peruviano, le acompaño por un ratito y tocamos juntos,” [If I see a Peruvian group, I accompany them for a second and we play together] Choy said. “Es una cultura en la playa; es fácil juntar con otros que toca la misma música,” [There’s a culture at the beach; it’s easy to get together with others who play the same kind of music.] Although Choy used to play with a band in Peru before moving to the United States, he now plays alone or for friends and family, with the occasional beach outing to play with others.

“Cuando quiero tranquilarme en la casa, lo toco el charanguito o la toya,” [When I want to relax, I play the charanguito or the toya] Choy said.  

While he enjoys playing for family, Choy also plays the native music to relax, strumming his charanguito, a guitar-like instrument made from the shell of an armadillo, or his toya, a large wind instrument that produces a low sound. 

 Choy said it is the technique that he uses to make his own instruments, including the charanguito and the quéna, that gives his music a sound different from studio-produced music and beats heard on the radio, Choy said.

Above all, Choy says it is the tie to Peru that causes him to continue pursuing this type of music. The folkloric aspect is an important reminder of where he’s from and who he is, he said.