Piero Epifanía: “The only way I could stay close to my roots was through music”

Piero Epifanía (Source: Nikolay Doychinov)

Musician and self-proclaimed traveller Piero Epifanía started playing music when he was just a little boy in Lima, Peru. Since then, he has travelled and lived in many places, including China and Bulgaria, among others. 

Today, Piero is the founder and frontman of Ritmos Negros, a band that interprets Afro-Peruvian music. Interestingly, Piero formed this band while living in Bulgaria; what is more, he revealed that it was being abroad that made him look inwards and strengthen his connection to his homeland. 

Speaking to Sip of Culture, Piero discussed his background, what drove him to form Ritmos Negros, and how music can bring people together. Taking this further, he discussed the band’s new music, which it will officially release at a concert on May 26th at Toplocentrala in Sofia.

When did you start playing music and how did you get to where you are today?

I started playing music when I was only 8 years old – I was very young. I started by playing the trumpet in my school band. Where I am from, in Lima, Peru, we used to have music competitions in schools and the musical education was very good. So, I had a very good base and I always liked music. 

Then, after I left the band, I continued on my own path with friends and neighbours. I discovered Rock and Roll, and until then, I had mostly played music for orchestra. So, once I learned about Rock and Roll, I changed completely. I played with friends from the neighbourhood, I studied by myself and with teachers. It has been a very, very long path. 

We were very lucky that we had studios in every neighbourhood. In fact, every neighbourhood had at least 3-5 independent studios. It is incredible how much of a difference this made and how it impacted what people were doing in the neighbourhoods. People just wanted to play music.

These studios gave us a lot of experience. We were recording when we were only 13 or 14 years old and we were recording seriously, going to the studios, wanting to study, and getting better to record.

Ritmos Negros (Source: Ritmos Negros)

You are the founder and frontman of Ritmos Negros. What drove you to form this band and why did you choose the Afro-Peruvian genre?

Our band is called Ritmos Negros and we play Afro-Peruvian music mixed with some folkloric and jazz elements. I started the band with Simeon Leonidov, who is the guitarist of the band. At the time, I think I started the project because I needed to have something from home close to me. I was travelling a lot and I really missed my people and my land. The only way that I could keep my identity and stay close to my roots was through music.

Before this, I was not playing Afro-Peruvian folklore, I was playing Rock, Reggae, and Pop Jazz. I was playing in a more commercial way. But then, being isolated, I was brought back to my roots and I started studying my own folklore while being away from home. 

After I had the idea for this project, I met Simeon, who was very interested in it. He has a background in playing flamenco and classical music, so we fit in well together. Then, we called the bass player Boris Talev, who is a great musician, and our saxophone player, Arnau Garrofé Farràs.

You play alongside Bulgarian musicians and you have lived in Bulgaria for around 8 years. Would you say that your music has been influenced by your life here?

For sure. I have a lot of experience in Bulgaria with different kinds of artists. I have played with pop artists, jazz musicians, and many others. I have been playing with so many groups and so many artists who have certainly influenced my music. Living in Bulgaria, the sounds you get in the city and its vibe have also influenced me. 

I have also travelled a lot elsewhere; I was travelling in the Balkans, in Latin America and I recently lived in China for a year. I have moved around constantly and the fact is that these movements are crucial for music. They really change everything.

Your last solo album explored the theme of international friendships. How does your music reflect the current world in which we live, where people are constantly moving, living in different places and making new friends?

The music must reflect what is happening. It should reflect contemporary times. MILES, my album solo, was above all a very natural tribute to friendship. Friendship is the one constant element that you will have as a traveller. Usually, you will have your family with you but as a traveller, someone like me, you do not have your family with you. Your close friends from your childhood are not there either. So, you are constantly changing and making new friendships. 

This does not mean that the relationships you will make will not have enough depth. Sometimes, you can find even deeper connections abroad than in your family or with your childhood friends. It is very unpredictable. For me, it is very clear that nowadays we are totally mixed. For example, I am from Peru but I am living in Bulgaria, my partner is Turkish and my best friends are from Finland, Italy, Argentina, and Bulgaria. With MILES, I wanted to make a tribute to all these friends and say “Thank you”. It is a very honest and personal album.

At the same time, nowadays people listen to music randomly, I think we all do this. You can be listening to love songs then switch to a rock song, then a classical piece, then meditative music or something else. I created my songs naturally but once I completed the album, I saw that this randomness was there. Nowadays, you do not listen to one single genre; this separation or categorisation of listeners does not exist as much anymore. 

Do you believe that music can bring people together?  

For sure. Music can bring people together because everyone can have a voice. Everyone can reflect on their feelings and beings. They can identify with the music and they can also respect others. I think having a diverse audience can result in a more diverse society and by default, it can make it more tolerant. I believe people need more tolerance and music can help achieve this by uniting them. 

Ritmos Negros – NEW SINGLE NEW MUSIC (Source: Ritmos Negros)

Lastly, you have new music coming out very soon. What can you tell us about it?

We are releasing a new single on May 26th at Toplocentrala (Топлоцентрала) and we are playing a concert to celebrate the new music. Ritmos Negros’ concerts always evoke a feeling of unity. It is not a wild party and it is not super soft; it is just perfect for this season, perfect for the sunny days. Everybody is welcome. You do not need to be ‘super cool’ or to be a musician. You can be a mother, you can be an old man, it does not matter. Everybody is welcome and everybody is the same.

The show is promoted as “new single, new music”. So, we will release our single but we will also play new songs that will come in the album that we are recording now. We are in the middle of recording Ritmos Negros’ second album, although we are not sure when it will come out yet. After we release the single, we will release a music video for it and then we will also release another video to promote the upcoming album. There is a lot to look forward to – many things are coming! 

Sip of Culture interviewed Piero Epifanía as part of Multi Kulti Collective’s media campaign, Migrants Got Talent. Read more about this campaign here.

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