Valicha: Peru’s Most Popular Song

The Story 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 which 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 festivities, infusing Peruvians over the globe with happiness. But perhaps some ignore that Valicha was inspired in one of the most tragic love stories that befell upon two Peruvian lovers. A tale in which love was not enough to overcome the obstacles in its path.


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. Having a few thousand residents, the Acopian economy relies on agriculture and cattle raising. This peculiar love story unfolded in this valley, a jurisdiction where thousands of 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 baby girl: Valeriana Huillca Condori.

Despite her poor background, Valeriana was the most admired girl in Acopia. Displaying humility and kindness, her virtues went 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 owned by the landowners. 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 few years older than Valeriana. His name was Miguel Angel. Raised by a family of landowners, the boy had a comfortable life. However, Miguel Angel never spent much time in the household. For 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 was immediately taken with her and soon learned that Valeriana had gained countless admirers. She was already praised as the most beautiful girl in Acopia.


Valicha en Acopia

The Hurtado family, already close to Valeriana, became her godparents. Valeriana visited the Hurtado household frequently. This is how Valeriana and Miguel Angel met. During his summer stay in Acopia, Miguel Angel and Valeriana spent the evenings together.

Miguel Angel had a gifted ear for writing lyrics, as well as for playing 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 only 13. These were, apparently, their happiest moments together. They fell in love and kept it in secret.

Such scene was immortalized in a brass statue which today adorns one of Acopia squares.

Months later, Miguel Angel had to leave once again. This time he moved to Lima to study at Universidad Catolica. Then, they still did not understand the obstacles their relationship would face. Both were still very young. In the segregated Peruvian society of those times, their relationship was impossible. Based on the retrograde norms of the era, everything was against it. 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 hardly knew a few Spanish words.

But even if the Devil opposed it, they loved each other and promised to do so until the end.


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 inspired in Valeriana to compose this song.

Not long after Miguel Angel left for Lima, Valeriana’s parents discovered the truth. Although they forbid her to see Miguel Angel anymore, Valeriana did not listen. She loved Miguel Angel, and 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 angry and disappointed. The poor girl had to find a job in several Cuzco eateries (picanterias). She probably spent many nights crying, thinking about Miguel Angel. But this is only a speculation. What is clear is that, abandoned in Cuzco, Valeriana understood her romance with Miguel Angel was unfeasible.

Aware of the conflict between Valeriana and her parents, the Hurtado family bade her 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 did not wish to see him anymore. She seduced another peasant, Francisco Hancco, and convinced him to escape to Cuzco.

On his return to Acopia, Miguel Angel found out that Valeriana had run away with another man. He became heartbroken and bitter. Grieving for her, Miguel opted to compose new Quechua lyrics for the song ‘Tusay’. This time, 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, in 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-Sumaq Mag

As the huayno Valicha captivated audiences, Valeriana led a simple life in Acopia. Over the years, Valeriana was visited by tourists and journalists. In her old age, she was dubbed ‘illustrious daughter of Acopia’. In Cuzqueño festivities, festivals, exhibitions and concerts, Valeriana 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 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 mercilessly shattered by reality. But even if their love was crushed by racism and segregation, the memory of it survived in the form of a song.

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

Photo: Percy Ramirez & Sicuani Noticias