Valicha: Peru’s Most Popular Song

The Life of Valeriana Huillca Condori


The huayno ‘Valicha’ is one of the most emblematic Peruvian songs. Peruvians at home and overseas perform this indigenous theme to celebrate our heritage. Asked for their most quintessential songs, most Peruvians would list ‘Valicha’, along with ‘El Condor Pasa’, as themes that may easily replace the Peruvian National Anthem.

Valicha’s jolly and sparkling notes instill unbounded energy and joy. Their lyrics are sung among friends and danced in Peruvian festivities around the globe. But many ignore that Valicha was inspired by one of the most tragic love stories. A tale in which love was not enough to overcome the obstacles in its path.

 Segregation in Andean Towns

Acopia peasants
The Acopia district lies sixty miles away from Cuzco, the former capital of the Inca Empire. Located in the heart of the mountain range, ‘Acopia’ is relatively small compared with other towns. With a few thousand residents, the Acopian economy relies on agriculture and cattle raising. This peculiar love story unfolded in this valley, a jurisdiction where Quechua peasants worked for a few Acopian landowners. This system of inequality was hard to break. Family landowners (Terratenientes) married among themselves, thus keeping Quechuas in poverty for various generations. This rigid cycle of coercion, widespread in most Andean jurisdictions, experienced the first signs of weakening on February 14, 1912. On this day, a peasant woman from Acopia gave birth to a girl: Valeriana Huillca Condori.

Despite her poor background, Valeriana was the most admired girl in Acopia. Displaying humility and kindness, her virtues were in harmony with her beauty. She had a small body, an innocent smile, and a pair of piercing dark eyes that inspired tenderness. Valeriana and her parents toiled in the lands of Hurtado, an elitist landowner in Acopia. Her family lived in a hut built of adobe and straw, near the Hurtado state. Valeriana spent her childhood tilling the land and grazing the cattle. A surviving poem written in her honor depicts a young Valeriana, resting on the fields and caressing sheep and baby Vicuñas.

The Hurtado family also had a child, a bit older than Valeriana. His name was Miguel Angel. Raised by a family of landowners, the boy had a comfortable life. Miguel Angel never spent much time in the household. Due to the lack of schools in Acopia, he was sent away to Sicuani, and then Cuzco, to complete his education.

During summers, Miguel Angel returned to Acopia to spend time with his parents and his younger brother, Evelio. One summer, Miguel Angel saw Valeriana for the first time. He became attracted to her and soon learned that Valeriana had gained countless admirers. She was considered the most beautiful girl in Acopia.

Miguel Angel and Valeriana Fall in Love

Valicha en Acopia
The Hurtado family, who were very fond of Valeriana, became her godparents. Valeriana visited the Hurtado household frequently. This is how Valeriana and Miguel Angel met. During his summer visits to Acopia, Miguel Angel and Valeriana spent the evenings together.

Miguel Angel had a gifted ear for writing lyrics, as well as for playing musical instruments. Some evenings he would rush to the plains, accompanied by Valeriana. Once there, he would compose melodies with his violin while Valeriana sang to the tunes. Miguel Angel was seventeen years old, and Valeriana was only 13. These were their happiest moments together. They fell in love and kept it secret.

Such a scene was immortalized in a brass statue that today adorns one of Acopia’s squares.

Months later, Miguel Angel had to leave once again. This time he moved to Lima to study at Universidad Catolica. The young lovers still did not understand the trials their relationship would face. In the segregated Peruvian society, there were several obstacles. Miguel Angel was an educated, wealthy, criollo landowner. Valeriana was an uneducated, poor, indigenous woman. Their differences were abysmal. While Miguel dressed as an urban man, Valeriana wore her colorful Quechua garments. Miguel spoke fluent Spanish, but Valeriana only knew a few Spanish words.

But even if everything was against it, they promised to love each other until the end.

 The Composition of Valicha

Miguel Angel maintained his relationship with Valeriana in secret. In one of his brief visits to Acopia, Miguel Angel and his brother Evelio composed a huayno called ‘Tusuy’. Their lyrics, written in Spanish, were an homage to the beauty of Andean women. Evidently, the 20-year old Miguel Angel wrote this song for Valeriana.

After Miguel Angel returned to Lima, Valeriana’s parents discovered the truth. They forbid her to see Miguel Angel, but Valeriana did not listen. She refused to accept that they belonged to two different worlds. Her infuriated parents, hoping to break her relationship with him, sent her away to Cuzco.

Valeriana was disappointed. The poor girl had to find a job in several Cuzco eateries (picanterias). She probably spent many lonely nights, thinking about Miguel Angel. But this is only speculation. What is clear is that, while living in Cuzco, Valeriana understood her romance with Miguel Angel was unfeasible.

Aware of the conflict between Valeriana and her parents, the Hurtado family begged her to return to Acopia. She did so, but her attitude had changed. Valeriana no longer wished to live there. Acopia brought her memories of Miguel Angel, and the bitter reflection that they could not be together. Foreseeing his prompt return, Valeriana seduced another peasant, Francisco Hancco, and convinced him to escape to Cuzco.

After returning to Acopia, Miguel Angel found out that Valeriana had run away with another man. He was heartbroken. Feeling angry, Miguel opted to compose new Quechua lyrics for the song ‘Tusuy’. Now the lyrics had a resentful tone:

Valicha lisa p’asñawan / niñachay deveras / maypiñas tupanki / Qosqo uraytañamas / niñachay deveras / maqt’ata suwashian…” “…Qosqoman chayaruspari / niñachay deveras / imatas ruwanka / Ajha wasikunapis / niñachay deveras / sarata kutanqa…”
“Chaykunallataraqchus / niñachay deveras / valicha ruwanman /Cuartel punkukunapis / niñachay deveras / sonqota suwanqa…”

Transl: Valicha, ungrateful Andean girl, where you will be, surely you are in the highlands of Cusco, with the man who seduced you. Surely, young girl that you’ll be in the picanteria grinding corn, apparently, that’s not the only thing you’re doing, surely you’re also in the barracks stealing hearts.

Miguel Angel Hurtado retitled the song to ‘Valicha’. At the time of writing the new lyrics, 1945, Miguel Angel did not foresee the song would become so emblematic. And he would never find out. In 1951, Miguel Angel Hurtado died in an accident at the age of 29.

Valicha Becomes a Celebrity

Valicha-Sumaq Mag
As the huayno Valicha captivated audiences, Valeriana led a simple life in Acopia. Over the years, Valeriana was frequently visited by tourists and journalists. In her old age, she was dubbed ‘illustrious daughter of Acopia’. In Cuzqueño festivities, festivals, exhibitions and concerts, Valeriana often appeared before the crowd to receive a standing ovation. Sometimes she sang a cappella in her native Quechua.

Shortly before her death, in 2014, Valeriana remembered the now memorable evenings she spent with Miguel Angel. She denied the version that assures that Miguel Angel composed ‘Valicha’ with his brother Evelio. ‘The first song tunes were composed while he played the violin, and I sang for him’, Valeriana said. Those were the best moments in their relationship. Their romance was secret, and they were confident that their love would overcome all odds.

Sadly, their dreams were shattered by reality. But even if their love was crushed by racism and segregation, the memory of it survived in a song.

And it will survive in the minds of Peruvians for countless generations.𝔖

Photo: Percy Ramirez & Sicuani Noticias

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